The UCP held a “Ralph Revival” at the St. Louis Hotel, a favourite watering hole of former Premier Ralph Klein. Included in the $150 ticket price was a black t-shirt with a tuxedo print and the UCP logo, two drink tickets and Chicken on the Way. A number of volunteers acted as registrars, coat check minders and wait staff.
I was fashionably late, arriving at 5:20 pm because I work and couldn’t manage to leave early for the 4:30 pm start. The room was bustling, mostly with men between the ages of 45 and 65 and the conversation seemed lively. Since its renovation, the tavern is a blank slate and that night it had stand-up bar tables four or five deep along the middle of the room. The room was warm, its occupants jovial and the air hummed with optimistic chatter. I looked around for some familiar faces and went to say hello.
“Don’t you ever get tired of hanging out with the UCP crowd?” I was asked. Partially in jest, there is a genuine curiosity to that question and I laughed. Answering honestly, I replied “Not at all; you say the most interesting things”. I was introduced to the table and welcomed into the conversation. Within moments, a gentleman to my right asked a gentleman to my left “what do you think about the Alberta Party not running a candidate in the by-election?”
The gentleman who responded was a former Alberta resident who now lives and operates an oil and gas company in Manitoba. He was “forced out”, he said, by the Stelmach royalty review. “I think the Alberta Party is the smartest opposition party in the legislature” said one, “but they need to show up.” “What do you think about the government’s candidate?” Asked another. “This could be a real shot for David Khan if he can beat the NDP candidate” offered someone else. No one suggested there was a chance Kenney wouldn’t win.
After a few minutes, I picked up my chicken in a box and found a less crowded table. I befriended a friendly 40-something woman and she told me she used to work for a Reform MP in Ottawa. She said she felt like it was time to see what was going on here and if she wanted to be involved. She dragged her husband along, she said, because he wasn’t really into politics but she spent time at sporting events so this was his way of giving back. He was a dentist so I asked him what he thought of the proposed fee guidelines. As they had just been released that evening, he hadn’t had time to go over them but he said that because of the sterilization requirements in Alberta “there isn’t an office in the rest of Canada that would meet Alberta standards.” He said it costs more to do business here to keep up with those regulations. Personally, I think the fee guides are to pull costs closer together so people don’t have to shop around for dental work but we were interrupted by Richard Gotfried’s call to attention as the speeches were about to begin.
The first person invited to the podium was Leela Aheer’s son who sang “O Canada”; that young man has an incredibly clear, strong voice which needed no technological amplification and it was joined by a number of individuals in the crowd. Next we heard from an avid volunteer who became interested in politics when he was 14. Ron Stevens, former PC MLA for Calgary Glenmore from 1997 to 2012, had caught the young man applying some graffiti to the side of a local building. Stevens, as the story was told, did not chase the youth away or call the police. Instead, the MLA engaged the youth and invited him door knocking. He happily explained that it was enough to turn his energy towards politics, where he remains a volunteer 6 or so years later. It was this kindness and introduction to a new direction that made him want to be involved in a youth engagement strategy with the UCP. He then explained that proceeds from the live and silent auction items would help fund their work.
Kenney spoke next and delivered a brief speech in a pace that rivaled the auctioneer who succeeded him. Beginning with the “surplus of common sense of Ralph Klein” (perhaps for adopting changes Kenney advocated for as Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayer Federation), he nodded to the Klein government’s decision “to do the right thing”. That “thing” was unexplained. Klein is oft-admired for paying off Alberta’s debt but I have yet to hear his fans remind Albertans how he paid off the debt; see: lowest personal return for tax investment in Canada. I can’t help but question why it is that Albertans are so lucky to have the lowest taxes, highest personal wealth and more money spent on them per capita by a doting, if misguided, government. I highly doubt the “right thing” Kenney referred to involves actually paying for government services.
The crowd thinned out very quickly as 8:00 pm approached. A few were heading to a nearby drinking establishment and I declined to join. When I had my coat and t-shirt in hand, I stopped to say goodbye to a woman I’d met on a few occasions previously. When asked if I had met Kenney, I shook my head. She told me she was giving the UCP six months before making her decision; she wanted to see if the party really did support women. “He gave both Leela and Angela high-level appointments, which is smart, but it might just be good politics” she told me. “I’ll know in six months if I’m going to stay” she said.