Albertans should be prepared for an endless election campaign
With UCP race heating up, NDP is already defending its incumbency, trashing its foes
The news release from the Jason Kenney leadership campaign touted an announcement Wednesday morning with “special guests.”
Oooh. I wasn’t the only journalist who wondered if one of those “special guests” would be Stephen Harper.
After all, Harper is a supporter of Kenney’s bid to become leader of the new United Conservative Party.
And what could be more special than an official endorsement from a former Conservative prime minister? But there was nothing especially special about the guests — UCP MLAs Ric McIver and Jason Nixon, who have both been unofficially on the Kenney bandwagon for some time.
Their endorsements were a bit like unveiling a statue that had already been sitting in the town square for six months.
But get used to it. We’ll be seeing more of these non-special special events for the next month or so as the candidates in the UCP leadership race try their best to generate the impression of momentum ahead of the Oct. 28 vote.
The race, by the way, is really, officially underway now that we know who is in and who is out.
And by in, I mean former PC leader Kenney, former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer and former Wildrose president Jeff Callaway.
They all met the requirement to pay at least $57,500 of the entry fee before 5 p.m. Tuesday. Another $37,500 is due by Oct. 5.
And by out, I mean Paul Hinman, a former MLA who was leader of the Wildrose a decade ago, back when it was the Wildrose Alliance.
In one of the more unusual campaign strategies, Hinman announced just last weekend he was running, and then tried to raise the necessary $57,500 entry fee by Tuesday afternoon.
He didn’t succeed, and in what must be the understatement of the year, told reporters he should have started his campaign sooner.
Now that they’re officially in, the candidates wasted no time issuing a flurry of news releases.
On Wednesday, Kenney sent out an email boasting of his two new endorsements, while one of the endorsers, Nixon, followed with a why-I-support-Kenney email. Schweitzer issued a release saying he had the support of MLA Wayne Drysdale, while Jean announced endorsements from two rural mayors and former Conservative MP Myron Thompson.
There’s a lot at stake here for the candidates. As far as they’re concerned, they’re not just running to be leader of the official Opposition, they’re running to be premier. They point to public opinion polls indicating the NDP government is deeply unpopular outside of Edmonton.
The leadership candidates are convinced the UCP will form government after the next provincial election in 2019.
It’s an argument not without merit. Indeed, you can see how the NDP government itself is taking this race seriously.
In recent weeks, the NDP caucus issued a blizzard of news releases attacking the various UCP leadership candidates.
The NDP has, among other things, accused Jean of supporting “American-style” health care, claimed Kenney’s austerity plan would devastate government services with a 20 per cent across the board cut, and slammed Schweitzer for wanting to roll back increases to the minimum wage.
This is unusual. Governments are rarely so preoccupied with the inner workings of an opposition party.
The UCP should be flattered. The rest of us should realize we are not just witnessing the race for leadership of the UCP, we are watching the beginning of the provincial election campaign.
The election won’t be held for nearly two years, but the parties and politicians are acting as if we’re already in the “red zone.”
Premier Rachel Notley has been trading political jabs with Kenney and Jean, accusing Jean of being “ridiculous” one day and Kenney of being “heartless” another.
If you think the UCP leadership race seems endless with six weeks still to go, get ready for a 20-month election campaign.