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A mysterious break-in and stolen membership lists hint at a Wildrose civil war

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Rob Anderson

Is the second Wildrose caucus on the verge of the second Wildrose civil war?

The Edmonton Journal’s report yesterday morning on the mysterious break-in and computer thefts at the Wildrose Party’s Edmonton headquarters and the equally mysterious appearance of Wildrose membership lists in the hands of operatives for Jason Kenney’s Progressive Conservative leadership campaign contained one intriguing tidbit missed when AlbertaPolitics.ca broke the story.

To wit, the Journal reported: “A Wildrose source said caucus members were not briefed separately on the robbery, rather they received the same email sent to supporters.”

The break-in was not a robbery, of course, but a burglary and theft. Just the same, it is not clear yet how the break-in and the purloined party membership lists are related, if they are related at all. It’s quite possible the party lists got into Tory hands the old-fashioned way, via a disloyal member.

Regardless, Opposition Leader Brian Jean apparently just went ahead Sunday afternoon and emailed the now famous letter to Wildrose supporters outlining the startling developments. It remains murky when the break-in happened, when it was reported to the police, whether the police are still investigating, or why Jean chose the afternoon of the Grey Cup game to issue his startling statement.

Whatever the answers to those questions, his actions don’t sound like those of a leader of a unified Opposition caucus, his claims to the contrary in the email notwithstanding.

Actually, if you hang around on social media, there’s been almost as much loose talk about division in the Wildrose ranks over Kenney’s so-called “unite the right” campaign to merge the PC and Wildrose parties as there has been about similar bitter divisions among the PCs.

Jean referenced the party’s first civil war in his epistle to the Wildrosers Sunday afternoon: “I truly believe that Albertans dislike political games,” he wrote. “I think that their disgust at self-serving and power-seeking behaviour helped elect the NDP.”

The self-serving and power-seeking he was talking about is a reference to the action of former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, former House Leader Rob Anderson and nine other Wildrose MLAs who crossed the floor to join the governing PCs led by premier Jim Prentice on Dec. 17, 2014. Two others had made the same trip a few days before.

Those events were preceded by days of rumours about a civil war within the Wildrose caucus.

The reaction to the 2014 floor crossing by rank and file Wildrose supporters was bitter. Not one of the Wildrose floor crossers remained in the Alberta Legislature after the May 5, 2015, general election that brought Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP to power.

But Jean, a former MP for Fort McMurray hitherto best known for composing crossword puzzles to send to his constituents, emerged at exactly exactly the right moment in the spring of 2015 to lead the Wildrose party back from the brink, even if the caucus he led was made up of new faces that looked troublingly like a political B-Team. 

Those halcyon days now appear to be over. A couple of weeks ago, the often fractious Derek Fildebrandt -- the high-profile Wildrose finance critic Jean tried and failed to fire last spring for endorsing a homophobic Facebook comment about Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne -- published what blogger Dave Cournoyer called “a 743-word treatise on his Facebook page decrying ‘hysterical political correctness.’”

At the time Jean tried to kick him out of caucus -- enraging the Wildrose Party’s most rightward fringe -- Fildebrandt promised to behave himself and curb his social media excesses.

But on Nov. 16, citing the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, Fildebrandt argued “that smug, condescending, political correctness will spark a backlash” -- comments that seemed to be aimed directly at Jean, and to amount to Fildebrandt’s personal declaration of independence from his party’s leader.

Speaking of rifts in the Wildrose ranks and blogging Rosers, Anderson on Saturday published a rambling, 1,700-word “Letter of Apology to the Wildrose.”

In it, Anderson endorsed Kenney’s PC leadership bid, engaged in a certain amount of self-justification and self-flagellation -- “I wish you could appreciate the endless sleepless nights, the tears shed, the confusion, the guilt, the fear and the feelings of utter helplessness that these MLAs and our families endured during that time” -- and begged Wildrosers “for your forgiveness for my involvement in what transpired.”

If social media is a guide -- and, of course, it may not be -- their forgiveness will not be forthcoming for a spell.

Meanwhile, Kenney remains the front-runner to lead the PCs, which if he succeeds could only be seen as an endorsement of his effort to unite the two parties whether they like it or not.

Meanwhile, however, the impact on the “unite the right” effort of strict NDP election financing legislation introduced yesterday -- which is bound to drive right-wing politicians to seething fury -- remains to be seen.

Does the Fair Elections Financing Act’s tough limit on party spending to $2-million per party during an election period -- less than half of what the PCs spent in 2015 -- mean the Wildrosers and PCs could only spend $2 million between them in the next campaign if they merge? The answer would appear to be yes.

However, only one thing is completely clear: there’s never a dull day in Alberta politics any more.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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