With many Albertans apparently in a mood to take Jason Kenney's claim at face value that his year-old United Conservative Party is renewed, reformed and ready to govern, you can't be too careful about evidence that the same-old-same-old Tory entitlement continues to lurk on the Opposition benches of the Legislature.
Not that it sounds as if a little nomination ballot-stuffing scandal in Calgary would have persuaded voters in rural Central Alberta from electing a man who spent eight months or so campaigning for Donald Trump in 2016, or even in Fort Mac where there were rumours of progressive stirrings in the old riding of Brian Jean, former leader of the now defunct Wildrose Party.
Still, why take the chance?
Which presumably explains why Kenney, leader of the UCP, waited until after Thursday's victories in two by-elections to push out Prab Gill, MLA for Calgary-Greenway and until last week, the party caucus's deputy whip.
The shove came after an in-house investigation by retired judge and former PC Party president Ted Carruthers into the vote-rigging allegations, which surfaced after the June 30 nomination meeting in a video by a disgruntled UCP member.
On Friday the 13th, the NDP Caucus issued a statement saying Kenney's UCP needed to immediately make public its investigation into allegations of ballot box stuffing and ballot snatching made against Gill, who won a by-election in the riding in 2016 as a candidate for the now defunct Progressive Conservatives.
Yesterday, with the by-elections safely out of the way, Gill either got the heave-ho directly or was persuaded the prudent course was to take his leave as quickly and quietly as he could under the circumstances. As far as the UCP is concerned, of course, the less said about this the better. As Kenney put it, "I hope that we can now all move forward with our task of defeating the NDP…"
Gill told media he didn't agree with Carruthers' conclusions, but he will abide by them, resign from the caucus immediately, and not seek reelection in the vote expected next year. Until then, he will sit in the Legislature's burgeoning Independent section.
Alert readers will recall that controversy also dogged Gill's nomination in the March 22, 2016, by-election required by the death of former PC MLA Manmeet Bhullar in a highway accident. Gill got the nomination by appointment and, following an uproar, saw it withdrawn by interim PC leader Ric McIver. Two days later he won the nomination in a vote, then narrowly won the by-election.
Gill is the sixth MLA to leave the UCP for one reason or another since the party was formed a year ago in late July 2017. The others were:
- Rick Fraser, Calgary-South East, September 12, 2017, who apparently found the party too socially conservative for his taste, quit, sat as an Independent, and later joined the Alberta Party Caucus.
- Dave Rodney, MLA for Calgary-Lougheed, November 1, 2017, who was voluntold to walk the plank to make way for Kenney's successful bid for a seat in the Legislature.
- Don McIntyre, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, February 2, 2018, the former member of the UCP rural crime "task force" who resigned after being charged with sexual assault and sexual interference.
- Brian Jean, Fort McMurray-Conklin, March 5, 2018, leader of the Wildrose Party from 2015, who apparently quit in dismay at the tactics used by Kenney to defeat him in the UCP leadership contest.
- Derek Fildebrandt, Strathmore-Brooks, August 15, 2018, pushed out of caucus to sit as an Independent by Kenney for various political sins, in particular illegally shooting a deer on a farmer's property and not telling the leader about it.
In addition, Richard Starke, MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster, chose to continue to sit as a Progressive Conservative, although the party no longer exists, and Sandra Jansen, MLA for Calgary-North West, crossed the floor from the PCs to join the NDP after suffering vile treatment by supporters of Kenney during the 2016 PC leadership race.
Now the minister of infrastructure in Premier Rachel Notley's cabinet, Jansen said in a statement yesterday Gill's departure is "just the latest example of the moral bankruptcy in Jason Kenney's party."
She called on Kenney to explain why he sat on Carruthers' report until after the by-elections. There's not much chance of that happening, of course.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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