By Alex McCuaig
Southern Alberta Newspapers
The Wildrose picked Brian Jean to be its new leader on a day that may be seen as a turning point for the ailing party amid cheers and tears at a Calgary hotel Saturday.
The Wildrose appeared wounded following washing out during four by-elections last fall and was absolutely gutted in December with the defection of nine Wildrose MLAs to the PCs lead by the party’s leader Danielle Smith.
But news of Smith and two other floor-crossers losing their PC nomination bids appeared to stoke the Wildrose’s political fire on the same day party faithfuls voted former Fort McMurray-based federal Conservative MP Jean to lead them into the provincial election.
“This is a challenge I take on with the brightest of hopes for what we can and what we will achieve for Albertans,” said Jean during his victory speech Saturday.
And it was a emotional speech in which Jean referenced his 24-year-old son a number of times — almost always through tears — who died less than two weeks ago and who was buried Thursday.
But while Jean’s comments regarding his son’s influence on him elicited one emotion, his attacks on the PCs and Premier Jim Prentice garnered a different reaction.
“Jim Prentice thought he was going to end us, he was going to catch us flat-footed, the PCs were going to take advantage of us. They thought by rushing an election the Wildrose would not be organized, would not be ready, would not be able to pick a leader,” said Jean.
“Now do you see what we have here folks? We have a team ready to fight!”
Jean said Alberta needs the Wildrose to protect it from the largest tax increases it has ever seen.
“Fifty-nine new taxes and fee increases, there is no limit to (Prentice’s) taxation,” said Jean.
“But that is nothing compared to what he is going to do if he gets a blank cheque, majority mandate after the next election — it’s going to be tax time all over.”
The new Wildrose leader said the party is, “the only party in Alberta who does not want to raise your taxes.”
But in a three-candidate party leadership race there can only be one winner.
While it may take some training to read tea leaves, no such level of expertise was required to gauge the differing reactions to Jean’s win by Linda Osinchuk and Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes.
Osinchuk gave a warm embrace to Jean on the stage following his win being announced and stood next to him during his victory.
In comparison, Jean searched out Barnes in the crowd to shake hands with the local MLA hard to pick out standing at the back of the stage crowded with Wildrose candidates.
Barnes also appeared non-committal when asked about his future in the Wildrose.
“Since Dec. 17, when I put my foot down and wasn’t going to cross the floor, there hasn’t been much time off,” Barnes said.
He added he’ll be spending some time with his family, “and then we’ll figure out where we are at.”