It has been just over a year since the Alberta Tories’ 44-year reign in power was ended by Rachel Notley and the NDP.
However, the NDP has quickly worn out its welcome. Perhaps it could not control the fall in oil prices, but it has seen fit to introduce a carbon tax which will take effect at the beginning of next year as well as a $15/hour minimum wage which will be phased in by 2018.
Enter Jason Kenney. A longtime ally of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Kenney was considered a strong possibility to succeed Harper. However, Kenney has read the tea leaves and thinks Notley is a lot more vulnerable than Justin Trudeau and yesterday announced his intention to run for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives. The contest will be held in March 2017.
However, Kenney wants to do more than lead the Alberta Tories. He wants to unite the Right. There is the not so insignificant matter of the Wildrose Party which arose nearly a decade ago out of discontent with the Alberta Tories being insufficiently conservative and enjoyed the trappings of power for far too long. Of course, Alberta’s last Tory premier Jim Prentice managed to co-opt most of the Wildrose caucus in December 2014 including its leader, Danielle Smith, with cabinet posts.
Under the circumstances, it was remarkable that Brian Jean managed to win 21 seats in the 2015 provincial election to become the Official Opposition relegating the Tories to third place. Under the circumstances, one might think Jean would be disinclined to roll over and play dead for Kenney. However, Jean says he is willing to work with Kenney to join forces should he win the contest. After all, Jean did serve with Kenney when he was a MP and is no doubt aware that Kenney has a higher profile and might have to make way for him as the price to pay for ousting the NDP from power.
Of course, Prentice was supposed to be the Tories’ savior from Ottawa after the scandal plagued administration of Allison Redford. Who can say lightning won’t strike twice? Kenney initially planned to remain a MP while campaigning for the position. This drew the ire of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, an organization that Kenney himself led during the 1990’s. Kenney now says he will step down in October, but this hasn’t mollified the CTF.
Naturally, it could be just a small bump on the road to the Premier’s office for Kenney. If Kenney can unite the Tories and Wildrose just as Stephen Harper united the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform Party then Notley’s NDP would very likely be a one term wonder. On the other hand, if the economy improves one ought not to count Notley out. She will be a formidable foe for Kenney.
Let us also keep in mind that Alberta’s demographics have changed over the past 20-25 years. Indeed, Calgary (long considered the heart of the Tory base) has a Muslim mayor. Naheed Nenshi was elected mayor in 2010 and again in 2013. The Calgary which has twice elected the non-partisan Nenshi might very well be more comfortable with Notley than they would with the more socially conservative Kenney.
Albertans won’t go back to the polls until 2019. If Kenney does win the Tory leadership, unites the Right and defeats Notley, the Alberta he governs will be very different than the Alberta led by the likes of Tory giants like Peter Lougheed, Don Getty and Ralph Klein. Kenney might wish he had stayed in Ottawa.