July 29, 2017 4:01 pm
Updated: July 29, 2017 5:34 pm

Jason Kenney announces UCP leadership bid: ‘I have been blessed with the right kind of experience’

WATCH: UCP leadership hopeful Jason Kenney says the United Conservative Party is growing strong despite a few dozen members leaving the new party.

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Hundreds packed Edmonton’s Italian Cultural Centre Saturday to hear Jason Kenney‘s plan for Alberta as he announced his leadership bid for the newly minted United Conservative Party (UCP).

Before a packed house and after singing the national athem, Kenney supporter Kathleen Bancroft took the stage to introduce the leadership hopeful’s bid, setting the tone for his speech.

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“Welcome to the end of this disastrous NDP government,” Bancroft said, describing Kenney as the man “to get things done” at the helm of the UCP.

Kenney jumped into his speech by taking swipes at the prime minister.

“We’re celebrating Canada 150 years since Confederation — the birth of our great northern dominion. Now, Justin Trudeau says that Canada quotes ‘has no national identity’ and he seems to think that Canada 150 is all about apologizing for our past. Friends, I think he could not be more wrong.”

Kenney went on to describe Alberta as an “idea.”

“Alberta is not a random collection of people. It’s not an accident of history. Alberta is an idea, an idea of a place animated by hard work and enterprise, thrift and personal responsibility. A place where how hard you work and how you treat others matters infinitely more than who your father was, where you came from, how you pray or who you love.”

READ MORE: UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean reveals platform

The room exploded into cheers as Kenney took aim at the NDP government.

“That idea of Alberta is under assault. It is being damaged every day by an ideological government that takes its inspiration from the failed theories of socialism, by a resentment of success — a distrust of enterprise,” Kenny went on to say.

Kenney described the NDP government as “pouring gasoline on the fire of a deep and long recession.”

“Many of our fellow Albertans are hurting, nearly 200,000 are looking for work. Many others have just given up doing so. Tens of thousands of full-time jobs have been lost since the NDP came to office, and thousands of others have left the province.”

He also took aim at the NDP’s carbon tax describing it as the “single biggest political lie in Alberta history.”

The carbon tax, he went on to say, has pushed investment out of the province and forced a greater tax burden on Albertans with little to no impact on the environment.

Kenney estimated Alberta’s debt under the NDP government amounted to roughly “$1.2-million-an-hour or $2,000-a-minute.”

WATCH: How does Jason Kenney plan to balance the budget as leader of the United Conservative Party?

Kenney next went on to criticize the NDP’s rewriting of Alberta’s educational curriculum.

“The most obvious way the NDP hopes to change who we are as Albertans is through the educational system,” Kenney said. “They’re undermining parental authority and rewriting the school curriculum in secret. We all know what that means — more teaching fads and political agendas in our classrooms.”

Kenney said the new social studies curriculum was “riddled with politically correct themes.”

READ MORE: Interim leader of Alberta UCP says his views on LGBTQ issues have changed

He then told those attending they had an important decision to make in choosing the next leader of the United Conservative Party.

“Who has the right experience to lead a government from day one?” Kenney asked the crowd. “Who is best equipped to stand up for Alberta against Justin Trudeau? A future Conservative government will inherit from the NDP a fiscal disaster and will have to move immediately to restore investor confidence, will have to embark on an ambitious program of reform that grows the economy and balances the budget and modernizes public services.”

He then went on to cite his experience in the federal government, including a controversial decision to scrap the long-gun registry and cutting immigration fraud, as reasons why he would make a good leader.

“I’ve been blessed with the kind of experience which I believe has given me the temperament needed for the huge challenge ahead, and so in a spirit of servant leadership, I am today announcing my intention to seek the leadership of the United Conservative Party Alberta.”

The room erupted into applause following Kenney’s announcement.

Saturday’s leadership bid also included a “pass the bucket” campaign, asking those attending to donate money to the campaign.

Kenney did not take questions from the media at his leadership launch, but Global News spoke with him at a community BBQ event in South Edmonton Saturday afternoon.

When asked how he plans to unite the right when some PC members are leaving for a more centrist party, Kenney reiterated how 95 per cent of members voted for a united party with the Wildrose.

“Even if a few dozen people have left, tens of thousands have joined,” he said, adding membership of the PC party has grown since he became leader. “Of course everybody is welcome in the united party – that applies to people who might have doubts or anxieties about the united party. When you create something new like this, a big united party, you’re going to lose a few people in the margins of both parties.”

Kenney, who took digs at the NDP’s economic policies during his speech, said his plan to balance the budget includes focusing on economic growth by restoring investor confidence in the province.

He also acknowledged some cuts will need to be made.

“We’re going to have to have a period of spending restraint,” he said.

READ MORE: United Conservative Party leadership candidate Brian Jean wants photo radar vote

When asked to be more specific about what that restraint would entail, including whether civil servant jobs will be cut, Kenney said “most of that can be done through attrition.”

He was also asked about how he plans to appeal to the LGBTQ community. His comments about GSAs and suggesting student participation should be disclosed to parents have provoked controversy. Kenney also did not walk in the Edmonton Pride Parade last month.

WATCH: UCP leadership hopeful Jason Kenney said Saturday his record speaks loudly when it comes to appealing to the LGBTQ community

Kenney did not answer the question, instead saying he was receiving a human rights award from the Vietnamese community that same day.

“Speaking of refugees, I helped to save the lives of dozens of gay refugees fleeing possible execution in Iran so I think my record on this speaks loudly. Of course people of all backgrounds, as I said in my launch today, are welcome in the united party,” he said, before cutting off the interview and walking away.

A similar event will take place in Calgary on Saturday afternoon.

The United Conservative Party was recognized Tuesday as the official Opposition by the Speaker of the legislature, with interim leader Nathan Cooper at its helm.

Jean launched his own campaign Monday and has called for Albertans to get a vote on photo radar.

He has also promised to give voters the power to recall members of the legislature.

The UCP won’t become an official political party until papers are filed with Elections Alberta.

— With files from Julia Wong and the Canadian Press

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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