KENNEY’S NEXT TEST
Jason Kenney has handily won election to Parliament several times. He has also overseen the demise of two strong, established political forces — the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta and the Wildrose Party.
Kenney, 49, also moulded the formation of the United Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, of which he decisively won the leadership of on Saturday, claiming just over 61 per cent of the votes. What Kenney has achieved in recent months is impressive, even setting aside his earlier accomplishments as a Stephen Harper cabinet minister and someone who sincerely reached out to new Canadians and brought them into the Tory fold. At every step of the way, he has risked the possibility of failure. His tenacity, which included driving a blue pickup truck around the province in a bid to kindle an interest in his cause — and yes, it was his cause — has to be acknowledged.
And so does the labour of Brian Jean, who stepped forward to salvage the remnants of the Wildrose. He’s a rare breed in politics: kind, caring, thoughtful and effective. Albertans can only hope he chooses to stick around as a wise voice the UCP will need moving forward. The party will also need the tempering influence of Doug Schweitzer, who has quickly distinguished himself as someone who appreciates the reasoned sensitivities of Albertans.
Winning the hearts and minds of the electorate will be Kenney’s greatest challenge, after all. He has successfully tapped into the resentment of conservatives over the direction the Rachel Notley government has taken the province in. He’ll quickly discover, if he hasn’t already, that it’s one thing to stand on the sidelines and offer cleverly crafted criticism of overspending. It’s a different feat to offer real-life remedies for the burdensome deficits that have plagued Alberta under various administrations.
Notley and her ministers have fear mongered for years about the toll of so-called reckless cuts that would bring Alberta spending closer in line with other provinces. Former premier Jim Prentice, to some extent, lost the 2015 election because of his realistic appraisal that government was spending too much and collecting too little.
Albertans will wait to see what Kenney does next. And equally, what Notley, who has always proven herself able to articulate an aspirational vision for the province’s future, has in mind. They’ll also look to see what the Alberta Party and the Liberals have to contribute to the conversation, which should be considerable as Alberta wrestles with considerable debt.
Hopefully, solutions — rather than rhetoric — will be on offer.