Is Ja­son Ken­ney be­com­ing an al­ba­tross for An­drew Scheer and the Con­ser­va­tives?

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION - GIL­LIAN STEW­ARD Gil­lian Stew­ard is a Cal­gary-based writer and free­lance con­tribut­ing colum­nist for Torstar. Fol­low her on Twit­ter: @Gil­lianSte­ward

Con­ser­va­tive leader An­drew Scheer has enough prob­lems al­ready.

He surely doesn’t need Al­berta Pre­mier Ja­son Ken­ney mak­ing his life — and the prob­a­bil­ity of turn­ing Con­ser­va­tive for­tunes around in On­tario and Que­bec — any harder.

But that is ex­actly what Ken­ney is do­ing with his fran­tic push to po­si­tion Al­berta as an an­gry, de­mand­ing teenager whose threats to run away from home get louder by the day.

Why would more vot­ers in cen­tral Canada de­cide to sup­port Scheer and the Con­ser­va­tives when Ken­ney, one of the party’s prom­i­nent pre­miers and surely the party’s al­pha male, seems dead set on weak­en­ing Al­berta’s ties to the fed­eral govern­ment in or­der to hu­mil­i­ate Justin Trudeau no mat­ter the con­se­quences to the rest of the coun­try?

Ken­ney’s lat­est salvo is the Fair Deal Panel, a group of mostly con­ser­va­tive Al­ber­tans ap­pointed by the govern­ment and led by Pre­ston Manning, for­mer leader of the Re­form Party.

They have been man­dated to study whether Al­berta should:

Es­tab­lish its own tax rev­enue col­lec­tion agency, pro­vin­cial po­lice force, and an equiv­a­lent of the Canada Pen­sion Plan.

Opt out of cost shar­ing pro­grams such as phar­ma­care.

Have its own rep­re­sen­ta­tives at in­ter­na­tional treaty ne­go­ti­a­tions in which Al­berta has a stake.

In other words, should Al­berta be more like Que­bec?

The panel is also man­dated to hold seven pub­lic meet­ings be­tween now and Jan. 30. The meet­ings will no doubt at­tract ra­bid sep­a­ratists who will force more thought­ful Al­ber­tans to the side­lines.

This is all in ad­di­tion to the promised ref­er­en­dum on the con­tro­ver­sial equal­iza­tion for­mula, which Ken­ney re­minds ev­ery­one al­most daily al­ways means Que­bec profits at Al­berta’s ex­pense.

And then of course there is the war room de­signed to target en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and their sym­pa­thiz­ers. The Pub­lic In­quiry into anti-Al­berta En­ergy Cam­paigns in­tends to un­mask more en­e­mies.

It’s not clear how any of this will im­prove Al­berta’s slug­gish econ­omy. But maybe that’s the point; if ev­ery­one is busy fig­ur­ing out how to make Al­berta more in­de­pen­dent they won’t no­tice that the price of oil is still in the cel­lar and se­cure, well-pay­ing jobs in the oil­patch aren’t as plen­ti­ful as they used to be.

But as Scheer em­barks on his post-elec­tion lis­ten­ing tour and picks up ideas from Con­ser­va­tives about how to im­prove their chances in the next elec­tion, it’s go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing to see how he de­fends or ex­plains Ken­ney’s para­noid be­hav­iour.

An at­tendee at one of the lis­ten­ing ses­sions might ask: does the Con­ser­va­tive leader be­lieve Canada should now func­tion as a col­lec­tion of semi-sov­er­eign states, which

Ken­ney seems to want? How might that gain votes for the party in On­tario and other parts of the coun­try that are not Al­berta and Saskatchew­an?

Ax­ing the car­bon tax se­cured lots of votes for Scheer in those two prov­inces but it wasn’t a big seller in other parts of the coun­try.

And given that the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tives cli­mate change poli­cies were ba­si­cally a re­hash of Ken­ney’s poli­cies and that two thirds of Cana­di­ans voted for par­ties with much stronger poli­cies, how is Scheer go­ing to strengthen that part of the Con­ser­va­tive plat­form so it ap­peals to more Cana­di­ans with­out tick­ing off Ken­ney?

The Al­berta pre­mier en­thu­si­as­ti­cally cam­paigned for Scheer in Toronto’s sub­urbs dur­ing the cam­paign but the Con­ser­va­tives didn’t gain any seats there. Scheer’s team didn’t win any seats in Toronto.

Scheer and the Con­ser­va­tives badly need to win over more On­tario vot­ers if they are ever go­ing to form govern­ment.

The Re­form Party faced the same prob­lem in the 1990s. It wasn’t un­til el­e­ments of the Re­form Party and the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives merged un­der the lead­er­ship of Stephen Harper that they were able to break through in On­tario.

Ken­ney was first elected as a Re­former in 1997. He knows first­hand what a tough fight it was for a Western-based party to gain enough seats in On­tario to form govern­ment.

But now rather than help Scheer in the Con­ser­va­tive cause he seems in­tent on be­ing the al­ba­tross around his neck.

JA­SON FRANSON THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Al­berta Pre­mier Ja­son Ken­ney.

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