One of Canada's most outspoken MPs is set to face yet another nomination challenge, as the governing Conservatives prepare for races that could see incumbents knocked off leading up to the next federal election.
A group of Conservatives in Calgary is organizing a campaign to challenge Calgary West MP Rob Anders for the party nomination in the redrawn riding of Calgary Signal Hill, where he plans to run. The group has not announced a candidate, but former Alberta finance minister Ron Liepert confirmed on Monday he's a part of the group and is mulling a bid.
"I'm seriously considering it," Mr. Liepert said. He said he'll make a decision soon, but it's clear there's little goodwill between the men. "His time is done. I haven't met one single person in the last dozen years who had positive things to say about him," Mr. Liepert said.
The group launched a website, "It's Time to Do Better," in a bid to woo anti-Anders supporters to buy or renew Conservative memberships in preparation for a nomination vote, the date for which has not been set. If Mr. Liepert formally decides to run, it wouldn't be the first time he took part in a bid to unseat Mr. Anders. He managed a 2004 nomination challenge by Alison Redford, then largely unknown but now the Alberta Premier. Mr. Anders won.
The website's launch Monday triggered a war of words between Mr. Anders and Mr. Liepert.
"Those Red Tories, they never give up," Mr. Anders, 41, said in an interview. He cast the challenge as one pitting "blue" Conservatives, who he says back him, against "Red Tories," or those from the party's centrist wing, bolstered by Liberals and New Democrats who might buy a Conservative membership for the chance to push him out.
"They're going to go out and sign up Liberals and sign up New Democrats, and try to get a progressive coalition going. And so it's the tax cut guys versus the tax and spend folks. They're warm to Justin Trudeau and I'm a Harper loyalist, right?" he said, later adding Red Tories "are a threat to real conservatism. They're a threat to the Prime Minister. They're not people who actually believe in tax cuts. They're not principled. They're not blue."
That drew a laugh and a retort from Mr. Liepert, a former press secretary to Peter Lougheed – an Alberta premier, like Ms. Redford, who hailed from the PC party's more centrist flank.
"I was a Conservative before Rob Anders was born," Mr. Liepert said. "For him to say that we are anything but conservatives simply shows what kind of a character he is. He has no ethics. He will do whatever he can to try and discredit people, and it's not going to work anymore."
Mr. Anders has won several nomination challenges and has said previously he expects another this time. "I have been challenged for nomination many times so I prepare just in case," he said last year. All current Conservative MPs need to win a nomination race to run again in the next election, expected in late 2015.
In 2010, more than half of Mr. Anders' Calgary West Conservative riding association board quit in protest of a party rule that protected incumbent MPs. Many of the departing board members favoured replacing Mr. Anders at the time. Their would-be challenger, Donna Kennedy-Glans, has since been elected provincially as a member of Ms. Redford's Progressive Conservative Party. Mr. Liepert was a PC MLA from 2004 to 2012, and served stints as minister of finance, energy, health and education. He didn't seek re-election and now works at a consulting firm.
The group challenging him is said to largely include people with ties to Ms. Redford's PC party, but also include members of the right-wing provincial Wildrose Party. The two have split federal Conservative ranks. Wildrose is backed by Mr. Anders, but it doesn't hold any of the provincial seats overlapping the Signal Hill riding.
Mr. Liepert said much has changed since 2004, when Ms. Redford's bid to unseat Mr. Anders failed – including borders of the riding and the attitude of voters, who he said will be motivated by a series of Mr. Anders' comments. "I believe he's extremely vulnerable. The sort of pent-up antagonism of people in this part of town towards him – if we can motivate people to do more than just complain, and actually participate, he's in for a rude awakening," Mr. Liepert said.
The group that launched the website is led by David McKenzie, a Calgary lawyer who struck a more diplomatic tone than Mr. Liepert. Mr. McKenzie said he does not believe Mr. Anders represents the "broad base" of voters in the riding, and cited Mr. Anders's one-time objection to honorary citizenship for Nelson Mandela as one example among the "more extreme things" driving unrest among some Calgary Conservatives.
"Things like that and other comments that are made from time to time seem to reflect a more extreme view, and what I'm hearing is they just don't represent the views of the broad base of the residents of Calgary Signal Hill, as it's going to be called, Calgary West at the present," he said.
Despite the controversies and challenges, Mr. Anders endures and typically wins overwhelming election night victories. Mr. McKenzie said Mr. Anders is "a very good organizer" in the riding. "My opinion is he has pockets of support, but it's very active support," Mr. McKenzie said.
Mr. Anders was first elected in 1997 and has long been an outspoken social conservative, and often a contrarian, including his 2001 objection to Mr. Mandela's honorary citizenship. He once suggested NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair "helped to hasten" the death of former leader Jack Layton. In 2012, he appeared to fall asleep during a committee meeting, angering veterans' advocates, who he then dismissed as "NDP hacks" while saying a recent collision affected his ability to stay alert. In 2010, he signed a "Support our Troops" message for Canadian soldiers with the phrase: "When in doubt, pull the trigger."
Mr. Anders is also among the "pro-life caucus," anti-abortion MPs pushing to reopen a debate Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly said is closed. In May of 2013, he spoke at an anti-abortion rally, urging those in attendance to sign up friends as Conservative party members because pro-life MPs could face a nomination challenge. "The men behind me have taken strong stands and have made enemies for doing so," he said.
The next federal election is in 2015, and includes a redrawn map. Mr. Anders has told The Globe he plans on seeking the nomination in the Signal Hill riding. It includes areas he represented when he was first elected, he said, adding he "miss[es] some great party activists" from the area. "I look forward to representing what is nicknamed Dutch Acres because of the Emmanuel Christian Reformed Church, Calgary Christian School and Shalom Manor," he said, referring to a part of the riding.
Mr. Anders was an early backer of Mr. Harper, dating back to the latter's election as Canadian Alliance leader. One of Mr. Anders' former staffers, Ray Novak, now serves as Mr. Harper's chief of staff.