Over the years I have taken on many thankless and stressful tasks due to my political inclinations. I served multiple terms on the Wildrose provincial executive, often as VP policy. I volunteered on and managed long shot campaigns. I ran as cannon fodder for the Wildrose party against David Swann in Mountainview in 2012.
No political role I ever took on was more miserable, stressful and thankless than being on the committee to manage a party leadership race.
Leadership races are among the roughest and most personal of contests in all of politics. It is an internal family battle that has potential to completely revitalize a party or to cause near permanent rifts and damage. Some of the dirtiest tricks are often used and I suspect that it is because parties are often not inclined to go public with warnings or disciplinary actions taken against candidates and teams for fear of causing damage to the institution as a whole.
In the Wildrose leadership race that led to Danielle Smith’s election as party leader, the complaints of party bias and complaints between campaign teams began even before the race was officially called. My phone virtually never stopped ringing with one team or another bitching about some petty offence (perceived or real) committed by the other side throughout the entire, interminable race.
I was selected to moderate all of the leadership debates in that race as one of the teams was convinced that the rest of the leadership committee was biased against their candidate. Ironically, that same team accused my wife and I of somehow rigging the race after they lost.
Speaking of Jane (my wife), she was the chair of the 2015 Wildrose Party leadership race that elected Brian Jean. Jane’s experience was similar to the joys endured in the 2009 race and she was again accused by some of rigging the race though nobody could ever explain exactly how she managed to do it.
No set of rules will be able to address every possible event in a race. During one of the leadership debates in Calgary, one of the teams put large campaign signs out on the roads approaching the hotel where the debate was being held. Another team set up a table selling memberships and handing out literature outside of the door to the convention room. Both teams came howling to me upon discovering the actions of the others and I was forced to tell both to fuck off, get over it and get ready for the debate (though I was a little more diplomatic about it. Not much, but a little). We didn’t have rules set up to govern placement of tables or signs outside of debates thus these terrible and egregious actions went unchecked.
That is the experience of one event on one night in a leadership race. Countless other infractions came and went throughout the course of the campaign.
Some campaigners view rules as something that have to be tested. They spend so damn much time pushing just to see how far those boundaries go and then howl when their hands inevitably get slapped. Usually the rules that were pushed have little to no impact on the outcome of the race and the time would have been immeasurably better spent on selling memberships and organizing GOTV efforts yet teams just seem obsessed at times in pursuing the most minor and petty of possible advantages.
Committees do not want to crack down on campaign teams. The accusations of bias come automatically and can turn into horror story if the committee eventually has to intervene on a campaign. In 2009 while both teams kept pushing the rules to the point where I wanted to have them all brought on a stage and spanked to keep them in order, one team in particular insisted on violating the rules despite multiple warnings. That team finally committed violations that probably should have landed them an outright disqualification but we settled for every possible sanction short of that in order to finish out the race. We had to look at the perceptions and disqualifying a candidate would simply have led to too much speculation of the race being unfair or fixed.
I have no role in the PC party in the current race but I suspect that their committee is trying to be fair and that they are enjoying the same pressures and stresses that I did in past races.
It is hardly a secret that I am supporting Jason Kenney in his bid to lead the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. I want to see his team continue to clean up at those delegate selection meetings and I expect that they will if they keep themselves from being sidetracked by pushing the rules.
In the latest PC controversy, the Kenney team was brought to task for Kenney having been too close to a delegate selection meeting. Personally I think the punishment was too harsh for an infraction that likely didn’t impact the outcome of the meeting in any way but I also feel that the infraction was easily avoidable.
Yes, the word “near” in itself is ambiguous and yes the committee should have clarified exactly what that meant after having been asked to do so multiple times by the Kenney campaign. I suspect that the spirit of the rule essentially means being at least out of sight as members come in to vote in order to avoid any impression of voter intimidation by any candidates. There was little reason to put the exact distance to the test.
Jason Kenney has been running a fantastic campaign so far. He has been organizing around the entire province continues to work like a man possessed to reach out to as many Albertans as possible to build support for his unity platform. He can and I expect will win the race overwhelmingly by staying on the simple strategy of working hard and staying on message. There is no sense getting mired in the small issues that can come up.
There is little doubt that the PC party executive is hostile to Kenney. Members of the committee likely are less than endeared with him either. Kenney has been leading the race despite the hindrances put into place by the party executive before it started. There is little reason to antagonize them further and potentially give them any excuses to handicap his campaign any further.
If and when Jason Kenney wins the leadership of the PC party, we can be sure that there will be plenty of sour grapes and tantrums as the old guard pouts off into the sunset. We can also rest assured that some will try to claim that the only reason Kenney won was due to infractions of the rules. There is little sense to add any credence to what will be petulant claims after the race.
We have a long few months remaining in this campaign. I look forward to watching Jason Kenney and his time winning each and every delegate selection meeting through hard work, good organization and inspiring the membership just as he has in the last few DSMs that have been held at the time of this writing.
Let’s not get distracted with the small stuff and testing the extent of the rules. It doesn’t need to be done and will only make the assumption of the leadership that much tougher when the time comes.