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For a high-profile minister Travis Toews has flown under the radar

For a high-profile minister Travis Toews has flown under the radar

Questions are bound to be asked about whether Alberta’s former finance minister is just a repackaged version of Jason Kenney, and what influence his religious views will have on his leadership.

A screenshot of UCP official leadership candidate No. 1, Travis Toews, as has campaign wants you to see him.
UCP official leadership candidate No. 1, Travis Toews, as has campaign wants you to see him.

Despite his high-profile job as Alberta’s finance minister and soaring political ambitions, Travis Toews has kept a remarkably low profile. 

Just look at the uninformative media coverage of the announcement when Toews, Alberta’s minister of finance until yesterday, became the first candidate formally to throw his cowboy hat in the ring to replace the blundering Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party (UCP) and premier of Alberta.

There was nary a peep about the MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti’s political philosophy – although what evidence there is suggests he’s just as hard-right a market-fundamentalist ideologue and bitter foe of public services as the man he aspires to replace. 

Then again, as a trusted member of Kenney’s inner cabinet, maybe he was just a good soldier who kept his own ideas to himself. That will take a few days to prise out, presumably. 

A bit more is known about the man’s religious beliefs, thanks to the efforts of Press Progress, which a few days before the 2019 provincial election that brought the UCP to power published a piece on the first-time provincial candidate’s theological views

Press Progress discovered that Toews (his name is pronounced Taves, by the way) had spent several years on the board of the Peace River Bible Institute, an interdenominational evangelical Bible college in the town of Sexsmith that requires students to forswear not only sex outside of marriage, but witchcraft, sorcery, spell casting, Ouija boards, yoga, same-sex massages, and rituals associated with demonic activity.

The school’s handbook explicitly bans any sexual activity outside a “loving marriage relationship between one man and one woman,” Press Progress reported. 

At the time, Toews didn’t offer any comments about his religious beliefs and how they might influence his decisions in government, and it seems unlikely he will now either. 

Toews, 57, launched his campaign with a two-minute video in which he can be heard lamenting the divisions in his lately not-so-united party as a guitar strums soothingly in the background and the millionaire rancher and chartered accountant is seen riding herd on some cattle, presumably his own.

The UCP, he says, was founded “to restore those fundamental values that have served Albertans so well – “freedom and liberty.” His voiceover adds that “what grieves me most is the division that has formed in our communities, in businesses, churches, families, and certainly in politics” – which sounds like a not-so-subtle dog whistle to the rural voters who resisted COVID-19 vaccination throughout two years of pandemic. 

“I believe in servant leadership,” Toewes narrates soothingly. “I believe in humility as a guiding principle for sound government.”

I don’t know about you, but when I hear a conservative politician talking about “servant leadership” – as Kenney frequently used to do – I want to bolt the door and break out the Winchesters, metaphorically speaking of course. 

Speaking of which, at least there were no scenes in the video of Toews discharging a firearm, which would have been de rigueur were he running to replace a Republican governor south of the Medicine Line, so I suppose we can count that as a small blessing. 

Toews has one significant advantage almost every other minister in Premier Kenney’s cabinet – he actually sounds like a grownup when he speaks.

Whether that will be enough to compensate for the fact he appears to have Kenney’s sotto voce endorsement – plus the assistance of at least some Kenney aides – remains to be seen.

Given the liabilities of being too closely associated with Kenney’s chaotic tenure as premier, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, though he has not yet officially registered his candidacy with the party, must still be considered the front-runner in the race. 

Meanwhile, Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney tweeted yesterday that she has engaged Harper-era Conservative Party apparatchik Ken Boessenkool, nowadays a political consultant, “to test the viability of a leadership campaign … that isn’t just more of the same.”

Social media users were quick to remind Sawhney of the circumstances surrounding Boessenkool’s messy departure from the staff of former B.C. premier Christy Clark a decade ago, suggesting that his appointment may have been the first serious blunder of her campaign. 

So if you’re looking for more Jason Kenney – repackaged to be somewhat more palatable to what the Kenney camp still imagines the typical Albertan wants in a political leader – then cross your fingers for Toews. 

Just don’t cross them in a magical sort of way! 

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David Climenhaga, author of the AlbertaPolitics.ca blog, is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald….


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