by David J. Climenhaga
Now that his leadership of the Alberta Conservative Party is all but assured, where will Gary Mar run for the Alberta Legislature? He can’t be premier without a seat in the House, after all.
Well, how about Calgary-West?
But wait, you must be thinking, that’s Ron Liepert’s riding! You know, Ron Liepert, who was made special ambassador to the Oil Boys Club by Premier Ed Stelmach after he flopped so disastrously as minister of health that Alberta seniors spontaneously booed him when he appeared in a crowd!
No worries about that, of course, as long as Mr. Mar has a special job for Mr. Liepert – say, chief of staff in the premier’s office!
OK, that’s just a rumour that’s doing the rounds hereabouts, but the fact that serious people are nowadays whispering an unconfirmed yarn like this nevertheless illustrates why Gary Mar could very well end up being a huge liability to the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.
There’s just something about Gary, as a politician, that a heck of a lot of Albertans don’t like. There’s no particular news in that – the Wildrose Party’s been saying much the same thing for the better part of a year, ever since Candidate Mar hove into sight. But the Wildrosers say it’s because Mr. Mar is “too left wing,” when in fact the problem for the Tories may be the opposite, or close to it.
The real problem with Mr. Mar – which a lot of ordinary Albertans are starting to pick up on and discuss in their coffee shops and workplaces – is that he represents the Old Boys Club (which, of course, is closely tied to the Oil Boys Club) in the Tory caucus and party structure.
These are the people who since Ralph Klein was premier have run Alberta as if it were their private playhouse, and as if the massive tax dollars this province generates are theirs to do with as they please – say, paying $400,000 to a consulting company run by a personal friend to provide verbal “advice,” no record of which exists.
Indeed, Mr. Klein – the avatar of this arrogant and incompetent approach to running Alberta – has publicly endorsed Mr. Mar as leader, a recommendation, presumably, that carries enormous weight among the Tory Old Boys.
But Mr. Liepert as chief of staff? It would indeed be troubling to have a man whose ministrations left Alberta’s health care system on the critical list in such an influential position in the office of a premier who repeatedly refused to rule out privatization of health care during his leadership campaign.
It would be fair to say that Mr. Mar’s views about health care are well known and worrisome and that Mr. Liepert’s are very troubling indeed, especially when it comes to the model of high-cost privatized seniors’ care he promoted as health minister.
At the very least, the question of Mr. Mar’s relationship with Mr. Liepert needs to be asked during the few remaining days of this leadership race – which as far as the Tory insiders are concerned is supposed to end with Mr. Mar’s coronation on Oct. 1.
As premier, Mr. Stelmach was hobbled by the legitimate criticism early in his premiership that he had “no plan.”
This first appeared in the form a controversial television advertisement paid for by some labour groups, and led directly to several unconstitutional Conservative efforts to attack the right of Albertans to free expression during election campaigns an the right of unions to engage in political action on behalf of their members.
Notwithstanding that impact, the charge stuck – to a substantial degree because it was so obviously true – and resonated in the minds of the public.
At the same time, there was always something about Mr. Stelmach that a lot of Albertans instinctively liked – the sense he was at base an honest person, and that he was an outsider who had somehow fluked into power, someone a little removed from the most deeply cynical and self-interested instincts of the Alberta Conservatives. He even tried to raise oil royalties, for heaven’s sake, before the Old Boys slapped him down!
The association of Mr. Mar with the Tory Old Boys Club and its promise of a government of insiders, by insiders and for insiders, combined with the complete lack of enthusiasm or engagement he brings forth from ordinary Albertans, could very well turn into a legacy the Alberta Conservatives live to regret.
Alas, that is unlikely to happen in the general election campaign that is certain to follow the selection of Mr. Mar very quickly, while the party still enjoys a bump in public esteem.
But Mr. Mar is certainly no “reinvention” of the party, and if that is what Conservatives are hoping for from this leadership contest, they’d better get cracking about changing course in the few days they have left to do something about it.
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