There was blood in the water of the Bow River as it flowed through Cowtown last night.
After a while, it became clear the metaphorical blood had been shed by the ever-embarrassing Rob Anders, who at a mere 42 years of age had served an excruciating six terms as the Reform, Alliance and Conservative Member of Parliament for the Calgary West riding, which will soon cease to exist.
This, however, was not immediately obvious. After more than an hour and a half of waiting for ballot counters in the new Calgary Signal-Hill electoral district to figure out whether Anders or challenger Ron Liepert had won the hard-fought Tory nomination, the Calgary Herald posted a story saying they both had!
It was soon apparent Southern Alberta's Website of Record had published a draft version containing two alternative leads, causing a few minutes of confusion before the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., whose employees were victims last week of massive cuts by the federal Conservative government whose nomination Anders and Liepert were fighting over, came to the rescue of political news junkies and confirmed the former provincial cabinet minister's victory.
The CBC reported that about 2,400 of the riding's 3,250 eligible Tories voted, but said the party refused to release the final tallies. Tweets earlier in the evening had claimed the two were separated by only five votes.
Idle hands are the Devil's workshop, and myriad Twitterists took advantage of the hour and half of silence to get up to all kinds of mischief, posting old Youtube videos of Anders in a Pinocchio nose being humiliated while heckling an American politician and dozing off in the House of Commons, and making jokes about how it takes time to fix a good election.
But in the event, it appears the election wasn’t fixed at all -- notwithstanding endorsements of Anders by the likes of Employment Minister Jason Kenney and Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself. In retrospect, the PM's endorsement seemed half-hearted at best, so this may be a rare case of the rats being chased off a sinking ship.
Leastways, the contest obviously wasn’t fixed in Anders' favour. So Liepert, a 64-year-old former AM radio disk jockey and Progressive Conservative minster from the cabinets of Alberta premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford, was eventually declared the victor, leading one Tweeter to crow that party members in Signal Hill had chosen "the lesser of two weasels."
This may not be a bad summation, actually.
Appropriately born on April Fools' Day, Anders' foibles are almost as well known as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's.
In 1994, he travelled south to act as a "professional heckler" for a Republican candidate in Oklahoma. (He was labeled a "foreign political saboteur" for his trouble by CNN.) He later assailed Ralph Klein as a "cocktail Conservative," too soft on Ottawa and not nearly far enough to the right.
As Calgary West MP, he voted with the Bloc Québécois to support a proposition that Quebeckers should be able to form a nation any time they darn well felt like it and could withdraw from any federal initiative. His was the only non-Bloc MP vote for the proposition. He also famously called Nelson Mandela a Communist and a terrorist and was the only legislator to vote against giving the South African liberator honourary Canadian citizenship.
Anders once boasted about how women throw themselves at his feet, explaining that as a consequence he'd taken a vow of chastity. (Just the same, he explained to a astonished and appalled reporter, he had "gone as far as kissing and kind of 'massaging,' if you will.")
In 2012, he was captured on TV falling asleep on TV in the House of Commons. The same year, he accused NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair of hastening Jack Layton's death.
As for Liepert, while hardly able to reach Anders' sub-orbital levels of idiocy, he was nevertheless the perennial bull in the china shop of Alberta provincial politics.
As a short-tempered minister given the Education portfolio by Stelmach, he soon roused Alberta's teachers, hitherto practically a branch of the Progressive Conservative Party, to a state of open rebellion.
Later, as minister of health and wellness, he launched Alberta's catastrophic experiment in health-care centralization, pushed seniors' care toward a high-cost private model, watched a crisis in the province's emergency rooms boil over, and brought in Stephen Duckett, the egotistical and undiplomatic Australian PhD economist, to lead Alberta Health Services into a black hole, where it remains.
Liepert became so unpopular as health minister seniors would boo spontaneously when he walked into a room. Stelmach eventually had to shuffle him off to the energy ministry to get him out of harm's way.
To the astonishment of everyone who hadn’t been paying attention to their political history, upon taking power, former premier Alison Redford jumped Liepert up to the finance portfolio, his provincial swansong before what obviously turned out to be an insufficiently engaging retirement.
His history with Redford? He managed her unsuccessful 2004 campaign to … wait for it … try to topple Anders in Calgary West.
As a result, no love was lost between the two, and Anders in particular ran a sleazy campaign, claiming Liepert was backed by "temporary Tories" from Liberal and NDP ranks, portraying the old privatizer as a tax and spend liberal and employing misleading phone calls to attack his opponent.
The conventional Alberta wisdom is now that Liepert will go on to automatically win the next general election for the Harper Tories and that Anders has had his last dance, but one wonders.
Even with redrawn boundaries, the sinking of Rob Anders is a political event of sufficient force to register on the Richter scale. Could it be that Anders' accusation was true and Liepert's ten-minute Tories will return to their own parties while his own gun nut and fundamentalist Christian supporters stay home on election day?
Or, even better, that Anders might run as an independent to bleed off the vote of the sizeable Conservative lunatic fringe in the riding.
These seem like improbable scenarios to this former Calgary resident, but hope springs eternal on the dusty plains of Alberta. After all, a Liberal very nearly knocked off Calgary Centre MP Joan Crockatt in November 2012, and may have a better chance to do so next time.
Anders could also get the nod from his friends in the party to seek another Calgary riding's nomination, thereby surviving to make a fool of himself another day.
Nevertheless, the defeat of Anders by Liepert last night marks the end of an era in Alberta.
That is, except for the fact he will continue to serve as the MP for Calgary West until an election is called, leaving plenty of time for new embarrassments.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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