Jason Kenney elected leader of United Conservative Party
With a new leader and opposition, what does this mean for the party?
By Anna Junker, News Editor
In a series of moves that could have come straight out of Game of Thrones, former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney has won the leadership for the newly minted United Conservative Party.
Last year, Kenney announced he would be leaving federal politics and emphasized that the Wildrose and Progressive Conservatives would have to unite in order to end vote-splitting and provide a proper opposition to the governing NDP’s.
After touring across Alberta, Kenney solidified himself as leader of the PC’s. He then began making moves to merge the two right-wing parties, that just months earlier would never have thought of joining hands in unity.
But it hasn’t been all kumbaya for the party. Two long-time conservative MLAs, Rick Fraser and Richard Starke left when the merger happened.
However, once the merger occurred in late July 2017 with 95 per cent approval, three front-runners emerged to vie for the throne.
Kenney, of course, battled against former Wildrose leader Brian Jean and young lawyer Doug Schweitzer, all hoping to be the one to lead the new brand of conservatives to a victory in 2019.
The leadership vote took place Oct. 28 and Kenney swept the board, taking 61.1 per cent of the vote on the first ballot, compared to Jean’s 31.5 per cent and Schweitzer’s 7.3 per cent.
There was a slight hiccup, however, with the UCP website displaying the results 15-minutes before the formal announcement was made.
“Tonight we are one step closer to renewing the Alberta advantage and getting our province back on track. Tonight we are one step closer to re-igniting our economy so that Alberta is once again that land of opportunity,” Kenney told the crowd.
“We are one step closer to a government focused on prosperity so that we have the means to be a compassionate and generous society.”
During his victory speech, Kenney also wasted no time in taking swings at the NDP’s in the style of slam poetry.
“We have united, we have chosen a leader and if we work hard, stay humble and earn every vote, we will ensure that this deceptive, divisive, debt-quadrupling, tax-hiking, job-killing, accidental socialist government is one-and-done,” he said to a cheering crowd.
Days later, Premier Rachel Notley took her turn, not mincing any words with her stance on the UCP’s.
“We’ll stand against UCP’s job-killing, gay-outing, school-cutting, health privatizing, backward-looking, hope-destroying, divisive agenda,” Notley tweeted.
Kenney pushed back again, during an interview on CTV’s Question Period, he called Notley’s tweets “transparent desperation” by the provincial government.
“They’re turning the volume knob on the anger machine up to 10, 20 months before the next election. My advice to them would be just calm down a notch, because you’re going to lose Albertans by using that kind of massively overblown rhetoric,” he told CTV’s Evan Solomon.
“I guess the only play they have is that kind of crazy talk.”
The 49-year-old now finds himself the leader of the opposition and a caucus of 27 members. However, Kenney will have his work cut out for him, as the head of a fledgling party, he will also have the task of defining who and what they stand for. While doing so, he’ll have to appeal to the 40 per cent that did not vote for him within the party as well as the rest of Albertans across the province.
However, with nearly two decades in politics and holding multiple portfolios such as Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Employment and Social Development, Multiculturalism and National Defence as cabinet minister, Kenney certainly has the experience.
It won’t be an easy feat to win over voters, though. Kenney has voiced contentious opinions in the past on topics such as Gay Straight Alliances, where he was criticized for suggesting that he would allow for parents to be told when their child joins.
Critics said by telling the parents, that could out the child before they are ready, potentially putting them at risk.
Kenney also spoke out against Notley’s stance of the Catholic School Board’s proposed alternative sex-education plan, saying it’s not the premier’s role to dictate how sex education is taught.
The school board says the government’s plan clashes against their faith-based instruction by including topics such as different sexual relationships and gender identities.
In response, Notley said any curriculum that does not address sexual health, marginalizes sexual minorities and doesn’t make clear that consent is of the utmost importance, will not be taught.
Kenney has also said if elected, he plans to repeal the NDP’s carbon tax.
Despite being voted in as leader of the party, Kenney now has to woo Albertans in order to gain a seat in the Alberta Legislature. The day after the leadership vote, Kenney announced he will be running for a seat in a yet-to-be-called by-election in the riding of Calgary-Lougheed in the city’s southwest.
He will be taking the place of longtime conservative MLA Dave Rodney, who resigned his seat, creating a vacancy for Kenney.
Since Kenney took leadership of the party, both the Conservatives and the NDP have been throwing punches. With 18 months still to go until the election, it will be a long, drawn out fight.