Calgary Centre Conservative nomination fight takes a turn, but Joan Crockatt’s still the frontrunner

Your blogger with Joan Crockatt: Remember, when the author of this blog appears in a picture with a politician, it does not imply endorsement – he just can’t help himself! Below: Nomination candidate Jon Lord and contest dropout John Mar.

The battle for the Conservative nomination in the Calgary Centre by-election, which was widely expected to be a race between an economic conservative and a Red Tory, seems to have turned into one between the economic conservative and a candidate backed by social conservatives.

This is seen to be an important contest because it’s generally assumed here in Alberta, and especially in Calgary, that thanks to a docile electorate whomever wins the Conservative nomination automatically becomes the Member of Parliament.

So, right from the start, the race to replace MP Lee Richardson was certain to be vigorously contested. Mr. Richardson, one of the last Red Tories in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s neoconservative-dominated caucus, announced on May 30 he was quitting to become Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s principal secretary.

But early on, after a large crowd of potential candidates was quickly winnowed down to a serious few, the contest looked like it was going to be between Joan Crockatt, a former newspaper journalist and high-profile on-air commentator known for her market-fundamentalist economic views, and John Mar, a Calgary alderman and former RCMP beat cop who called Mr. Richardson his mentor.

That was then. Last week, just a week before nominations were scheduled to close, Mr. Mar suddenly pulled out of the race, saying his young family, which once supported the idea, didn’t support it any more.

Strange explanation, and who knows what was really behind it. Maybe it was his wife and kids – although, if you ask me, it was less than graceful to let them wear the last-minute decision. Maybe it was some sharp advice about time management from Stephen Carter, the political strategist behind Premier Redford’s April 23 victory, who is was reported to have signed on to help Mr. Mar’s campaign. Maybe his cousin Gary Mar, the recently unsuccessful provincial Tory leadership candidate, had something to say. Or maybe word came down from Ottawa that Mr. Harper was less than enthusiastic about having any more Red Tories in his hard-edged caucus.

Whatever it was, Mr. Mar’s decision clearly left Ms. Crockatt as the obvious frontrunner. And while she states unequivocally that she’s pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, she’s as conservative as they come on economic issues and in that regard would fit right in with Mr. Harper’s harsh neoconservative crowd in Ottawa.

Ms. Crockatt’s only potential problem, according to the Calgary newspaper she once worked for, is that she hasn’t held a Conservative Party card for more than six months as technically required by party rules. But as Ms. Crockatt told me, waivers are routine, and there’s “no reason to expect it wouldn’t be granted, based on my record.”

With Mr. Mar out of the race, though, Ms. Crockatt faces a surprisingly vigorous and well-organized challenge from Jon Lord, a former two-term Calgary alderman and Progressive Conservative MLA who clearly has strong support in social conservative circles. That said, it is very hard to know what Mr. Lord’s personal views are in areas such as women’s right to reproductive choice and same-sex marriage because he has said very little about them.

Despite an aggressive style and a varied political career, Mr. Lord cannot be called a strong candidate when it comes to appealing to the general public in the riding. In addition to his single term in the Alberta Legislature, humiliatingly ended by a Liberal, he ran for mayor of Calgary in 2010 and received just 0.4 per cent of the vote. He tried and failed to get a provincial PC nomination last year and was essentially told to get lost by the party, and none too politely either.

Worse, Mr. Lord’s campaign is being helped out by Craig Chandler, who is described on his Wikipedia pages as a “businessman, pundit, and political and religious activist.” (Emphasis added.) Mr. Chandler has a long and well-established history of activities with fringe political parties, frequent and unsuccessful bids for political office, and controversy surrounding his vociferously expressed anti-gay-rights views. He used to answer his telephone by barking “Happy Capitalism!” – really, I’m not making that up. In 2007, he was denied a PC nomination in a Calgary riding by the governing provincial party’s clearly horrified executive.

Mr. Chandler, in other words, can be fairly described as electoral poison. Guilt by association though this may be, on the grounds of his role in the Lord campaign alone, Mr. Lord seems unlikely to be able to successfully challenge Ms. Crockatt.

But it also makes Mr. Lord a dangerous challenger. After all, a nomination election isn’t the same thing as a regular election with real voters instead of party insiders and recruits just signed up by a candidate. Thoughts of busloads of fundamentalist church members being taken to nomination polls next Thursday to vote for Mr. Lord must surely keep Ms. Crockatt awake at night!

