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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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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.