The whack-a-molers are back, trying again to unseat Conservative MP Rob Anders.
Mr. Anders, who represents Calgary West, is a darling of Canada’s anti-abortion, very right-wing and evangelical Christian church crowds – and a favourite on Canada’s comedy television channel, Sun News.
He’s famous for being a nobody in Parliament, except when he earns notoriety by falling asleep at work, objecting to making former South African president Nelson Mandela an honorary Canadian, and suggesting darkly that NDP leader Thomas Mulcair somehow “helped to hasten” the death of his predecessor, Jack Layton.
In a Conservative backbench stuffed with less than stellar lights, Mr. Anders has always stood out for being especially ineffective, shunned even by some of his colleagues embarrassed by his outbursts and rhetoric. It’s not that they necessarily disagree with his views, for the Conservative backbench is full of fire-breathing right-wingers and evangelicals – it’s that they cringe a bit at the formidably uncouth way Mr. Anders sometimes expresses himself.
But the groups that support Mr. Anders’s views love their man, including back home in Calgary, where Mr. Anders has crushed all comers in the past and girds himself to do so again.
In Calgary West, whose boundaries change to become Calgary Signal Hill for the next election, the Conservatives could run a stuffed moose and win. The only contest that matters is the Conservative nomination.
Mr. Anders has been challenged in the past by fellow Conservatives. A little-known candidate named Alison Redford, now premier, tried in 2004 to wrest control of the nomination from Mr. Anders. She failed, as did Donna Kennedy-Glans, who went on to become an MLA in Ms. Redford’s Progressive Conservative government.
Now, another group of whack-a-molers are rallying to defeat Mr. Anders. Their candidate appears to be the thoroughly admirable Ron Liepert, who, if merit counted for anything, would win the nomination and zoom to the Conservative front bench in Ottawa.
Mr. Liepert once worked for Alberta premier Peter Lougheed. Later, he held four of the most important ministerial posts in the provincial government. Very rarely does any party get someone of his public experience to run for federal office. He’s seasoned, smart and moderate, which would be his problem in a fight against Mr. Anders.
Those who we might call the Lougheed Progressive Conservatives have pretty much departed the federal Conservative Party. The last three Alberta PCs in the federal Conservative caucus are gone: Jim Prentice, Lee Richardson and Ted Menzies. What remains is a much more ideologically conservative caucus featuring luminaries who began in the Reform Party, such as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Employment Minister Jason Kenney. Most federal Conservative MPs now support Alberta’s provincial Wildrose Party, not Ms. Redford’s more moderate Progressive Conservatives.
Non-Conservatives might consider Mr. Anders to be far to the political right. But in the modern Conservative Party, at least in its Alberta heartland, Mr. Anders is not such an outlier, if you discount his occasionally nutty outbursts and buffoonery. The challenge is to his style rather than his views.
One of Mr. Anders’s former aides, Ray Novak, has been on Mr. Harper’s prime ministerial staff for years and is now chief of staff, having replaced Nigel Wright. Mr. Anders took Mr. Harper’s seat in Parliament when the future PM took a sabbatical from politics in 1997. Mr. Anders, who enthusiastically supported Mr. Harper’s leadership aspirations, proclaims himself a Harper loyalist assailed by “Red Tories” such as Mr. Liepert, who are “tax-and-spenders” willing to secure support from apostate supporters of the Liberal and NDP.
If the past be any guide, Mr. Anders will identify and mobilize his supporters, who we might call the core of the core of the Conservative Party’s voting base, and use them to fend off any nomination challenge. His detractors have launched a website called It’s Time To Do Better, a self-evidently correct message but not necessarily one transferable to Mr. Anders’s defeat.
Mr. Anders is an outlier in style within the modern Conservatives, but he is closer than his detractors to the party’s heartbeat.