Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Edmonton-Sherwood Park Reveals a Pattern of Undemocratic Maneuvering

Last election the voters of Edmonton-Sherwood Park had a tough decision to make. This riding has been Tory for decades, but in 2008, they were forced to choose between two conservatives.

How did this happen?

The official story is this: after long time MP Ken Epp decided that he wasn't going to seek another term, the candidacy was up for grabs, and up until just a few weeks before the nomination process was closed, it appeared that municipal councillor Jacquie Fenske, was going to be acclaimed.

Enter Tim Uppal. An old Alliance candidate from the constituency of Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont. Uppal had been running unsuccessfully since 2000, but the Reform -Conservatives really wanted this man in the House.

He comes from an influential family who have been long time financial supporters of the party, and they would help to raise their profile with the Sikh community.

Former board members say Uppal didn't file his nomination papers until the last minute and stacked the nomination meeting in north Edmonton. This caught Fenske by surprise, since she was on the verge of being acclaimed.

"This is not right," says longstanding Tory Bill Noonan. "The party cannot run roughshod over the people. What happened here is not democracy. It's what happens in a banana republic."

Eight out of twelve board members resigned over this, and a former supporter of Jacquie Fenske, James Ford; decided to run as an independent with a conservative philosophy. He dubbed himself a 'Conservative with a Conscience'.

Uppal ultimately won by a margin of 1,678 votes, but he spent $ 84,329, compared to Ford's $ 34, 907. What's also interesting is that the NDP candidate Brian LaBelle, came third, with 6,339 votes, and he only spent $ 110.00. So it seems like a progressive riding after all. But again, voter apathy played a huge part, with only about 58% of those eligible, turning out to cast their ballots.

This is not the first time the Conservative Party brass has interfered with the nomination process. Bob Anders' riding is currently in the midst of a horrible feud, and Mark Warner, David Marler and Gordon Landon were all given the boot because they refused to toe the party line.

But I think there is another story here, besides just the abandonment of the democratic process.

A Clash of Conservatives From Within

The big conservative tent that Stephen Harper is presently acting as den mother over, is made up of two main factions. Social Conservatives (theocons), and neoconservatives, (neocons)

When Mike Harris (neocon) was first elected premier of Ontario, it came as a bit of a surprise, especially to him. But he had courted the kind of hokey, folksy type, knowing he didn't stand much of a chance in urban centres. This gave him the seats he needed but not much experience, much like Stephen Harper's first cabinet.

But he also brought on board, much to his dismay; a large group of religious zealots, at a time when there was no real Religious Right in Canada. Harris himself was not morally upright, but he tolerated them.

Ralph Klein in Alberta was faced with the same problem. He also had a large portion of his caucus who were what we now call social conservative. One of those was Stockwell Day, the self-proclaimed leader of the pack. According to Brooke Jeffreys:
Stockwell Day is seen by some right-wing conservatives as the representative of a dangerous new wave of radical extremists the party has attracted. (Hard-Right Turn, Harper Collins, 1992, Pg. 97)

This was of concern to Klein and his gang, but I suppose at the time they felt their hands were tied. Besides, Day was a player, when it came to dismantling social services; and even if his motivations were Biblical; at least he would produce results.

In Ontario, the PCs were also facing challenges with their theocons, but it never really became a huge issue. Mind you, when they were trying to 'Unite the Right' federally, not everyone was in agreement.

Dalton Camp, a longtime Tory strategist rejected the notion, especially since it was determined that the party would adhere to Reform principles. "Tories have principles too", he cried and added that the whole unification process was not only self-serving but ludicrous, particularly since the conservatism of Stockwell Day "is viewed by most Tories as embedded in the lunatic fringe." (Jeffries Pg. 381)

Back to Alberta and Peter Elzinga

Peter Elzinga had been a cabinet minister under Brian Mulroney, until he left federal politics to join the Alberta Legislature. He was one of the 'Klein Gang', and would later serve as Ralph Klein's chief of staff.

He was also one of the Tories concerned with the radical extremists represented by Stockwell Day. During this latest crisis, Mr. Elzinga supported the independent candidate, James Ford.

There is a movement I've been following that is growing in the U.S. called 'Conservatives for Change'. (there are two separate groups that seem to use that handle, but they have different agendas) The group I'm referring to are Republicans, who don't like the way the party is going since it was hijacked by religious extremists. Many of them claim to have voted for Obama.

During the 2008 Parliamentary crisis, when it looked like Stephen Harper's career might be coming to an end; there were several 'secretive' websites established, promoting candidates like Peter Mackay, Jim Prentice and John Baird. But they referred to themselves, or at least one did, as 'Conservatives for Change'.

Is there an underground network not happy with the hard right, religious extremism that now represents our current government? Are they hoping to bring forth genuine conservative candidates? I hope so. I'm so tired of this nonsense.

I bring this up in relation to Peter Elzinga, because Tim Uppal's biggest supporter was none other than Stockwell Day.

Instead of becoming more moderate, as some people mistakenly suggest that Stephen Harper is moving to the centre; they have actually taken on more theocons. Stephen Woodworth, Kelly Block, Joy Smith, Tim Uppal, to name a few.

James Ford independent candidate

I've read Mr. Ford's profile and he is a decent level headed guy. He has a blog, not really that active now, but reading his comments, I'm very impressed. A refreshing change from what now makes up the Harper government.

My campaign team has heard a lot of commentary during this campaign about whether or not we are really conservatives. After all; don’t you have to be a card carrying party member to be a conservative? Don’t you have to support all party decisions and actions? I don’t think so!

I have been a conservative for over 35 years. I have worked every campaign on behalf of the conservative candidate, both federal and provincial. I have served on constituency boards, attended conventions and all the other things a good active party member does. Many of my supporters have done the same ...

... Following the race we all found ourselves asking the same question; when the party is acting in an unconscionable manner, should we still follow the party line? Once you allow yourself to ask this question it leads to other questions. Questions like: when did MP’s become the party’s voice rather than the voters voice. If our MP’s are forced to follow the “party line” then who is representing us? That’s about when my conscience kicked in. That’s when I decided to stand up for what I believe to be right ...

Now that's a conservative.

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