Former federal Conservative minister Jason Kenney has made headway in his battle to unite Alberta’s right
Jason Kenney’s bid to unite the right in Alberta is making progress.
first, they said he couldn’t do it; then, they tried to prevent him from trying; finally, they said it didn’t mean much.
That’s the condensed version of the media and the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta (PC) party narrative concerning Jason Kenney’s improbable bid for the party’s leadership. This past spring, Kenney won a thumping victory with support from more than 75% of the delegates. He is in the midst of a (so far) successful effort to unite the PC’s remnants with the Wildrose Party. Following a decisive July vote on the issue, the two parties have been merged under a new banner, the United Conservative Party. This will be followed by a leadership campaign in October, then taking on Premier Rachel Notley of the New Democratic Party (NDP).
The remaining half of Notley’s fouryear term may seem like an eternity to the more than 100,000 — some say it is closer to 200,000 — who lost their jobs since she came to power, to businesspeople, to energy industry workers, to investors and to the rest of the 75% of Albertans whom the polls say don’t support the NDP. But for Kenney, who held senior portfolios under former prime minister Stephen Harper, there’s a heck of a lot to get done in the two years until the next provincial election.
Kenney’s leadership campaign was essentially a pitch directly to the PC grassroots for a mandate to pursue a merger with the Wildrose Party via a two-party membership referendum. His reasoning was simple: the Wildrose and PCs collectively command 65% of Albertans’ support, but neither party is strong enough to guarantee unseating Notley. Unite and we can write that guarantee, Kenney told PC members.
Sheer ennui within the PC organization was another factor. The machine that ran Alberta for 44 years proved to be a burnt-out shell: its officials mostly worried about their own jobs; its activists exhausted or gone; its fundraising had dried to a trickle; and rival leadership candidates barely went through the motions. While PC party bosses, mostly holdovers from the left-leaning “Red Tory” faction, threw up successive obstacles — even trying to disqualify Kenney from the campaign — his momentum only grew.
At the convention, Kenney talked about leading an Alberta that’s “a compassionate society that understands wealth cannot be redistributed to the least fortunate unless that wealth is created through hard work in the first place.” But first, he also said, voters have to unseat a “government that takes its inspiration from the failed theories of socialism: by a resentment of success, a distrust of enterprise, a mistaken belief that a powerful state is a greater force for good than strong families and free women and men.”
Kenney aims to follow the path mapped by Harper, whose first task as federal Conservative leader also was to bring together two warring parties. With a Liberal prime minister who recently declared that Alberta’s economic lifeblood, the oilsands, should be “phased out” and a premier who might well secretly agree (the NDP having levied a carbon tax — the largest tax increase in Alberta’s history), the province’s next election can’t come a moment too soon.