Graham Thomson: Alberta Tories raise money for Christy Clark

Politics sometimes makes for strange bedfellows, but few are stranger than the unlikely coupling that took place in Calgary Thursday — some of Alberta’s best-known Conservatives held a special fundraising event for, of all things, Liberals.

Rod Love, the chief of staff to former premier Ralph Klein, and Allan Hallman, who ran Jim Dinning’s 2006 Alberta Conservative leadership campaign, asked Calgary’s business elite to pay $125 each to help out the Liberals — British Columbia Liberals, that is.

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“If your company or organization does business in British Columbia (or perhaps if you or your family own property in B.C.), you should be concerned about the risks posed by the election of a New Democratic Party government in the upcoming election in May of 2013,” reads a fundraising letter issued by Hallman.

“Alberta’s fortunes are inextricably linked to those of British Columbia. While we may joke that the election of an NDP government in B.C. would be good for Alberta business, we all know that jokes aside, it would be bad for those doing business or owning property in B.C., and it would be bad for Canada.

“This is an important event — the ‘;free enterprise coalition’ next door must be sustained. Please join us.”

The B.C. Liberals did their part, sending two cabinet members, Energy Minister Rich Coleman and Community Development Minister Bill Bennett, to Thursday’s private meet-and-greet event at the Delta Bow Valley Hotel. At first glance, it might seem odd to have Alberta Conservatives raising money for any Liberals, but especially for B.C. Liberals, whose leader, Christy Clark, has been a vocal obstacle to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

Clark and her Alberta counterpart, Alison Redford, have clashed over Clark’s demand that B.C. receive a “fair share” of the revenue from the project that would pump Alberta bitumen to the West Coast for shipment to China.

But this surprising altruism begins to make sense when you realize B.C. Liberals are not really Liberals; they’re Conservatives in Liberal clothing. And for all of Clark’s sabre-rattling over Northern Gateway, she is still viewed as more business-friendly than the NDP, a party that has rejected the pipeline under any conditions.

Hallman and Love, who have both worked with the B.C. Liberals in the past, admit it’s a bit of an uphill fight to convince Alberta Conservatives to support Clark’s Liberals. But they say the B.C. Liberals are still better than the alternative.

They also see the fundraiser as a way to build bridges with that government.

“We’ve got to educate Christy more on the benefits for Western Canada and Canada as a whole on the Gateway project,” Hallman says.

Love says the idea for the event came up a few months ago when he was invited to attend the B.C. Liberal annual convention in Whistler.

It was proposed that B.C. dispatch cabinet ministers to a fundraiser among Conservatives in Calgary — something Gordon Campbell did when he was the Liberal B.C. premier and something Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall continues to do.

“One of the things we told them was, ‘;Look, if you want to raise some money out here, sure, but you’re going to have to have someone like Rich Coleman, the minister of energy mines and natural gas,’ ” Love says.

“Rich Coleman and Bill Bennett both understand there’s going to be a lot of interest hearing from the horse’s mouth what the pipeline situation is. A lot of people have said, ‘;Hell, I’ll buy a couple of tickets to that.’ ”

It was not known at press time how many people showed up — Love expected more than 100.

It’s not as if Calgarians will be marching in the streets in support of the B.C. Liberals, but Thursday’s event is another reminder of how all roads in Alberta lead to the oilsands and pipelines and thus indirectly to energy revenue and the provincial budget.

The Alberta government sees Northern Gateway as crucial not only for expanding the province’s market for bitumen, but also for getting more money for the product.

If you’re an NDP supporter, this all may smack of fear-mongering. But there aren’t a lot of NDP supporters in Calgary and there is a lot of money. There’s also a lot of anxiety about the possibilities of the Northern Gateway pipeline ever being constructed.

Of course, this odd-couple fundraiser might prove to be a moot point in the end, given that public opinion polls continue to point to an NDP victory in B.C.’s May 14 election.

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