Speculation Jason Kenney is leaving federal politics to run for the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party is at a fever pitch.
Kenney himself says he hasn’t decided but will very soon. He’s also not denying the rumours, which means a move to provincial politics is likely in the cards.
The road there won’t be easy.
Kenney has been in Ottawa for nearly two decades so he’ll likely only enter Alberta politics if he thinks he can win. To win, the Calgary MP and former cabinet minister needs to unite the right.
It’s something he acknowledged in a speech to federal conservative delegates at the party’s convention last month.
“Let’s make Alberta again the free enterprise capital of Canada by working together to defeat the socialists in 2019,” Kenney told the crowd.
The NDP’s orange wave, of course, crushed Alberta’s conservative dynasty in last year’s provincial election. The political right was already fractured, but the NDP’s win solidified the fault lines. The more middle of the road PCs were nearly decimated, while the right-leaning Wildrose Party fared better, forming the official opposition.
But the ghosts of Jim Prentice and Danielle Smith loomed large. The two former party leaders had forged their own unite the right effort, which failed miserably.
Political scientist Robert Murray says Kenney will have to fight off those not-too-distant memories among Albertans.
“There’s going to be a lot of people incredibly wary of someone coming from the outside, from Ottawa, looking like the saviour of a conservative movement,” Murray warned.
WATCH: Rumours swirl about Jason Kenney pursuing Alberta PC leadership
Rick Orman watched it all “go down,” as he says. The well-known conservative had made two bids for the PC Party leadership, both unsuccessful.
Orman is one of the politicos who began talking again about uniting the right, months after the election. He helped form the “Alberta Can’t Wait” group, one of two formal efforts behind the movement.
The Prentice lesson looms large for Orman, who says any leadership race has to be an open process.
“The attempt by Jim Prentice and Danielle Smith to do a backroom deal, that’s not on in Alberta,” Orman told Global News in an interview.
Orman’s group wants to see a third party created, because of staunch opposition in both the PC and Wildrose camps to the idea of the parties’ consolidation.
Orman thinks Kenney, though, might be what “unite the right” needs.
“Sometimes movements spawn leaders, and sometimes leaders spawn movements,” he said.
Still, others are surprised Kenney would make a bid for the PC Party. While the PCs will soon launch a leadership contest, Kenney has long aligned more closely with the Wildrose Party behind the scenes.
“Do we believe that Jason Kenney’s values that he’s represented federally coincide with Alberta provincial PC values? I’m certainly not sure,” Murray said.
Sources in the Wildrose were livid to hear about Kenney’s likely decision. A release from the party spelled it out: they already have a leader – Brian Jean – and if anyone’s going to unite the right it’s him, so get in line.
“We welcome anyone willing to get involved with Brian Jean’s efforts to consolidate conservatives,” the release tersely stated.
The PC Party was a little less heavy-handed.
A senior source in the party says they would welcome Kenney’s possible foray into the leadership race, but cautioned the race will be an open one.
Kenney will have to make an official decision soon. Nominations for the leadership will likely open after the Labour Day long weekend and the leadership vote will take place in spring of next year.