Al­berta’s lead­er­ship still up for grabs

Winnipeg Free Press - - YOUR SAY -

ASON Ken­ney, for­merly a fed­eral cabi­net min­is­ter, won over­whelm­ing sup­port on the week­end from mem­bers of Al­berta’s United Con­ser­va­tive Party to be­come its first leader. His 35,623 votes were al­most dou­ble the sup­port for his near­est ri­val, for­mer Wil­drose Party leader Brian Jean. A UCP mem­ber of the leg­is­la­ture im­me­di­ately of­fered to re­sign his south­west Cal­gary seat to give Mr. Ken­ney a chance to run in a by­elec­tion.

Mr. Ken­ney has been a large pres­ence on the Al­berta po­lit­i­cal scene since his first elec­tion to Par­lia­ment from Cal­gary South­west in 1997 for the Re­form Party, his re-elec­tion for the Cana­dian Al­liance and sub­se­quent elections for Stephen Harper’s Con­ser­va­tive Party. He is known for reach­ing out to Canada’s eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties and draw­ing their sup­port to the Con­ser­va­tive Party.

In the ex­cite­ment of his smash­ing win, Mr. Ken­ney on Sun­day ex­uded con­fi­dence that he and his party will de­feat the rul­ing New Democrats of Premier Rachel Not­ley in the gen­eral elec­tion that would or­di­nar­ily be held in the spring of 2019. As the ex­cite­ment cools, he may rec­og­nize that a year and a half is a long time in politics.

JMr. Ken­ney will face a con­tin­u­ing chal­lenge of sti­fling UCP ac­tivists with un­ortho­dox views. Al­berta is home to a good many peo­ple whose deeply held re­li­gious views put them well out­side the Cana­dian main­stream on such questions as mar­riage equal­ity, treat­ment of refugees and sex ed­u­ca­tion in schools. Al­berta’s tra­di­tion of rugged in­di­vid­u­al­ism en­cour­ages the force­ful ex­pres­sion of mi­nor­ity views, but this may not be help­ful to a ru­ral-based party seek­ing ma­jor­ity sup­port in Cal­gary and Ed­mon­ton.

Premier Not­ley and her gov­ern­ment have been scor­ing poorly in opinion polls for the last year. The Con­ser­va­tives have been scor­ing well. Now that Mr. Jean has been re­jected as UCP leader, some of that Con­ser­va­tive sup­port may drop away. Once the new party writes a pro­gram for gov­ern­ment, it may dis­ap­point some mem­bers and lose a lit­tle more sup­port.

In a re­cent test of Al­berta’s po­lit­i­cal winds, the Cal­gary Tories failed to un­seat in­cum­bent Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi. Tory-backed may­oral can­di­date Bill Smith ran on a prom­ise of mak­ing Cal­gary more friendly to the busi­ness com­mu­nity. May­oral can­di­dates found the vot­ers were com­plain­ing about Premier Not­ley’s car­bon tax and Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s en­ergy pol­icy, which should have been good is­sues for Mr. Smith. Even so, Mr. Nen­shi har­vested 199,131 votes, giv­ing him a mar­gin of al­most 30,000 votes over Mr. Smith. The Tories won two wards in the south­west cor­ner of the city — Mr. Ken­ney’s home turf — and lost in all the other wards.

The may­oral elec­tion doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily pre­dict the pro­vin­cial re­sult — but it is worth re­mem­ber­ing that the elec­tion of Con­ser­va­tive Brian Bow­man as mayor of Win­nipeg in 2014 was swiftly fol­lowed by the im­plo­sion of the rul­ing Man­i­toba NDP and the elec­tion of Brian Pal­lis­ter’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives. The one elec­tion re­sult does not cause the other, but it may show which way the wind is blow­ing. The Cal­gary may­oral elec­tion sug­gests that the jury is still out: Mr. Ken­ney and his party can­not take Cal­gary for granted.

Premier Not­ley en­joys good sup­port in Ed­mon­ton. Mr. Ken­ney will have to show for­mer Wil­drose sup­port­ers that the UCP is still their party, even without Mr. Jean. Cal­gary, mean­while, is still mak­ing up its mind.

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