There are now three other known candidates in the race: riding executive and sometime car salesman Stefan Spargo, whose sole claim to fame seems to be that he flies an Alberta flag on his house, and former chef Jordan Katz, whom the media keep describing as a “political strategist” for some reason, and who once ran as a Tory candidate in southern Ontario, have been there for a while. It’s said here neither stands the chance of the proverbial snowball in Hades. In addition, on Thursday, political commentator Kady O’Malley reported on her CBC blog that she had been told by an anonymous tipster a former PMO Quebec advisor named Joe Soares had indicated he would also join the race. Ms. O’Malley says Mr. Soares lists only an Ottawa address. In fact, as of right now, though, only Ms. Crockatt has officially filed papers.

By any sensible measure, Ms. Crockatt remains the only credible candidate still standing in this nomination race, which should make her nomination in Calgary Centre likely, even easy.

(A disclaimer: I have known Ms. Crockatt for many years and, in fact, once worked under her direct supervision at the Calgary Herald. I was not enamoured of her managerial style, although I like her personally. I disagree profoundly with her economic views. However, I recognize her undoubted energy and talents as a campaigner.)

None of this means, however, that the actual election will be an automatic victory for the Conservatives – notwithstanding the fact that’s the way things often turn out in Alberta. Very soon, we’ll discuss how a candidate for another party could beat Ms. Crockatt in the by-election, and why that might just happen.

A date for the by-election has not yet been set.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

4 Comments on "Calgary Centre Conservative nomination fight takes a turn, but Joan Crockatt’s still the frontrunner"

  1. Hi David!
    Thank you for acknowledging that I am running a very strong and winning campaign that apparently has Joan Crockatt staying awake at night! And as I mentioned to you before, Mr. Chandler is but one of many diverse people working on the campaign, of all various political and intellectual viewpoints. My ability to get along with almost everyone from all walks of life is what is making this a fun and lively campaign very reflective of Calgary Centre politics- which as you know I am well versed in, having lived and worked here for over 30 years. And yes, I am a long standing member of the Conservative Party as well, unlike complete newcomer Ms. Crockatt.
    I think it important to clear up some of the many factual errors in your article howoever. The Conservative Party did NOT tell me to get lost at all. No such discussion or even anything close to it took place. Quite the opposite – many members congratulated me on a very close vote and told me to not give up at all – and another riding executive promptly phoned and asked me to run there instead. Regarding the Mayor election, I only spent $40,000 and I was narrowly beat by only a few hundred votes, by a candidate who spent over $300,000.00 – while yet another losing candidate spent $1Million to get the same result. A completely independant study by the Foundation for Democratic Advancement, who did a 96 page audit of all candidates, selected me as the #1 best choice for Mayor of Calgary, based on my credentials, track record, policies and so on – and futhermore, my political track record is filled with major successes, including one that saved taxpayers over $100 million, and another that lead to a World Environmental Achievement Award. I am NOT an extreme viewpoint candidate at all, I have won a number of elections by a huge landslide in past, and your depiction of my candidacy is in fact quite false. But I thank you anyway, as I enjoy reading all sides of every issue, no matter how slanted they are, as all opinions have merit in my view. Remember I am a small businessman first and foremost . (BTW, my store, Casablanca Video, is still in business having outlasted billion-dollar competitors – in 2007 it was a finalist for Alberta Small Business of the Year and it is now I believe the 2nd oldest video rental store left in Canada. Obviously, I learned a long time ago that the customers are always right – and I also have proven that I know a little bit about what I am doing to have succeeded in such an incredulously competitive industry against such major competition. All the best David!

  2. On a completely different note, I see that you are a 3rd degree Black belt David!
    Congratulations on that, it is quite an achievement on your behalf. I know what it takes:
    I studied Judo (Provincial silver medal winner), Jui-Jitsu, Koshindo Ryu for 5 years, Tae-Kwon Do (Blue belt) Karate, Hap-Ki-Do ( blue belt) and a smattering of others ( street fighting, knife fighting, kashinobo, wrestling etc) over a 13 year period a few years ago. It was fun and interesting, and perhaps contributes a bit to my competitiveness and “Zenmeister at BBQ” comments. While I may have the equivalent of a black belt in Koshindo Ryo, that style didn’t actually have belts, so I’ve never had the pleasure. Another thing for the bucket list, I guess!

