Jason Kenney is seen by many as a front-runner in this week's vote to lead the United Conservative Party in Alberta — but don't discount the dark horse of Doug Schweitzer just yet, says one of nine Wildrose MLAs who crossed the floor to join the PCs in 2014.
After months of campaigning and five debates in a race that effectively began in July with the merger of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservatives, three candidates remain in the running for the job: Jason Kenney, Brian Jean and Schweitzer.
Not surprisingly, the race has been contentious at times, with Jean's campaign accusing Kenney's of spreading misinformation.
Voting, online and by phone, begins at 9 a.m. Thursday and runs until 5 p.m. Saturday, when the new leader will be announced in Calgary.
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For an insider's look at the race, the Calgary Eyeopener was joined Tuesday by Bruce McAllister, who represented the riding of Chestermere-Rocky View from 2012 to 2015 as first a Wildrose candidate and then PC.
He now runs the PR firm Right Angle Communications and Consulting.
Below is an abridged version of that conversation.
Q: How would you characterize the race so far, is this a three-horse race or a two-horse race?
A: Let me say off the top predicting Alberta politics is next to impossible. As you know, I've been caught on the wrong side, thinking I was on the right side of something, so maybe my advice is off-base. But in my opinion, Jason Kenney is far and away the front-runner, but Doug Schweitzer, I don't think you can count out.
Should Doug finish second somehow — his team has been working very hard and he has been offering a countering message to the other two — and nobody gets 50 per cent on the first ballot, there's a general thinking he has a chance with second place ballots.
Q: It's surprising to me that you discount Brian Jean.
A: I don't mean to say that I discount Brian Jean. I just think Jason Kenney is probably the front-runner, and I say that just from knowing the inside of politics and the organization and the work that it takes. Remember, we're not appealing to all of Albertans here in this race, it is just the UCP members that are voting, so this is about organization.
Right out of the gate, when Jason Kenney arrived on the scene, everybody said 'this will never work, unity is impossible, you're not going to get 87 constituency associations to support unity and vote for it and have the PC vote in favour. And of course we know how that machine of people and the organizational skills were put into motion and with flying colours … the PC party voted for unity.
I guess I'm pointing out that they know what they're doing behind the scenes. It takes an immense amount of work. Not to discount Brian, I'm sure his team is working very hard, too, but at every step we have all questioned it and to this point it is moving along the tracks.
Q: All leadership races turn into popularity contests at some point, but for those people who haven't been involved or listened to all of the debates, in terms of policy, what actually separates these three?
A: Doug Schweitzer is the easy one. Doug is certainly more socially liberal, if you will, as far as social policies go. Not that the others are suggesting they aren't, but the general mud that sticks on those two, and certainly probably Jason more than Brian, is that they're social conservatives.
I don't think most people in the conservative tent, the UCP membership, most people aren't talking about those things. For conservatives, it's about tax cuts, controlled spending and debt reduction. In general, people care about our province's finances.
Q: You talk about outrage, Jason Kenney generated some outrage when he evoked the name of Peter Lougheed, trying to compare himself in some ways to the late, great Peter Lougheed, former premier of Alberta. Now that's not rare, I think anyone from the conservative side in Alberta has done that for years. But he really angered some members of the Lougheed family who know Jason Kenney was extremely critical of Lougheed earlier on in his career. Was that a mistake by Jason Kenney?
A: This is the thing about politics: you try and sell your absolute best features. So Jason Kenney will be out there saying 'I am an experienced candidate … here's my resume,' and he'll back it up with all the experience and leadership. And everyone else will be looking for holes in what he has said and done over the last couple of decades and trying to make it stick with the general public. That's politics 101.
I guess it's what the public sees at the end of the day and what they want to believe. For me, this comes down to, when I look at the three of them, I say who do we want sitting at the table, defending us against the current premier — or even the prime minister, for that matter — on the big issues. Who is most capable? That's what Jason Kenney wants the discussion to be about and he thinks he'll win if it is.
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With files from the Calgary Eyeopener