Danielle Smith is a radio host with NewsTalk 770 in Calgary, former MLA and former leader of the Wildrose.
Fortune favours the bold, or so they say. While that may be true in business, it isn't in politics – which is why, if I were a betting person, I'd place my bet on Brian Jean to be the next premier of Alberta.
In early July, federal Conservative MP Jason Kenney formally entered the race to lead the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. His entrance into the race was greeted with overwhelmingly positive press coverage and high-profile endorsements. Former prime minister Stephen Harper and interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose went all in, saying federal Conservatives should buy memberships to support Mr. Kenney for PC leader.
Mr. Kenney, meanwhile, has launched a campaign very light on policy and very heavy on the mechanics of how to bring conservatives together. His five point plan: 1: Become leader of the PCs. 2: Negotiate a merger with the Wildrose. 3: Put the merger to a referendum of PC and Wildrose members. 4: Create a new party. 5: Choose a leader.
With all the gloomy articles being written about how Wildrose Leader Brian Jean doesn't stand a chance against this juggernaut, you can't help but wonder, why is Mr. Jean smiling?
For the answer we should take a look across the pond for a lesson in political boldness. I am a big fan of the British TV series Yes Minister, which follows the somewhat bumbling Conservative MP Jim Hacker on his journey to the Prime Minister's Office with his "faithful" bureaucratic servant adviser, Sir Humphrey, at his side. There is a scene where Jim Hacker wants to make a bold stand to return power to the people. Sir Humphrey tells Hacker how "courageous" it would be for him to make the move. Hacker abandons the plan.
It turns out fortune does not favour the bold.
Former prime minister David Cameron boldly declared he would hold a referendum on Britain's exit from the European Union in a last-ditch effort to win the 2015 general election. He won the general election, then lost the Brexit referendum, and now his leadership is finished.
Former UK Independence leader Nigel Farage boldly campaigned for Brexit for 17 years. He won. Now he's finished, too.
Former London mayor Boris Johnson boldly supported the Leave campaign and was seen as the heir-apparent to Mr. Cameron. Support for him collapsed within days of the Brexit vote and he pulled his name from the race.
Three weeks post-Brexit, steady, serious, experienced, competent Theresa May has emerged seemingly out of nowhere to be installed as Prime Minister this past week.
There is a lesson in this.
Closer to home we have seen two bold unity efforts take place in federal politics in Canada. Preston Manning put his leadership on the line to create the first conservative merger under the banner of the Canadian Alliance. In the ensuing leadership contest he lost to Stockwell Day.
Peter MacKay fought hard to win the federal Progressive Conservative leadership contest, promised not to merge with the Canadian Alliance, then negotiated a merger anyway. PC members overwhelming affirmed his decision in a referendum. Coming off this bold victory, Peter MacKay didn't even attempt to run for the leadership of the newly merged party.
If there is anything to be learned, it is this: Leaders who take strong, bold, courageous action in the face of angry, fierce, emotional opposition, make a lot of enemies.
Mr. Kenney is going to face an uphill battle to win the PC leadership. If it were a one-member one-vote leadership contest, I think he would win hands down. But he is going to have to slog it out earning delegates one race at a time in 87 constituencies across Alberta, challenging gatekeepers, party brass and former MLAs who view Mr. Kenney as a nosy outsider, and who just voted at an Annual General Meeting in May to reject a merger.
Can Mr. Kenney win? I give him a 50-50 chance, with a lot of bruising along the way.
Assuming he wins and the parties do merge, he will then face another leadership contest. And who will be waiting to square off against him? Steady, serious, experienced, competent Brian Jean, who will also be spending the next year touring the province building his own support.
And if Mr. Kenney loses? Well, there is still steady, serious, experienced, competent Brian Jean standing ready to unite conservatives under the Wildrose banner.
Now do you see why Brian Jean is smiling?