Rookie Scheer won’t es­cape friendly fire

Toronto Star - - CANADA - Chan­tal Hébert

MON­TREAL— Few Par­lia­ment Hill in­sid­ers were sur­prised by Jason Ken­ney’s de­ci­sive Al­berta lead­er­ship vic­tory. The for­mer fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter has long been con­sid­ered in an or­ga­ni­za­tional class of his own. He was the chief-ar­chi­tect of the fed­eral party’s out­reach in Canada’s di­verse cul­tural com­mu­ni­ties.

Ken­ney may have been less pop­u­lar than his main ri­val Brian Jean over­all, but as for­mer MP Patrick Brown’s own vic­tory in the last On­tario Tory cam­paign demon­strated, the ca­pac­ity to bring one’s sup­port­ers in­side a party tent mat­ters more to the out­come of a lead­er­ship vote than one’s stand­ing in the out­side world. That can, of course, be less true in a gen­eral elec­tion.

Brown en­tered the On­tario leg­is­la­ture through the door of a solid Tory rid­ing. Ken­ney like­wise will not face much of a chal­lenge in get­ting elected to the Al­berta leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly.

In both cases the test of their wider elec­toral ap­peal is still to come.

But as op­posed to Brown, who as a fed­eral back­bencher brought a rel­a­tively blank slate to his On­tario bid, Ken­ney needs no in­tro­duc­tion to the na­tional scene.

That could be a bless­ing for his pro­vin­cial party, but a curse for Stephen Harper’s rookie suc­ces­sor Andrew Scheer.

In the past, the pres­ence in Al­berta of strong Con­ser­va­tive lead­ers — li­able to over­shadow the party’s fed­eral leader na­tion­ally — has not been a recipe for suc­cess for the con­ser­va­tive move­ment fed­er­ally.

Think of Peter Lougheed and Joe Clark or Ralph Klein and Pre­ston Man­ning. Ken­ney makes both Lougheed and Klein — de­spite their re­spec­tive records as staunch de­fend­ers of Al­berta’s in­ter­ests — look like pussy­cats. He just ran on one of the most an­tag­o­nis­tic plat­forms to­wards Ot­tawa and some sis­ter prov­inces out­side of a Parti Québé­cois lead­er­ship cam­paign.

Over the past few months, Ken­ney turned his guns on Que­bec for al­legedly bit­ing the equal­iza­tion hand that feeds it by not sup­port­ing the now-de­funct En­ergy East pipe­line. For the same rea­son, Bri­tish Columbia, whose mi­nor­ity NDP gov­ern­ment is against the im­mi­nent ex­pan­sion of the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line, is in his bad books. And he is itch­ing for a fight against Justin Trudeau’s Lib­er­als — on Al­berta terms.

But what may be a pop­u­lar scorched-earth, fed­eral-pro­vin­cial ap­proach in Al­berta risks be­com­ing a bridge-burn­ing one for Scheer’s fed­eral Con­ser­va­tives. If there is one re­gion where Harper’s suc­ces­sor had no great need for pro­vin­cial re­in­force­ments it is the Prairies in gen­eral, and Al­berta in par­tic­u­lar.

Just last week, his fed­eral Con­ser­va­tives won 77 per cent of the by­elec­tion vote in Rona Am­brose’s for­mer Ed­mon­ton rid­ing.

If Scheer had his way, he would be happy to trans­fer some of the sur­plus Al­berta Con­ser­va­tive vote bounty to Que­bec, where his party fin­ished a dis­tant sec­ond in a rid­ing the party had held for a decade un­der Harper.

To pose a cred­i­ble threat to Justin’s Trudeau’s re-elec­tion in 2019, the Con­ser­va­tives may not ab­so­lutely need a strong show­ing in Que­bec . . . as long as they re­coup some of the ground lost in B.C. in the last elec­tion.

There, as in Que­bec, Ken­ney’s war of words will not be an as­set.

Al­berta is not the only source of friendly Con­ser­va­tive fire Scheer will have to worry about be­tween now and the next elec­tion. In a memo ob­tained by The Cana­dian Press last week ti­tled “Nap­ping on NAFTA,” Harper took aim at Canada’s ne­go­ti­at­ing strat­egy sug­gest­ing, among other things, that its out­right re­jec­tion of some key Amer­i­can de­mands was ill-ad­vised.

Harper’s re­marks were cir­cu­lated among clients (and some would-be clients) of his con­sult­ing firm.

As a for­mer pub­lic of­fice holder, he is for­bid­den by law from lob­by­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for a pe­riod of five years as of the date of his po­lit­i­cal re­tire­ment in 2016. And he does not have much to of­fer the Amer­i­can lob­bies that are nat­u­ral al­lies of Canada’s NAFTA’s bat­tle on Capi­tol Hill.

From a busi­ness stand­point, that leaves the pool of con­stituen­cies, mostly in the U.S., whose in­ter­ests are not in line with the trade sta­tus quo and for whom the rene­go­ti­a­tion of NAFTA is an op­por­tu­nity to wres­tle ad­van­ta­geous con­ces­sions from Canada. From Scheer’s per­spec­tive, that makes the op­tics of an align­ment be­tween his fed­eral party and Harper on the NAFTA is­sue po­ten­tially poor ones.

Be­tween now and the 2019 cam­paign, it seems Canada’s leader of the of­fi­cial Op­po­si­tion will have his work cut out for him try­ing to come across as some­thing more than the pup­pet of the two strong men of the still-re­cent Con­ser­va­tive fed­eral era. Chan­tal Hébert is a na­tional af­fairs writer. Her col­umn ap­pears Tues­day, Thurs­day and Satur­day.


Jason Ken­ney cel­e­brates his vic­tory as the first of­fi­cial leader of the Al­berta United Con­ser­va­tive Party in Calgary.

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