Do Alberta's Progressive Conservatives have a death wish?

November 11, 2016 - 3:47pm

By obstructing Jason Kenney and revisiting a now-discredited past, the PCs would be ensuring the NDP stay in power

CALGARY, Alta. / Troy Media/ - There are far too many roadblocks along the path to a revived Alberta Progressive Conservative Party - and a new leader.

In the wake of the recent three-day PC Party policy meeting in Red Deer, delegate selection will soon begin for the leadership convention next March. Delegate selection is key.

The old one-member/one vote system almost elected my friend and colleague Ted Morton in 2006 and did elect Jim Prentice in 2014.

Long-term members of the provincial party, and especially those who had been active in various executive positions, were unhappy with the results of this procedure.

They suspected Morton - he was, after all, a university professor with ties to the federal Conservatives - and saw Prentice as an Ottawa carpet-bagger. They claimed, not without reason, that the old system allowed persons whose connections were chiefly to the much larger federal party to join the Alberta PCs on short notice. Such new recruits might then select someone unconnected to the glorious machine that brought us the Ralph Klein government and his disastrous successors, Premiers Ed Stelmach and Allison Redford.

One such outsider is Jason Kenney, who recently left his seat as a federal Conservative MP to pursue the Alberta PC leadership. Every PC member knows that Kenney seeks to amalgamate their party with Wildrose. This is one reason the procedural guide for delegate selection specifies that the rules are to be interpreted "in the best interests of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta." Those loyal to the memory of the old PCs see amalgamation as the extinguishing of the source of their feel-good nostalgia. Watch for a Kenney opponent to try to disqualify him on those grounds alone.

The second way to obstruct a Kenney victory is slightly more subtle. The old-guard Alberta PCs - now largely out-of-work mechanics who tended the PC machine that the NDP smashed last year - erected a procedural firewall directed against Kenney.

Here's how the selection procedure makes Kenney's path to victory difficult:

Each of 87 constituencies selects 15 delegates. Those delegates must be residents of the riding or non-resident members of the constituency board of directors. A third of the delegates from each constituency must be board members.

Most constituency annual general meetings took place before Kenney announced he was running, so many boards have already been selected. This means many of the automatic delegates have fond memories of the glory days of the discredited party machine. They will be joined by ex officio delegates unelected by anyone. They are heavily represented by existing provincial and regional boards, present and former constituency association presidents and MLAs, and other senior party officials. They, too, distrust federally-tainted conservatives.

Their strategy is simple. Even if the Kenney people do well in electing delegates, they may not win the 50 per cent-plus needed to capture the leadership. This opens the way for an ABK - anyone but Kenney - alternative.

Despite musings of self-styled "progressives" whose ideological home is someplace in New Democrat land, the struggle, as ever, is less about ideas and values than power. As an ABK candidate, MLA Richard Starke, the Vermillion veterinarian, said uniting the parties "is solely a mechanism to try to seek to gain political power."

Yes, it is.

With recent polls putting the NDP back at their historic levels of support, around 15 per cent, the notion that old-style PCs would seek to lose by perpetuating past failures suggests an organizational suicide-wish.

Kenney is trying genuinely to restore the party, rebuild the alliance that the PCs lost to Wildrose, and ensure that conservatives are a part of government. Victory of the ABK faction ensures nothing - except the possibility of more NDP rule.

Barry Cooper teaches political science at the University of Calgary.
© 2016 Distributed by Troy Media

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