Rob Anders's riding rebuff the price of open nominations: Kady O'Malley

Despite endorsements from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Employment Minister Jason Kenney, the controversy-prone six-term MP was pipped at the nomination post by former provincial cabinet minister Ron Liepert. Should the PM be worried?

6-term Alberta MP loses riding nod despite endorsements from Harper and Kenney

MP Rob Anders was defeated by Ron Liepert during the Calgary-Signal Hill federal Conservative nomination earlier this month. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

As the dust settles in the Calgary–Signal Hill Conservative nomination battle, the defeat of veteran MP Rob Anders by former Alberta cabinet minister Ron Liepert is prompting the usual rumblings over what it may reveal about the state of the storied Conservative base.

For those who managed to tune out one of the most hotly contested nomination skirmishes so far on the road to 2015, Anders now faces an uncertain political future after being rejected in his bid to run under the Conservative banner in the newly formed Calgary riding, which consists of approximately 75 per cent of Anders' current constituency of Calgary West.

He could conceivably run in the neighbouring riding of Calgary–Rocky Ridge, which will include the remaining chunk of Calgary West and is currently uncontested, at least officially.

Alternatively, he may decide to depart the federal scene entirely when his current term runs out and either move to the provincial — or even municipal — front or leave the field entirely for the private sector or a berth at an (undoubtedly right-leaning) think-tank or university gig.

With over a year to go until he'll have to pack up his Calgary West constituency office, however, Anders is under no particularly onerous deadline to decide what he'll do next.

His party, on the other hand, is dealing with the first official rebuff of a sitting MP since taking office in 2006, just as the process of nominating Conservative candidates across the country is getting underway.

As I wrote a few weeks back, it's also the first time since 2006 that sitting MPs are facing the possibility — in some cases, distinctly unlikely — of a nomination race at all.

During minority years, incumbents were, for the most part, protected from challengers due to the uncertainty of the electoral timeline — a courtesy that was also practised by the New Democrats and the Liberals.

This time around, the party has made it quietly clear that, barring serious alleged shenanigans on the local scene, the PM will not be getting involved in riding-level turf wars.

But even under the open nomination process, there are still some perks reserved for current caucus members.

Big-name help

During the CalgarySignal Hill campaign, Anders's webpage touted endorsements from both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Employment Minister Jason Kenney.

Kenney, in fact, reportedly went a step further, lending his prerecorded voice to an eleventh-hour round of robocalls on Anders' behalf.

Even if Liepert had been able to win over one of Kenney's fellow cabinet ministers, however, they wouldn't have been able to provide a public testimonial in his favour, as MPs have been expressly forbidden from lending their visible support to any candidate angling to oust a caucus colleague.

As for that much-publicized prime ministerial endorsement, it was later revealed that similar statements — which did not, in Anders' case at least, actually include the word "endorse" — have been offered to all sitting MPs, which could dilute its potential to influence the outcome of a close race.

In fact, as the outcome in Calgary–Signal Hill demonstrates, even a public thumbs-up from the PM may not be sufficient to quell deep-seated grassroots grumbling.

In this case, however, it seems all but certain that it was Anders, and not the party, who was judged by local party members and found wanting — and, so far, there hasn't been a hint of speculation the prime minister might exercise the ultimate discretion as leader and decline to sign off on Liepert's nomination papers.

Compare that to the continuing intra-party kvetching plaguing the Liberals in Trinity–Spadina, where Justin Trudeau's move to bar former candidate Christine Innes from submitting her name for consideration for the upcoming byelection was viewed by some as a telling display of the sort of reflexive top-down thinking that Trudeau has so staunchly disavowed.

On Monday, Innes announced that she has launched a defamation suit against Trudeau and Ontario campaign co-chair David MacNaughton, which alleges that the pair "repeatedly and maliciously defamed Innes by accusing her and her team of 'bullying and intimidating' young Liberals during the campaign for the Liberal candidacy in the riding."

In any case, given the circumstances at play in Calgary–Signal Hill, it would seem unwise to rely on the outcome to draw sweeping conclusions on the state of the Conservative Party.

After all, few nomination candidates, whether incumbent MPs or first-time hopefuls, would be able to lay claim to as colourful — or controversial — a collection of Google hits for their name.

At the same time, sitting MPs facing serious nomination challenges would be equally unwise to assume that they can cruise to victory purely on the power of a few words of praise, even if it comes straight from the prime minister himself.

About the Author

Kady O'Malley

Kady O'Malley covered Parliament Hill for CBC News until June, 2015.


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