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Rob Breakenridge: Social conservatism not a path to victory for Jason Kenney

Click to play video 'New UCP leader Jason Kenney will seek legislature seat in Calgary by-election' New UCP leader Jason Kenney will seek legislature seat in Calgary by-election
WATCH ABOVE: The newly elected leader of the United Conservative Party isn’t wasting any time trying to get a seat in the Alberta Legislature. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, a former PC MLA is resigning his seat to clear the way for Jason Kenney – Oct 29, 2017

Having now run the table on his ambitious three-step plan to transform Alberta politics, Jason Kenney has left zero doubt that he is a force to be reckoned with.

After an easy win in the Progressive Conservative (PC) leadership race and then leading the charge for an overwhelming vote in favor of merging the PCs and the Wildrose, Kenney made it three-for-three by prevailing in the United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership race. He captured 61 per cent of the vote.

The first three steps, of course, are all intended to set the table for a grand fourth triumph: becoming Alberta’s next premier. And while Kenney has shown us that it would be unwise to bet against him, this next battle will be unlike anything he’s faced so far.

WATCH BELOW: Jason Kenney thanks Doug Schweitzer for bringing ‘fresh voice’ to leadership race

Click to play video 'Jason Kenney thanks Doug Schweitzer for bringing ‘fresh voice’ to leadership race' Jason Kenney thanks Doug Schweitzer for bringing ‘fresh voice’ to leadership race
Jason Kenney thanks Doug Schweitzer for bringing ‘fresh voice’ to leadership race – Oct 28, 2017

READ MORE: New UCP leader Jason Kenney will seek legislature seat in Calgary by-election

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Kenney’s three victories have all come in the face of relatively insignificant opposition. The sort of opposition Kenney is now going to face from the NDP and various other progressive forces will be like nothing he’s seen to date.

As much as Kenney has shown he can connect with and motivate conservative voters, he is a polarizing figure who will simultaneously motivate many progressive voters to come out and vote against him. The next election will boil down to who can win those folks in between.

WATCH BELOW: Jason Kenney says party ‘owes debt of gratitude’ to Brian Jean

Click to play video 'Jason Kenney says party ‘owes debt of gratitude’ to Brian Jean' Jason Kenney says party ‘owes debt of gratitude’ to Brian Jean
Jason Kenney says party ‘owes debt of gratitude’ to Brian Jean – Oct 28, 2017

READ MORE: Angela Kokott: Jason Kenney has no room for missteps after winning UCP leadership

The NDP already had enough reasons to be concerned about their electoral prospects in 2019: their poll numbers remain weak and there’s no end in sight to the massive deficits they’ve been running.

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There is a considerable amount of angst in Alberta about the NDP’s policies and the overall state and direction of the province’s economy –  and that clearly works to the UCP’s credit.

It is also the case, though, that the economy has been improving and will continue to improve. And while the NDP might not necessarily deserve credit for any of that, it could help them by the time the next election rolls around.

Moreover, as formidable an opponent as Kenney represents, the NDP will pounce at every chance they get at his perceived weakness: social issues.

LISTEN: Reporter Tom Vernon chats with Rob Breakenridge about Jason Kenney’s victory

READ MORE: Charles Adler says Christian-bashing will feed Alberta NDP to the lions of Jason Kenney’s mind

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Premier Rachel Notley herself tweeted on Monday that “We’ll stand against UCP’s job-killing, gay-outing, school-cutting, health privatizing, backward-looking, hope-destroying, divisive agenda.” A little overly dramatic, but it’s pretty clear how they’re going to try and frame Kenney.

Hopefully, Kenney is smart enough to avoid playing into that narrative. As he said Saturday in his victory speech: “We don’t care, in this party, what God you worship or who you love; what we care about as Albertans, is how hard you work.”

We’ll see how committed to that philosophy he truly is. Social conservatism is not the path to victory and it has nothing to do with the challenges Alberta faces. All this hard work will be for naught if Kenney fails to realize that.

Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.