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Deadline Day speculation: will Schulz enter UCP leadership race?

Deadline Day speculation: will Schulz enter UCP leadership race?

Wednesday was Deadline Day in the United Conservative Party (UCP) race to replace Premier Jason  Kenney, one of those frustrating moments in journalism when everyone knows there’s news to report and nobody knows exactly what it is.

That is to say, everyone knows that some of the candidates have neither the bucks nor the credibility to continue with the charade, but no one is likely to be able to find out which ones have dropped out or been pushed out for a few more hours or even a few days. 

Except, that is, for candidate Jon Horsman (Jon Who?), who sensibly gave up and quit shortly before the 5 p.m. deadline passed. 

Horsman, inevitably described as a former banker, published a statement saying that, “while we are on track to meet the requirements of today’s deadline, it is a very crowded leadership race and having one more does not serve the purpose of why I decided to run – which was to contribute to the success of the conservative movement in Alberta by growing the moderate and inclusive base for the party.”

Well, good luck with that, Mr. Horsman. In case you missed it, dear readers, there isn’t much of a moderate and inclusive base left in the UCP anymore. 

Former Progressive Conservative MLA and Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, the other candidate thought most likely to come to face to face with harsh reality seemed to be still trying to hang in at the end of the day.

There is no rational expectation for why Sherman is bothering – unless it’s just a pathetic effort to get a few more hours in the limelight, as in days past when he was leader of the opposition – as he has zero chance of winning and the UCP doesn’t want him in the race.

When he inevitably departs, like Horsman, he will claim to have influenced the race for the better.

Then there was the already forgotten Bill Rock, mayor of the Village of Amisk, who admitted on July 9 that he couldn’t raise enough money to get on the ballot. 

There will likely be others who fall by the wayside before long from exhaustion, acknowledgement of reality, or a lack of funds.

In the meantime, professional reporters have editors breathing down their necks to come up with something about the race, so they dress up the facts that everybody already knows and send them out with a new lead, or report on such drolleries as UCP Finance Minister and House Leader Jason Nixon, not long ago heard dropping F-bombs in the Legislature, acting as if he were the party’s voice of reason and maturity.

What’s known is that eight candidates have managed to navigate the party’s red tape, collect the required 1,000 member signatures, and pony up the considerable amount of cash necessary to remain in the running – $50,000 of their $150,000 entry fee and a $25,000 good behaviour deposit.

Three of them have already had their applications formally accepted: Former Finance Minister Travis Toews, first choice of the UCP Caucus and the party establishment; former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, who for the past several months has played Marcus Brutus to Kenney’s Julius Caesar; and the other former Wildrose leader, broadcaster and sometime Fraser Institute apparatchik Danielle Smith, who appears to be auditioning for the role of Alberta’s answer to Donald Trump.

All three are contenders, although Smith has been showing surprising strength in the campaign with her calls for unconstitutional, illegal and almost certainly completely unworkable legislation to ignore federal laws and jurisdiction. But all the fire and smoke it would generate might provide good cover for other radical policies Smith would like to implement before an election could take place. 

This is what prompted Nixon to put on his metaphorical big boy pants yesterday to say, “I would caution anybody who wants to lead our party about overpromising things that we know that cannot be delivered.”

Smith, naturally, quickly and predictably responded to insist Nixon has it all wrong

The big brain behind Smith’s Alberta Sovereignty Act campaign, which is generating headlines faster than Toews’s and Jean’s campaigns seem to be able to come up with things to tweet about, is thought to be former Wildrose Party House Leader Rob Anderson.

Anderson has a reputation for being able to bring out the worst in Smith, which certainly seems to be what he’s achieving right now.

The success of the dynamically destructive duo may be what prompted the rumour yesterday that one candidate plans to bring back former Kenney issues manager Matt Wolf, a master of Twitter trollery. 

The remaining candidates all said they’d submitted their paperwork, nominators’ signatures, and cheques. They are Leela Aheer, Todd Loewen, Rajan Sawhney, and Rebecca Schulz, all UCP MLAs but for Loewen, who was exiled to the Independent benches in May 2021 for criticizing Kenney’s response to COVID-19.

None of that group, it is said here, have much of a chance but for Schulz. 

Right now she is probably the second choice for the UCP Caucus and party establishment. 

But Schulz is backed by such high-profile Conservatives as former interim federal leader Rona Ambrose and former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall, and everything could change if Toews’s campaign continues to falter in the face of Smith’s Trumpian ability to make up news. 

It’s said here that if it comes down to a last-ditch Anybody-but-Danielle campaign by the UCP Caucus, which fears Smith could succeed with the motivated party base and then scare moderate voters enough to give the NDP a majority in a general election, Schulz could well emerge the winner. 

And if what it takes is a woman to make the party safe for the Conservative Old Boys Club, by Zeus, Schulz may just be the candidate for the job!

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