Just days before the one-year unity celebration, Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party now have to contend with the announcement from Derek Fildebrandt today that he is leading his own Conservative Party; the “Freedom Conservative Party”. Almost a year ago to the day, conservatives voted to unite the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative Parties. While some believed this was an attempt to “bury the hatchet” or “focus on what unites us, not divides us”, the end result was clear: there could be only one conservative party with which to beat the NDP.
The unification of the former governing party and the Official Opposition was supposedly some sort of monumental task. Two parties, one which was no longer government and one which had never been government saw their fortunes ensured with simple math. People voted for the Progressive Conservative Party and people voted for the Wildrose Party. If those votes were for one Party, conservatives would still be in power today.
Everyone knows that one plus one is two. What they don’t know is whether one plus X is two. In 2015, Albertans had a choice in almost every constituency: they could vote Alberta Party, Independent, Liberal, New Democrat, Progressive Conservative or Wildrose. Albertans marked their ballots and elected an NDP government.
Albertans could have chosen Wildrose; and many did. They could have chosen PC; and many also did that. More people chose the NDP in 54 ridings.
According to many, choice is good. School choice is good. Religious choice is great. Political choice? Not so much.
In what was also seen as an opportunistic power grab, an attempt to eliminate both competition and choice, Jason Kenney arrived from Ottawa and didn’t board a return flight. Jason Kenney was going to Unite Alberta (conservatives) against the “socialist” NDP that so many people had “accidentally” voted for. One could liken this description to an “accidental affair” which everyone knows takes absolutely no effort at all; it “just happens”. Hence, “accidental”, “surprising” and “unbeknownst to me what I was doing”.
For many following the United Conservative Party nominations, they have been disillusioned. “Uniting the right” has brought neither opportunity nor a voice to those people who felt they were not being heard. If anything, the UCP record in the legislature combined with the nomination processes have shown that the “old guard” is still in power and they still seek to silence certain voices over others.
95% of over 100,000 “members” voted for the parties to unite. Some, like when the NDP was elected, are now saying they don’t know if they did the right thing by voting the way they did. Some are waiting to correct their “mistake” in 2019. But the Wildrose and PCs who voted for unity weren’t offered that same opportunity; until today.
Enter Derek Fildebrandt.
Derek Fildebrandt has been a thorn in the side of many since he showed up in Alberta politics, fresh from the Conservative Politician Boot Camp that is the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Growing up as an underprivileged white male in small town Ontario, he once said he knows “more people with PTSD than a PhD”. It wasn’t a line, it was the truth. He didn’t come from a place of overt opportunity but he had an internal drive matched by few.
He also knows right from wrong despite his actions over the past year. AirBnB, hit and run, poaching… he’s been through a ringer of his own making. But the point of putting things into the laundry isn’t to have it come out dirtier than when it went in. The UCP hasn’t managed that. Derek Fildebrandt is offering a home to those who want a government to actually represent the people willing to work to elect them.
When Alberta’s electoral boundaries were being put under a microscope, Fildebrandt said he would stay with Strathmore even though he had a good chance of winning in Calgary under a UCP banner. When the boundaries were oficially redrawn he said he would fight for Strathmore. When Kenney denied him re-entry to the party, he went quiet. “They’ve given me no reason to stay quiet” he once said.
Like many in Alberta, he watched as one riding after another went to an insider-selected candidate. He heard the same thing everyone else did; “something is wrong”. Like many with an internal drive (and a lot of support) he decided to do something about it.
Enter Freedom Conservative Party.
Freedom. Freedom to say what you think. Freedom from the political correctness that is stifling unsettling opinions and member input. Freedom from top-down decision-making and the need to be liked by everyone. Freedom from the status quo. Freedom that the Wildrose party once enjoyed.
Fildebrandt has stated he will only run candidates in areas the NDP “has no hope of being elected” so we should expect to see the fight solely in rural. While a number of people do follow politics throughout the term, most do not. With Fildebrandt’s branding, there will be two “conservative” parties on the ballot. That will hurt the UCP.
The UCP is rattled. Their cracks were showing but their chasms are growing. It was never about “unity”; it was about power. And that power is fading less than one year before a general election. Stock up on popcorn and personal protective equipment Alberta; something is about to hit the fan and it ain’t unity.
This post is an opinion. Enjoy.