Just 10 months after a federal election that saw all but one Alberta riding elect Conservatives, the Conservative Party of Canada is on the verge of announcing its new leader.
Peter McKay, Erin O’Toole, Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan are all vying for that top job, to be announced Sunday.
But party faithful shouldn’t expect the new party boss to cater just to the province long considered a Conservative stronghold, according to a Mount Royal University professor.
“For those who are already inclined to vote Conservative, even if it’s someone who is supported by [Alberta Premier] Jason Kenney, they will not be able to give Alberta everything that it wants and needs,” MRU political scientist Lori Williams told Global News.
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The perceived divide between Alberta and other provinces is just one that a new Conservative Party of Canada leader will have to bridge.
“One is the regional division,” Williams said Saturday. “Another is the ideological division — the fiscal social conservative wings of the party. Another has to do with even age dimensions or elements of it. And it’s also important to bear in mind that the approach to the environment isn’t something that all Conservatives are united on.”
Williams said getting the party united will be at the top of the new leader’s to-do list.
“One of the first challenges of whoever wins is that they must take control of the party,” Williams told Global News. “He’s got to get that caucus under control. He’s got to get them all focused and pulling in the same direction and not simply saying what’s wrong with the existing government.”
Williams said overarching control from the elected party leader is “absolutely essential” to the party’s success.
But the MRU political scientist said Kenney’s place as a de facto leader of the federal conservative movement could ruin any gains.
“That success could be interfered with or diminished or compromised by Jason Kenney if he didn’t agree with some of the things that that leader was doing.”
“If you’re looking at the CPC candidates in terms of energy policy, it’s instructive to look at what’s happened in Alberta,” Markham Hislop, publisher of Energi Media, told Global News. “In 2019, Jason Kenney and the UCP were going to revive the oil patch by getting rid of the Alberta NDP energy policies.”
The Kenney-led provincial government repealed and replaced the previous government’s energy policies. But Hislop notes that Alberta still lost thousands of oil and gas jobs before the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I think that demonstrates how important markets and other forces are as opposed to policy,” Hislop said.
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Looking at the CPC leader platforms, Hislop said their support for the energy sector is very similar.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of distance between the top candidates for the CPC leadership,” the energy journalist said. “They’re all pro oil and gas. They all have a more or less climate plan that looks like the CPC plan under Andrew Scheer.”
Hislop and Williams pointed to the Conservative’s environmental plan as a factor for their 2019 federal election result.
The energy journalist also said the Constitution limits what a federal Conservative leader could do for Canada’s top export.
“Whoever that might be as opposition leader and if they become prime minister will quickly discover that the federal government doesn’t have nearly the influence on the Alberta oil and gas sector that many think it does,” Hislop said.
But Hislop said the recovery of the fossil fuel extraction industry is vital to Canada’s economic recovery.
“Of course, governments across Canada, including Ottawa, rely on the oil and gas sector to generate tax revenue,” Hislop said Saturday. “That said, there’s really not a lot that they can do in the short term because the oil and gas sector’s recovery is going to be dictated by international trends.”
Williams said resolving Alberta’s complex economic and industry problems can’t be done by any one level of government.
“It’s going to be a long-term, concerted effort and it’s going to have to involve co-operation and collaboration between the federal government and the provincial government, regardless of who the prime minister is,” she said.
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