Alberta Conservative leadership candidate Doug Griffths

Wasn’t Doug Griffiths one of the Men in Black? You know, one of the Fiscal Four on the Floor, the Gang of Four, or whatever they called those guys who were fed up with Premier Ed Stelmach’s prodigal ways back in the fall of ’09? (Rhetorical question: The answer is yes.)

Sorry, maybe it’s just me, but I have trouble getting too worked up about a candidate for the leadership of the almighty Alberta Progressive Conservative Party who promised back in the day to wear black for the poor and the beaten down, livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town… Oh, wait. That was Johnny Cash, or Brian Mason at the NDP or something…

Just a sec. Give me a minute here… Yeah, that’s it… a leadership candidate who promised to wear black until all the budgets were balanced.

Well, that was then and this is now, although it appeared yesterday morning at his news conference that Griffiths was still wearing black. In the event, anyway, he turned up to announce his run for the Conservative leadership in a nice black blazer with an electric blue shirt. (Full disclosure: Your blogger didn’t actually go to Mr. Griffiths’ morning newser. Uh, sorry…)

Funnily enough, all the reporters who did bother wrote pretty much the same story. That goes for the Sun, Global and the CBC. Only the Edmonton Journal added a little extra, though they all seem to have forgotten the connection with the Four Horsemen of the Fiscal Apocalypse. (Debt rides a pale horse, and so on.)

The fresh-faced MLA for Battle River-Wainwright is a guy who once told the Calgary Herald that “the 40- or 45-year old generation is going to be stuck between paying for everything for their kids and for everything for their parents.” What was he thinking? He was 36 at the time!

So, what’s the solution to this particular problem as proposed by the former schoolteacher? Here’s a hint: It didn’t involve talking his co-generationalists into moving out of Mom and Pop’s basement. It was all about eliminating government programs. You know, the kind of programs that help old folks and young people get along without being a burden on that long-suffering 45-year-old generation.

By yesterday, however, Griffiths was talking about our need to “think large.” We can only fervently hope that he spares us “the Large Society.” Leastways, I don’t know about you, but the alarm bells start going off in this blogger’s head whenever a conservative politician starts singing paeans to societies of size — just look at all the havoc the Big Society is wreaking right now in what Canadians of a certain vintage still can’t help but think of as the Mother Country!

Well, never mind that. According to the blogosphere, this candidate’s No. 1 attribute seems to be that he’s “an avid social media user.” OK, the Conservatives are the party that put the Twit back in Twitter, but deft thumbs and a Blackberry do not a credible candidate make, thanks very much. And they certainly don’t make a small-l liberal or candidate who belongs in the middle of the political roadmap.

Because Griffiths, notwithstanding the fact he knows how to use Facebook, is just another rural MLA (hometown Hardisty, pop. 760) way out there in the right field of the Tory party. In addition to his participation in 2009’s Fab Four hit single, Griffiths also made some headlines in 2010 with a proposal that Alberta replace its already-way-too-flat income tax with a sales tax on everything.

This idea is a non-starter among the Conservative base, of course, and Griffiths appeared at today’s presser to indicate he is tippy-toeing away from it — he just wants to chat, he explained. But those of us of a slightly more progressive bent should remember, just in case, that this kind of taxation really puts the regress in regressive!

Indeed, it just seems like yesterday that Griffiths was rumoured to be sneaking a peek at the Wildrose Alliance benches. But when his fellow Man in Black Rob Anderson had the wherewithal to skedaddle over, Griffiths appeared to get cold feet.

Or maybe he just saw larger possibilities within the Conservatives that got him elected than in a hot new party with a charismatic leader, no matter its reputation for fiscal frigidity.

Anyway, good for him for dancing with the one that brung him, if that’s the explanation, as well as for promising to reveal who all his donors and never to say anything mean about his opponents. And good for him for being an entertaining luncheon speaker favoured by small-town Chambers of Commerce for his talk on 13 ways to kill your community — although we’re assuming he’s speaking ironically when he says stuff like that. (You can never be too sure with conservatives, though. Remember, this is a guy who’s reputed to think 300 is a great movie!)

But these points in his favour are not enough to make him into what he is not, and that is a mainstream candidate with plenty to offer his party.

Griffiths got a lot of ink and airtime yesterday because it was a slow news day and Alberta politics has been generating some heat and light lately. But the Man in Black and Blue and Sometimes Brown is what a professional newspaper columnist whose name escapes me at the moment recently called a candidate of ambition.

Maybe with a little luck, Griffiths doubtless reckons, he can be a kingmaker or something, or even snag a good cabinet post, a first one, anyway.

Well, just be careful, Tory voters. Remember what happened to the last guy that entered the race with that strategy!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...