And what better way to start off the new year than with a nomination battle in the freshly-minted federal electoral district association of the Calgary Signal Hill Conservatives?
Signal Hill is a new constituency encompassing much of the current constituency of Calgary West - represented in Parliament since the Spice Girls hit "Wannabe" topped the charts by Rob Anders.
Mr. Anders' CV is readily available elsewhere on the net, and doesn't need to be repeated here.
Anders, 3 short years before being elected to represent the people of Calgary West
The recent announcement of yet another in a long line of "Oust Anders" campaigns was capped off today with the formal entry of Ron Liepert, former Alberta Cabinet Minister, as standard-bearer for the "timetodobetter.ca" movement. The argument put forth by the group is that they support Prime Minister Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada, but want a better representative for their riding than Rob Anders has been.
Anders, as he has successfully done in the past, leapt to the offensive, labeling the group disaffected "Red Tories" and accusing them of trying to sign up Liberals, New Democrats, and "fellow travelers" in an effort - orchestrated by minions of Alberta Premier Alison Redford, herself a former Anders challenger - to take his job away as retribution for his support of the provincial Wildrose Party.
And for the better part of a week, Anders' strategy worked. Again. The entire conversation focused not on Anders and what he has or has not done for the people he represents, but rather on what a Red Tory was - and whether Ron Liepert was one. Discussions of "red vs. blue" in Alberta don't usually end up well for the person who is unsuccessful in labeling themselves as the blue candidate.
While historical Red Toryism is an entirely different kettle of fish, the reality remains that there is, and always has been, a large contingent of Red Tories in the Conservative Party of Canada. When the party was founded out of the union of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative Parties, many of the former PC's fell into this more socially moderate camp. Nationally, Red Tory has come to mean someone who is fiscally conservative, yet socially liberal.
Now, different provinces foster different environments for people to identify themselves within, politically speaking. Someone who would be an Alberta PC might find themselves a BC Liberal, or a member of the Saskatchewan Party. Wildrose Party members who moved to Regina would likewise find themselves as SaskParty members with their former Alberta PC foes, but if they moved to BC they might be more comfortable in the BC Conservative Party. It's all a matter of what parties are available to choose from, who's been leading them, and what real estate on the political spectrum they've staked out their claim on.
In Alberta provincial politics, the distinction between "Red Tory" and "Blue Tory" comes down, usually, to 2 things: Their social politics, and their attitude towards short-term debt. Social conservatism and social liberalism are pretty self-explanatory - even in Alberta - so we don't need to beat those to death. A Red Tory, though, might find it acceptable to borrow in the short-term - say, build a badly-needed overpass and pay it back over 5 years - while an Alberta Blue Tory would smack that Red Tory in the face with his framed picture of Ralph Klein and declare that public debt is stealing from future generations.
Detractors of Red Tories in Alberta would tell you that they are "Liberals in blue shirts" - people who, if they had the courage of their convictions, would come out as small-l liberals and accept that they'll never get elected in Alberta. Red Tories, therefore, are liberals who try to sneak their way into government, watering down the "true conservative" nature of the governing PC Party.
Supporters of the Red Tories would point out that policies that have come out of supposed Red Tory governments like those of Peter Lougheed and Alison Redford would be about as far right-wing as anyone in any other province would dare tread as the government. So, Red by Alberta standards, but plenty Blue compared to the rest of the nation.
And herein lies the crux of Anders' argument: He's trying to paint Ron Liepert as being a Red Tory, because:
- Ron Liepert was a provincial PC and was in cabinet under Alison Redford, and
- Ron Liepert broke the First Commandment of Alberta politics and talked in public about a sales tax, and
- Ron Liepert is socially to the left of Rob Anders.
Are all of the above things true? Sure they are. Liepert WAS in Cabinet under Redford - then again, so was Ted Morton, and Anders supported Morton for the PC Leadership. Liepert DID talk about a provincial sales tax. As a means of reducing the provincial Income Tax, so that people would be taxed on what they consume rather than being punished for their productivity - it's one of the fundamental principles of fiscal conservatism. And Liepert IS to the left of Rob Anders. Along with Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, and the vast majority of Canadians.
But is Liepert a Red Tory?
No. No, he's not. He's about as Blue as you can get before you enter the "Anders Zone" - and that's pretty blue. Think "#0B0B3B".
Is Liepert a recent addition to the Conservative movement?
No. He started working for Peter Lougheed in 1980, when Anders was 8 years old.
Does the Red Tory/Blue Tory thing MATTER?
No, it doesn't. Political parties are the creation of their members. As such, they shift politically - sometimes slowly, and sometimes quickly. Old members leave. New members join. Members switch from one party to another, based on this issue or that issue. Many of the members of the Reform Party started off as federal PCs, before leaving that party. When they left they took their voices and viewpoints with them, and the party shifted to the left. By the time the descendant Canadian Alliance and the federal PCs merged, there wasn't much uniting the parties in common purpose except for the belief that debt was to be avoided if possible, and that they needed to come back together if they ever wanted to be able to defeat the Liberals, who had been handily winning majority governments for the past decade.
So they came together. They took away the Liberal majority government, and reduced it to a minority government. And then they won a minority government themselves. And then another. And finally a majority, in 2011.
In the end, what we have on the right side on the spectrum in Canada is a monolithic, HUGE-tent party, called the Conservative Party of Canada. There are social moderates, and social conservatives. People who believe in a woman's right to choose, and people who believe life begins at conception. People who believe that short-term debt is acceptable, and people who will fight you if you suggest they pay for dinner with a credit card rather than cash.
In much of the west, including most of Alberta, securing a nomination for the CPC all but guarantees a seat as an MP. What we're seeing in Calgary Signal Hill isn't an effort by a carpet-bagger to swoop in to the riding and steal the seat away from a popular incumbent. It's democracy in action - a new riding, requiring a new nominee for the party. Party members will decide who that nominee will be. And it very well may be that Anders overcomes this challenge, as he has so many times before. But every citizen in Calgary Signal Hill is entitled to join whatever political party they choose, no matter what Rob, or you, or I, think about it. There's no blood test that proves conservatism, and - contrary to Anders' argument, you CAN be a conservative, and support Stephen Harper, and STILL not support Rob Anders.
At the end of the day, the people decide.
Red or Blue, it doesn't matter. After all: We're just one big, happy Conservative Family...