  3. Llano Gorman says:

    This is WAR for Calgary Center … Joan Crocket … The Senior Editor of the Calgary Herald that stood her ground and Now holds the record for causing the Heralds Wild Cat Strike …. Politicians are supposed to help people along, with Wild Cat Joan we know she will hold party lines at any cost, will she defend you? Will she just be cold? Our Ridding needs someone that Can work with people …
    I know that person to be Greg McLean He can work in the “Grey Areas” .. I do not know Wild Cat Joan … but I do know her track record … FOR CALGARY CENTER please Vote for Greg McLean … Well Spoken, Well Mannered, Well Read. He has been a Member and Board Member of Calgary Center for century’s. He has served under a prominent MP He knows his way around .. This is his first time Running … Vote For Greg McLean For Calgary Center

  4. david says:

    In the years since the Calgary Herald strike, there has been a lot of myth making about what happened and why it happened. I was the vice-president of Local 115A of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada throughout the strike and I left the Herald afterward rather than work for an organization that treated its employees so shabbily, so I think I speak with some knowledge of the situation.

    It is simply absurd to suggest, as does Llano Gorman in the comment above, that Ms. Crockatt, who was managing editor of the Herald at the time, caused the strike. She was in management and, like all the managers, took the party line, but this is to be expected in such a situation. In reality – in my view – her role was a relatively minor one. She was an unseasoned manager, and she certainly alienated some journalists through her approach to her job, and I suppose some of them may have signed a union card as a consequence, but really that’s about it. The strike, by the way, was not an illegal wildcat strike, but a legal strike properly conducted under rules of the Alberta Labour Relations Code.

    Well, you may wonder, if Ms. Crockatt is not to blame, who is? Not Conrad Black either, again in my opinion. Mr. Black certainly played a role in the conduct of the strike, and it is hard to believe that as proprietor of Southam Inc. he did not influence strategic decisions as it progressed. But, again in my opinion, Mr. Black had nothing to do with the fundamental cause of the strike. Nor do I blame the leadership of our union, CEP, although it can be criticized for making strategic errors that may have made the strike harder to settle – for example, the demonization of Mr. Black, which may have been fair enough in legal terms, but which was strategically counterproductive.

    My personal view is that no one deserves more blame for the strike than Ken King, who was the publisher of the day and who as such must have made strategic assessments of the strength and commitment of the union that contributed to the disgraceful way the employer conducted itself throughout the strike, and especially at the start. Of course, as a union activist, I was not privy to those discussions with Southam, the company that owned the paper. But, ultimately, ex officio, the publisher was the company’s man on the ground in Calgary and has to take responsibility for the way things unfolded.

    Mr. King was replaced partway through the labour dispute, before the legal strike actually began, by Dan Gaynor, who had a reputation within Southam Inc. as a successful strike breaker. Mr. Gaynor too must shoulder some of the blame for the company’s conduct, and the fact that the strike was needlessly prolonged, which in my opinion was thoroughly reprehensible. But he certainly didn’t start it because he wasn’t the publisher when we started down that road.

    There were likewise many senior executives in Southam Inc. who surely understood that the striking employees were good people who had loyally served the company, and who would have accepted a reasonable or even an inferior contract to settle the strike. But they too became caught up in the dispatches they were receiving from their leaders on the ground – chiefly the publisher of the day, whoever that was – and allowed this travesty to continue. The cowardly decisions of the leaders of the Graphic Communications International Union in Washington, D.C., our supposed union brothers, helped to prolong the strike and ultimately contributed significantly to the defeat the the strikers. Finally, the role of the Alberta Labour Relations Board was an utter disgrace, which rankles to this day.

    So to cast Ms. Crockatt as the cause of the strike, or even a significant contributor to it, is preposterous. For heaven’s sake, one of her roles once the strike was under way – if reports from inside the Herald are to be believed – was to bring a welcome cake to strikers who had given up and gone back to work! If you don’t support her, don’t vote for her because you disagree with her policies! Better yet, do the right thing and stay right out of the nomination, and support the NDP in the actual by-election!

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