CALGARY – Ron Liepert says it’s a myth that controversial Calgary MP Rob Anders is somehow untouchable after a 17-year run in federal politics.
And it’s a streak he’s hoping to bust when federal Conservatives in the riding on Calgary Signal Hill pick their nominee on Saturday.
Liepert, a former high-profile cabinet minister in Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government, has been embroiled in a nasty challenge of Anders for the Conservative nomination in the new federal riding.
The race has made headlines across the country as the party has declared that incumbents, such as the staunchly-conservative Anders, will no longer be protected in nomination races.
“The ironic thing about this nomination is it’s being watched Canada-wide and the primary reason is because he’s been so controversial and he’s always got this myth about him that he’s almost undefeatable,” said Liepert, 64, in an interview at his campaign office.
“I guess we’ll find out whether that’s a myth or not. But it is definitely a nomination that I think will be like no other in the next year and a half.”
Signal Hill takes in part of Calgary West, the current riding Anders holds and one he has kept since first being elected in 1997 as a Reform party member and won in five subsequent elections.
Anders describes himself as a social conservative who is pro-life and he has gained notoriety for his sometimes inflammatory statements.
In 2001, he opposed honorary Canadian citizenship for Nelson Mandela and labelled the former South African leader a communist and a terrorist.
He has a strong dislike of China and once compared the 2008 Beijing Olympics to the 1936 Berlin Games, which were held when Germany was under control of Adolf Hitler.
In 2012, Anders was dropped from the Commons veterans affairs committee after he lashed out against a veterans support group, which had criticized him for falling asleep during a committee meeting. He later apologized for saying his critics were NDP “hacks.”
“He’s more well known than he was 10 years ago, but for all the wrong reasons,” said Liepert. “I really think residents are fed up and they’re going to vote with their feet on Saturday.”
The Conservatives protected incumbents from nomination challenges when the party held minority status. But this time, with the Conservatives holding a majority, the party has declared it wants nominations to be “fair and open.”
A request by The Canadian Press for an interview with Anders was rejected this week.
“In a competitive race like this one, Rob is better off door knocking and getting face time with voting members, as opposed to taking national media interviews,” campaign spokesman Joseph Soares said in an email.
Anders has accused Liepert’s campaign of signing up Liberals and NDP supporters in an effort to unseat him. He has released the names of known Liberals who Liepert has recruited.
During the race, Conservative party officials chastised Anders for what they say were misleading phone calls. His campaign placed calls to party members that might have left the impression they were calls from Liepert’s campaign. If the target of the call was unsure about who they would support, the caller proceeded to criticize Liepert.
In a Mar. 27 interview, Anders described himself as the “poster boy” for blue Conservatives.
“What we’ve got here is red Tories who can’t possibly win without relying on Liberals. And they’ve signed up hundreds of people who will not be voting for the federal Conservative Party in the next federal election,” Anders said.
He offered no apologies for the negative tone of the campaign.
“It is what it is. It’s a battle for the soul of the party. It’s a question of whether or not we’re going to be red or we’re going to be blue.”
Political scientist David Taras said Anders — who held off challenges from former Alberta legislature member Jocelyn Burgener in 2000 and Alison Redford in 2004, before she became Alberta premier — could be in trouble this time.
“He’s up against another veteran politician who has an organization and yeah, I think he can lose,” said Taras of Mount Royal University.
“I think there’s an argument that there’s already the scent of desperation in his campaign.”
Liepert, who held the health, energy and finance portfolios as a member of the provincial legislature before opting not to run in the 2012 election, said he’s not taking anything for granted
“It would seem to me if someone has a 17-year track record that they might consider running on that record,” said Liepert.
“There has not been one mention in any of the correspondence coming out of the other camp about what he has done for his constituents. It’s an almost 100 per cent criticism of me.”