By now, Albertans have heard all the pieces of the political puzzle falling into place for the next leader of the province. No, Justin Trudeau didn’t show up at the Alberta Progressive Conservative Convention earlier this week; Brad Wall did.
But don’t think the 37 candidates in the MLA race for leader of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party have dropped all their other horses, in their quest to unseat the New Democratic Party’s Rachel Notley. They’re still there, and they still want a say in how their party runs in the future.
With many Albertans ready to put the NDP in their rear-view mirror, last week’s PC Convention in Calgary kicked off with frontrunners David Khan and Guy Boutilier sending out a public notification requesting and receiving party nominations for their candidacy for leadership.
The men, who had both been original candidates in the race for party leader, offered a combined total of 16 years of experience in public office and privately acknowledged that if they were to remain in the leadership race, it would most likely result in a marriage of convenience with other candidates. But when it came time to shake hands with convention delegates, who had flocked from across the province to support a change in government, Khan and Boutilier stood on the same stage, their business cards side-by-side.
While on the campaign trail, Khan and Boutilier struck a tone of unity. And while there’s no doubt the two men came to the convention to build an actual campaign to unseat Notley and send a message of goodwill to other candidates with only the PC party in the clear, the affable men simply didn’t show up.
Whatever their alliance, there’s no doubt the two frontrunners saw a winnable race.
The practical answer to the secret combination of left and right leaning conservative candidates is that after the Alberta election victory in 2016, the base of both major political parties have regrouped and are ready to fight against one another in an election cycle that’s certainly not too far away. While things may have cooled on any chance of unity after former MP Jason Kenney’s ride to Premier Rachel Notley’s office, he was able to reassure the party faithful that their most-voted-for leader will not exclude them from the running in an election campaign.
Moreover, Notley’s government doesn’t support Kenney’s initiatives to at the provincial level. And when it comes to a referendum on the future of Alberta’s oil and gas industry, a Trudeau government guaranteed to pull Alberta’s economy kicking and screaming into the coming century. Kenney’s UCP party knows that Premier Notley is closely allied with Alberta’s oil and gas industry, and that platform was exactly what the party was built on.
There may not be many leaders left in opposition to Rachel Notley, but there are still a few players in the leadership race who will be making their case against her message of hope and change. And at the grassroots level, many Albertans aren’t waiting for the end of the convention to see the candidate for the PC party with their help.
In Edmonton, Kenney is trying to bridge the gap between the party faithful and the conservative forces now united. The conflict will be a problem if left unanswered.
Tim Bigland is a senior strategist and media strategist in Calgary.
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