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Gary Mason

Gary Mason


For Alberta Tories, disarray is the new default Add to ...

Once upon a time, it was British Columbia that could be counted on to provide the kind of unruly, scandal-prone politics that made the province the butt of jokes nationally. These days, however, it’s Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives who routinely supply the country with the kind of rich, sensationalistic fodder B.C. was once known for.

Mud-slinging and charges of misconduct have become almost a routine part of the Tory leadership race under way to replace disgraced former leader Alison Redford. Months after stepping down as premier, Ms. Redford continues to make headlines for the blatant disregard she exhibited for taxpayers’ dollars.

An Auditor-General’s report recently revealed the extent to which Ms. Redford abused the government air fleet for personal and partisan purposes. It also laid bare her plans to build a luxury penthouse apartment – dubbed the Sky Palace – in a public building in downtown Edmonton for her personal use. The litany of her excesses ensures she will forever be associated with the derisive moniker “Queen Alison.”

Ms. Redford’s resignation last spring necessitated this leadership race. The convention begins Saturday, and if any of the three candidates (Jim Prentice, Thomas Lukaszuk and Ric McIver) gets 50 per cent plus one of the votes cast, it will be over. If not, the candidate with the lowest vote total falls off the ballot and there will be a run-off between the remaining two.

The campaign itself has mostly been a lame affair, marked more by minor imbroglios and allegations of smear tactics than debate over policies that could be considered even remotely revolutionary. The most off-the-wall promise has come from front-runner Mr. Prentice, who’s vowed to limit MLAs to three terms in office and premiers to two. The idea has been universally panned, with some legal experts saying it’s likely unconstitutional.

Meantime, Mr. Prentice has had to come clean about memberships the candidates are supposed to be selling to prospective party members for $10. (These members ostensibly vote for you at the convention.) A volunteer from a rival candidate’s camp taped a Prentice volunteer offering free memberships to people at a street fair. At first, the Prentice camp denied engaging in the practice. But Mr. Prentice eventually had to admit that yes, his team was giving away free memberships, but it was legal under the party constitution. Legal, but also widely seen as unethical.

The party had to acknowledge that while it unquestionably frowns on the practice, it isn’t outlawed – ergo, it’s technically not cheating if everyone can do it. Why the Tories haven’t closed this loophole is beyond comprehension. Free memberships devalue the leadership selection process and make a mockery of long-time dues-paying party members.

Mr. Lukaszuk has had to own a couple of humiliations of his own, ones that came to light by way of some suspicious leaks to the media. One revealed that he racked up $20,000 in roaming charges on a government cellphone while on vacation in Poland. Mr. Lukaszuk said the bill was related to discussions in his role as deputy premier that involved a fellow cabinet minister enmeshed in a messy family dispute – so messy, apparently, that the minister felt concerned for his personal safety.

Then someone leaked details of government flights Mr. Lukaszuk took with his daughter in tow, the same kind of no-no that got Ms. Redford in trouble. He paid the money back and accused Mr. Prentice’s camp of being behind the disclosures, which Mr. Prentice denied.

What the leadership campaign has highlighted, ultimately, is the chaos that has engulfed the Tory ranks. The nastiness goes back to the dying days of Ralph Klein’s leadership. Alberta politics have become as low and unpleasant as any in the country. Meanwhile, Danielle Smith and her Official Opposition Wildrose Party sit back with Cheshire grins, merrily taking in what appears to be the slow-motion implosion of the province’s natural governing party.

The previous two leadership campaigns were incredibly divisive for the Tories. It was hoped that this one would be less so. On the contrary, the disunity and disarray that have besieged the party in recent years shows no signs of abating.

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