09/05/2014 04:05 EDT | Updated 11/04/2014 05:59 EST

'Dr. No' McIver Hopes To Revitalize Alberta PCs


EDMONTON - The man later to become famous as "Doctor No" got into politics, he said, when a no-bomb got dropped on him.

Ric McIver says it was in the late 1990s, when he was still citizen McIver, frustrated by indifferent city officials knocking down homes and uprooting lives in the name of civic improvements.

He’d had his fill of open houses, where public suggestions for amendments or improvements were addressed to bureaucrats with blank stares, hands in their pockets, and empty promises to take concerns "into consideration."

The capper came when McIver’s neighbour tried to fight city hall over a public works project that would affect his property.

They went to the open house.

"We made a couple of what we thought were really reasonable suggestions," said McIver, now one of three men vying to be the next premier of Alberta as leader of the provincial Progressive Conservatives.

"Then I heard the fateful words from the city official: 'You don’t have any say here. We’re just letting you know.'"

They formed a coalition to fight the change. McIver suddenly found himself making presentations to council committees, talking to the media, organizing opposition.

They got the project altered and McIver had a revelation on civic politics: "I decided I could do better."

In 2001, he defeated five candidates and won a seat on Calgary city council.

Two months later, when rookie councillors were still expected to say 'yes sir, no sir,' he instead fired a shot across the council bow.

When fellow councillors embarrassed him by rejecting his motion to have the city simply study a taxpayer protection act, he returned the insult in kind by refusing to grant unanimous consent to borrow $100 million to keep city cheques from bouncing.

Veteran Ald. John Schmal said McIver should "sit back and learn the process" and not "tackle the system."

Give me a break, McIver shot back: "If they (councillors) don’t even want to think before they tax the taxpayer, I’m going to make them think."

In the nine years that followed, McIver, now 56, carved out a reputation as "Doctor No," the councillor who would reject what he felt were unjustified spending schemes or tax hikes. He fought for equality among rate-payers.

Dr. No, he said, was an apt description: "I said no to things that didn’t make sense."

If he learned quickly how political sausage was made it might be because he worked for years with the real thing.

McIver was born on Aug. 28, 1958, in Woodstock, Ont., and entered the workforce as a meat cutter.

By age 20, he was working in sales for Schneiders Meats in London, Ont., but wanted to see Canada.

He asked for a transfer. They offered him Saskatoon or Calgary.

He picked Cowtown and remembers to the hour when his new life began in Alberta — his flight landed at 9 p.m. on July 26, 1981.

He was 22.

In Calgary, he continued to work in the food business — sausage, cheese, deli — but politics was always in the back of his mind.

“It (the allure) was a combination of being able to help people and being able to have influence over the decisions that are being made,” said McIver.

In 2010, he ran to be Calgary’s mayor but instead was wiped out by the Purple Revolution of Naheed Nenshi, a business professor and endearing policy wonk who built a campaign on a mantra of urban renewal.

McIver wasn’t out of the political arena very long.

In 2012, he ran and won provincially for the PCs in the riding of Calgary-Hays and was immediately named to cabinet by then-premier Alison Redford.

He earned plaudits in the transportation portfolio for cutting a 60-year Gordian knot that was holding up Calgary’s southwest ring road from proceeding through the Tsuu T’ina Nation.

This spring, he launched his campaign to be party leader and premier from the front lawn of his Calgary house, promising to return integrity and fiscal discipline to a PC caucus reeling from revelations of Redford’s opulent spending.

"I want to return accountability and ethics (to government)," he said.

"I want people to look on our government with admiration."

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