Al­ber­tans should be pre­pared for an end­less elec­tion cam­paign

With UCP race heat­ing up, NDP is al­ready de­fend­ing its in­cum­bency, trash­ing its foes

Calgary Herald - - EDITORIAL - GRAHAM THOMSON gth­om­son@post­media.com

The news re­lease from the Ja­son Ken­ney lead­er­ship cam­paign touted an an­nounce­ment Wed­nes­day morn­ing with “spe­cial guests.”

Oooh. I wasn’t the only jour­nal­ist who won­dered if one of those “spe­cial guests” would be Stephen Harper.

Af­ter all, Harper is a sup­porter of Ken­ney’s bid to become leader of the new United Con­ser­va­tive Party.

And what could be more spe­cial than an of­fi­cial en­dorse­ment from a for­mer Con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter? But there was noth­ing es­pe­cially spe­cial about the guests — UCP MLAs Ric McIver and Ja­son Nixon, who have both been un­of­fi­cially on the Ken­ney band­wagon for some time.

Their en­dorse­ments were a bit like un­veil­ing a statue that had al­ready been sit­ting in the town square for six months.

But get used to it. We’ll be see­ing more of these non-spe­cial spe­cial events for the next month or so as the can­di­dates in the UCP lead­er­ship race try their best to gen­er­ate the im­pres­sion of mo­men­tum ahead of the Oct. 28 vote.

The race, by the way, is re­ally, of­fi­cially un­der­way now that we know who is in and who is out.

And by in, I mean for­mer PC leader Ken­ney, for­mer Wil­drose leader Brian Jean, Cal­gary lawyer Doug Sch­weitzer and for­mer Wil­drose pres­i­dent Jeff Call­away.

They all met the re­quire­ment to pay at least $57,500 of the en­try fee be­fore 5 p.m. Tues­day. An­other $37,500 is due by Oct. 5.

And by out, I mean Paul Hin­man, a for­mer MLA who was leader of the Wil­drose a decade ago, back when it was the Wil­drose Al­liance.

In one of the more un­usual cam­paign strate­gies, Hin­man an­nounced just last week­end he was run­ning, and then tried to raise the nec­es­sary $57,500 en­try fee by Tues­day af­ter­noon.

He didn’t suc­ceed, and in what must be the un­der­state­ment of the year, told re­porters he should have started his cam­paign sooner.

Now that they’re of­fi­cially in, the can­di­dates wasted no time is­su­ing a flurry of news re­leases.

On Wed­nes­day, Ken­ney sent out an email boast­ing of his two new en­dorse­ments, while one of the en­dorsers, Nixon, fol­lowed with a why-I-sup­port-Ken­ney email. Sch­weitzer is­sued a re­lease say­ing he had the sup­port of MLA Wayne Drys­dale, while Jean an­nounced en­dorse­ments from two ru­ral may­ors and for­mer Con­ser­va­tive MP My­ron Thomp­son.

There’s a lot at stake here for the can­di­dates. As far as they’re con­cerned, they’re not just run­ning to be leader of the of­fi­cial Op­po­si­tion, they’re run­ning to be premier. They point to pub­lic opin­ion polls in­di­cat­ing the NDP gov­ern­ment is deeply un­pop­u­lar out­side of Edmonton.

The lead­er­ship can­di­dates are con­vinced the UCP will form gov­ern­ment af­ter the next provin­cial elec­tion in 2019.

It’s an ar­gu­ment not with­out merit. In­deed, you can see how the NDP gov­ern­ment it­self is tak­ing this race se­ri­ously.

In re­cent weeks, the NDP cau­cus is­sued a bliz­zard of news re­leases at­tack­ing the var­i­ous UCP lead­er­ship can­di­dates.

The NDP has, among other things, ac­cused Jean of sup­port­ing “Amer­i­can-style” health care, claimed Ken­ney’s aus­ter­ity plan would dev­as­tate gov­ern­ment ser­vices with a 20 per cent across the board cut, and slammed Sch­weitzer for want­ing to roll back in­creases to the min­i­mum wage.

This is un­usual. Gov­ern­ments are rarely so pre­oc­cu­pied with the in­ner work­ings of an op­po­si­tion party.

The UCP should be flat­tered. The rest of us should re­al­ize we are not just wit­ness­ing the race for lead­er­ship of the UCP, we are watch­ing the be­gin­ning of the provin­cial elec­tion cam­paign.

The elec­tion won’t be held for nearly two years, but the par­ties and politicians are act­ing as if we’re al­ready in the “red zone.”

Premier Rachel Not­ley has been trad­ing po­lit­i­cal jabs with Ken­ney and Jean, ac­cus­ing Jean of be­ing “ridicu­lous” one day and Ken­ney of be­ing “heart­less” an­other.

If you think the UCP lead­er­ship race seems end­less with six weeks still to go, get ready for a 20-month elec­tion cam­paign.

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