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Why is UCP keeping Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties on life support?

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Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney. Photo: Manning Centre c/o Jake Wright/Wikimedia Commons

Inquiring minds want to know: why is Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney keeping the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties around?

Media generally refer to Kenney as the United Conservative Party leader.

But in reality, he's the leader of the United Conservative Party, the Progressive Conservative Party and the Wildrose Party, so why not UCP-PC-Wildrose leader?

If you had imagined the two Alberta legacy conservative parties would just disappear once they were merged into the United Conservative Party, it appears you were mistaken.

Leastways, the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta, as the PC Party was formally known, still exists as a party registered with Elections Alberta. According to the provincial elections agency, Kenney is leader, Erika Barootes is president, and Cheryl Cymbaliuk is chief financial officer.

Meanwhile, down the list a little ways, the Wildrose Party also still exists. Once again, according to Elections Alberta, Kenney is leader, Barootes is president, and Cymbaliuk is chief financial officer.

As for the United Conservative Party, as is better known, Kenney is shown as leader, Barootes as president, and Cymbaliuk as chief financial officer.

Readers may reasonably assume that the UCP is simply camping on the old names to keep someone from making off with them, and this may well be part of the strategy. Despite effectively ceasing all operations after July 2017, however, both parties have continued to take in some donations, although the amounts to date are small.

Nevertheless, it's reasonable to ask if there are additional reasons these two effectively defunct political parties are being kept on life support by Kenney and his senior UCP officials. It seems likely.

For one thing, while under current Alberta election financing law sums raised by the parties couldn't be used directly by the UCP, they might be able to be used for other helpful activities, say, attack ads against the NDP government. Moreover, if he becomes premier, Kenney is likely to weaken Alberta election financing law to allow the three parties' war chests to be combined, and probably to permit Wild West corporate financing of political parties to return to Alberta.

Then there is the matter of the PC party's debt after the 2015 election. Thomas Lukaszuk, former PC deputy premier of Alberta under premier Alison Redford's leadership, said recently on social media that when the late Jim Prentice was premier the party borrowed a substantial sum without proper board authorization.

It would be interesting to see documentary confirmation of that, and to know what Kenney plans to do about it.

Meanwhile, Kenney has been loudly demanding that the NDP government of Rachel Notley ignore the province's Redford-era fixed-election-period law and call an early election.

This reinforces, of course, the UCP/Postmedia narrative that Kenney's victory is inevitable, a mere formality. Never mind that Prentice's decision to call an election a year earlier than he had to in 2015 was one of the significant factors that led to the election of Notley's majority NDP government.

But it also suggests that the stream of scandals about UCP nomination fights may not be about to abate any time soon, or at least may be causing some nervousness in UCP circles.

Readers will recall Independent MLA Prab Gill's allegations in the legislature of "suspicious donations" from PACs associated with Kenney being used to sideline former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean in the 2017 UCP leadership race.

Last night, moreover, a recording briefly surfaced then disappeared that appeared to be of a briefing by a Kenney strategist on how leadership candidate Jeff Callaway would run a "Kamikaze campaign" to derail Jean, clear the way for Kenney, and then drop out.

Then there are the claims of the former president of the UCP's Highwood riding constituency association that she was verbally sexually harassed by another member of her board, then removed from her party position when she complained about it.

Laurie Rennich told High River Online that UCP officials told her, "We expect these interpersonal matters to be resolved quickly and completely, so that further ongoing damage to the party itself is avoided."

Political observers with sharp memories were reminded of revelations in 2017 of how UCP House Leader Jason Nixon fired a single mom he employed in 2005 at his workplace safety consulting company when she complained of sexual harassment by a client at a worksite in British Columbia.

And then there were the embarrassing recordings of things Kenney has said that keep popping up on social media. Press Progress reported last week on a just-surfaced audio "showing Jason Kenney bragged about leading the push to repeal a law extending hospital visitation rights to gay couples."

This, the progressive news site said, "has left one of the United Conservative Party leader's favourite talking points in tatters." Kenney's "success" in the U.S. in the 1980s resulted in men dying of AIDS being denied visits from their life partners. The clip surfaced after Kenney released a video marking World AIDS Day.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding his recent squawking about the need for an early election, Kenney is stalling the UCP nomination meeting in the Red Deer-South riding until next year to accommodate an unnamed "high-profile individual."

Who that candidate is, though, is for the leader to know and for the rest of us to find out.

Kenney can be authoritarian with his party faithful when it suits him -- and not so much when it doesn't, as when people are demanding the head of his friend John Carpay, the Pride-flag-is-the-same-as-a-swastika guy. Then there's nothing Kenney can do. It's all up to the party's board.

No need to worry about what the party board thinks in this case, though.

UCP Executive Director Janice Harrington was happy to go along with Kenney to inform nomination candidates that they would not be running for the nomination any time soon.

"I recognize that this may be disappointing for some of you to hear, but please understand that we're seeking what's best for the members of Red Deer-South," she said in a letter to nomination candidates quoted by the Edmonton edition of Star Metro. "That decision was made with the intention of providing as many qualified individuals the opportunity to seek the nomination in Red Deer-South as possible."

In other words, we're seeking the best, and you're not it.

Stay tuned. There's sure to be more.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Manning Centre c/o Jake Wright/Wikimedia Commons

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