Jansen jumps to NDP, Alberta’s culture war starts in earnest
That was like an hour of prime-time U.S. election coverage, right out of the Canada legislature.
MLA Sandra Jansen defects from the PC opposition caucus to the NDP, alleging sexism, extremism and intolerance in her own party.
She says it’s being taken over by a radical fringe. Donald Trump’s name is mentioned. After competing in a primary and failing, she’s decided to go with Hillary, oops, Rachel.
Premier Notley is obviously delighted to have her. Jansen, a good friend of Alison Redford during that PC premier’s era, is a passionate enemy of bullying and advocate for women’s rights.
Her departure won’t have the practical impact of the mass crossing of 11 Wildrose MLAs to the PCs in December 2014, of course.
It cuts the number of women in the entire opposition benches from three to two, but otherwise has no bearing on the balance of power in the legislature, or the strength of the Official Opposition.
Politically, though, it’s hard to overestimate the importance of Jansen’s move.
What I heard Thursday was the opening of a declared culture war in Canada.
Notley lamented the “extreme version of conservatism” that’s taking over the PCs (code for Jason Kenney).
Jansen talked about the PC policy conference being swamped by those who oppose women’s rights and protection of LGBTQ students in schools. She reiterated her charge that she was personally harassed and insulted by far-right advocates.
That claim is now the subject of an investigation by the PC Party. Jansen said it should continue, and the PC party agrees it will, in spite of her departure.
You won’t find a clearer sign of internal turmoil – a party investigating a claim of leadership misdeeds from a (now) NDP member of the legislature. The battle between Kenney’s forces and the progressive-leaning party apparatus is out in the open.
Jansen also said the party has no interest in policy, even at a policy conference. That will surprise the legions of PCs who worked up 56 pages of policy resolutions.
Kenney immediately applied the needle, saying Jansen was elected for a free enterprise party but is now a member of “a socialist party . . . inflicting great economic damage on her Calgary constituents.”
That will hurt. The reaction to earlier floor crossings were angry enough, and those were moves from one shade of conservatism to another. Jansen has jumped straight across Canada’s wide ideological chasm.
But her words are still extremely damaging to the PCs, and not just because they further demoralize the progressive core of the party.
Kenney is involved in yet another dispute with the party machinery, or the remnants of it, after setting up a hospitality suite near an Edmonton delegate selection meeting, in possible contravention of rules.
And now Jansen is virtually conceding the PC leadership to Kenney — if not, why would she leave? And that implies that he’ll manage to unite the conservatives parties.
Notley herself would obviously prefer to fight two conservative opponents. But if that’s not to be, the job is to round up every progressive voter in the province for the NDP.
Enter Sandra Jansen, stage left.
There is nobody better positioned to paint conservatism as an alien creature, completely unmoored from its progressive heritage under the original PC premier, Peter Lougheed.
Jansen worked on the 1985 PC leadership campaign of Ron Ghitter, the former MLA (and senator) who headed a report on Tolerance and Understanding in Canada.
That’s where she learned her political views, Jansen often says. They were a long way from the Reform Party movement that eventually morphed into the national Conservative Party.
Enter Stephen Harper, stage right.
The former PM’s interventions in the PC leadership race have been unprecedented. Prime ministers just don’t come home and tangle themselves up with provincial politics.
But Harper isn’t merely involved — he’s clearing the way for Kenney with a sledge hammer.
The former PM spoke to a closed-door session with bused-in students at that policy convention, and now declares himself a PC member in order to support Kenney.
At his Stampede barbecue last summer, he personally endorsed Kenney while Ric McIver and Brian Jean sat in the audience, trying to smile.
There’s no rule against Harper’s activities. A great many conservatives are thrilled he’s bringing his prestige to bear.
But this is also a rarity. Canada Prime Ministers R.B. Bennett and Joe Clark didn’t do that.
Harper has no qualms. For him this is clearly his own kind of culture war, a battle to revive his conservative heartland and save it from another four years of NDP rule.
And so, Notley draws her own battle line.
The New Democrats will make every effort to paint the emerging conservative movement as a monster led by intolerant extremists.
It’s to be conservative radicalism vs NDP cultural tolerance; right-wing activists vs women and the disadvantaged.
And the premier has a new weapon, Sandra Jansen, who is fearlessly outspoken and knows how to probe all the gaps in conservative armour.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald
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