Thomas Lukaszuk visited Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock yesterday morning to resign as Alberta’s labour minister and became a candidate for a portfolio in Premier Designate Jim Prentice’s cabinet.
OK, that’s kind of a mean way to describe what is officially a run for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party in which Lukaszuk could theoretically knock off Prentice or the only other known candidate, former infrastructure minister Ric McIver.
Presumably we can all agree, though, that with the Progressive Conservative Dynasty’s hive mind made up in favour of Prentice, Lukaszuk’s chances of emerging as a the winner of the party leadership race in the aftermath of the Alison Redford catastrophe are pretty slim.
But if you look at it the right way, the campaign Lukaszuk launched at a crowded outdoor news conference on a sunlit street in Edmonton’s downtown just before noon yesterday isn’t a bad move, either strategically for him, or practically for his party — no matter what the supporters of party Crown Prince Jim may make of it.
For one thing, Lukaszuk is undeniably, as they say, a polarizing figure in Alberta politics — and some of the people he’s polarized are inside his own party. So despite a meteoric rise during the brief reigns of Ed Stelmach and Redford from the backbenches to several important cabinet posts, including a brief spell as deputy premier, his return to cabinet after the next leader is chosen is no certainty.
Having gained some profile and support running for the leadership will make it much harder for Prentice not to include him in his promised smaller cabinet — especially if things don’t unfold quite as decisively as expected and Lukaszuk has an unanticipated opportunity to toss the frontrunner some support.
Of course, to make this idea work, Mr. Lukaszuk have to be sure he doesn’t fire off any intemperate midnight Tweets — something he’s been known to do from time to time in the past — or call Prentice “Diamond Jim” or something equally irresistible.
Actually, that “Diamond Jim” crack belongs to the province’s New Democrats, who discovered that the lawyer, banker and former federal cabinet minister — who vowed at his campaign launch the day before yesterday to end the party’s culture of entitlement — had as federal infrastructure minister chartered a helicopter at a cost to taxpayers of $3,253.56 to avoid an hour’s drive in a limo.
Getting back to Lukaszuk, who before politics was a teacher and workers’ compensation consultant, his effort will do the PCs no harm if the leadership battle turns out to be an actual contest of ideas — even if most of Lukaszuk’s ideas, such as slashing post-secondary budgets and promoting unconstitutional labour laws, don’t seem like particularly good ones.
Moreover, he’ll be doing the province and its citizens a great favour if he can smoke out any information about what Prentice actually plans to do after the coronation has taken place and we proceed hurriedly to the next election. In this regard, Lukaszuk looks considerably better than the qualified candidates who quietly rolled over and endorsed Prentice without a run.
Lukaszuk tried to portray himself at yesterday’s newser as an anti-establishment rebel, which had hard-bitten reporters snickering since he’s been rather in the thick of things for the past few years, as the chair of the committee that promoted open war with public sector unions under Redford and even as deputy premier.
Still, as they say, any old port in a storm — and with the foundering party already set on the supposedly restorative powers of a Prentice Premiership, it’s grimly stormy out there for candidates like Lukaszuk and McIver.
His past positioning no doubt led to the only harsh question from a reporter that I heard — about how much Lukaszuk knew of the government’s plans to build a Sky Palace atop a government building to house Redford. “I can swear on a stack of Bibles that I was not aware,” he responded.
Lukaszuk tried to turn his situation around by insisting his will be a grassroots, volunteer-driven campaign.
“You will not see any of the perennial consultants or others hanging around my campaign,” he sniffed, either a shot at Prentice’s high-priced navigational help or a tacit admission his team will have no money after he’s finished paying the $50,000 entry fee by the end of the month.
He tried to set the right tone with an optimistic metaphor: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog!”
Alas, one could almost hear Prentice wondering: “Can anyone make that little dog stop yapping?”
This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.