Liepert: A diversity of views won't prevent uniting the right
Published on: March 27, 2017 | Last Updated: March 27, 2017 3:00 AM MDT
Alberta conservatives have spoken, writes MP Ron Liepert, whose connection to the province's Tories spans 37 years. They want reunification. JUSTIN TANG / THE CANADIAN PRESS
By Ron Liepert
There are few Albertans whose involvement in the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party extends beyond 35 years. Dave Hancock and Jim Horsman would be two such individuals. I would be another.
Since becoming Peter Lougheed’s press secretary 37 years ago, I have served as MLA for Calgary West, including in the provincial cabinet, and worked on three leadership campaigns. Today, I serve as MP for Calgary Signal Hill, but continue to follow the provincial political scene. While my loyalty to the PC brand runs deep, it is surpassed by what is best for my province.
We’ve heard since Jason Kenney announced his intention to seek the leadership last summer, through to the March 18 vote, why reuniting conservatives won’t work. As one who has been involved in the party most of his adult life, I want to share a perspective for those wondering what to do next.
I’m on record as saying it’s time for conservatives in Alberta to reunite. When Kenney made that his single campaign platform, I committed to support him. Kenney and I have had our differences, but at the end of the day, we are speaking of Alberta’s future. That’s paramount.
As mentioned, I’ve worked on three PC leadership campaigns, ending up on the losing side each time. In 1992, I supported Nancy Betkowski for the leadership. So did Jim Dinning, but we lost to Ralph Klein’s team.
Within hours, there were comments that sound very familiar to those we are hearing today. “Ralph was an outsider and was taking over the party.”
Betkowski left the party and became the Liberal leader. Meanwhile, Klein’s team made sure we had a role, including appointing Dinning provincial treasurer. The rest is history.
Some say the views of Wildrose and PC members are just too different — that they don’t belong in the same party. During Ed Stelmach’s time as premier, finding common ground between the views of Ted Morton, who brought a politically right perspective, and Dave Hancock, who was viewed as having progressive or moderate views, was a challenge.
These vastly divergent views found their way into policies that resulted in Stelmach and his team receiving one of the largest majorities in Alberta history in 2008. So it can work if there is a will to listen.
I use the term reunite conservatives in Alberta because in every caucus mentioned above, had today’s political situation been in place during those times, one half of caucus would be considered Wildrose, and the other half PC.
Similarly today, the views of federal Conservative caucus members are as diverse as any I experienced in Alberta politics. Many of these same people were part of the Conservative caucus that was one of the most successful governments in Canadian history. One of Stephen Harper’s great accomplishments was keeping a broad coalition of diverse views together under one united conservative party.
Finally, political parties need solid financial backing by individual citizens to thrive. Albertans have made it clear with their wallets these past two years. While the PC party was barely able to raise enough money to cover expenses, Jason Kenney raised more money in the last quarter of 2016 than the entire PC party. This may be the most important measure. Alberta conservatives have spoken. They want reunification and see this as the path forward to get rid of the NDP in 2019.
In every campaign, there are winners and non-winners. Winning is always better, but for those grappling with their political future, I have this advice. As a three-time “loser” in leadership battles, I had thoughts of walking away, but I always stayed and fought for my beliefs from the inside.
Working together, conservatives will form government again in two years, so be part of a winning campaign, because I can attest that being in opposition has few rewards.Ron Liepert is Conservative MP for Calgary Signal Hill.