After 25 years in federal and provincial conservative politics, outgoing Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he concerned about certain elements that appear to be taking over along the right of the political spectrum.
Pointing to the works of traditional conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, Kenney said an important tenet of conservative politics is recognizing the “prosperous and free society” handed down by past generations and being a custodian for future generations.
“Conservatism, therefore, means protecting what’s best about what we’ve inherited. Not being opposed to thoughtful reform, but being opposed to radical overnight change and the destruction of institutions,” Kenney told The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson in an interview airing in full on Sunday..
“And so some of what I see now, what I call ‘populism with a snarl,’ is not conservatism. It’s about tearing things down and blowing things up. And that concerns me.”
He said social media is a factor, saying leaders like former U.S. president Donald Trump legitimized anger and conspiracy theories.
“COVID put that on steroids,” Kenney said.
Kenney announced he was stepping down as the United Conservative Party leader in May after a leadership review left him with a narrow majority in favour of him continuing in the role.
In his May 18 leadership concession speech, he reflected that the previous two years of the COVID-19 pandemic “were deeply divisive for our province, our party and our caucus, but it is my fervent hope that in the months to come we all move on past the division of COVID.”
While staying away from strict lockdowns early on in the pandemic, the Alberta government under Kenney followed other provinces in pre-vaccine measures like limiting personal gatherings or limiting indoor capacity.
Provincial policy then yo-yoed to being “Open for Summer” in 2021, ahead of subsequent waves that would stuff Alberta hospitals to bursting with COVID patients.
Alberta’s outgoing premier noted that when introducing restrictions in response to the dire capacity problems in hospitals he would be met with angry Albertans.
“I think there is a small but very energized faction of the public here in Alberta and elsewhere who right now are frankly looking for recrimination on COVID, on vaccines, on issues like these globalist conspiracy theories that are circulating,” Kenney said.
He said a conservative movement or party governed by anger isn’t likely to be a ruling party.
“I think a conservative party or government that is focused on a campaign of recrimination over COVID, politicizing science, entertaining conspiracy theories, campaigning with QAnon is a party that can’t form government and shouldn’t,” Kenney said.
Thursday evening, UCP members voted Danielle Smith as the new party leader and premier-designate.
Her platform planks included the constitutionally-dubious Alberta Sovereignty Act, a reform of Alberta Health Services, removal of vaccination requirements and promises to not reinstate pandemic-related public health restrictions.
In the past, Smith, a former talk show host and Wildrose Party leader, has spoken in favour of treating COVID-19 patients with anti-malarial hydroxycholorquine or anti-parasitic ivermectin – drugs multiple health authorities including AHS, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and the World Health Organization say have no proven effectiveness against the virus.
She has also publicly commented in favour of naturopathy – a scientifically-dubious practice – and appeared to place blame of late-stage cancer on the patient’s lifestyle. Later comments from Smith tried to clarify by saying earlier stages of cancer had more treatment options.
Smith has also held far right-adjacent views like immigration “would mean extinguishing the Canadian identity” and net-zero emissions goals were “magical thinking.”
But in speaking with Stephenson, Smith shied away from some of her more controversial campaign messages, saying instead she would focus on health care and the economy in the seven months leading up to the spring provincial election.
“People will see that we are serious about fixing the problem that we have with rural ambulances as well as the long waiting lists happening in emergency rooms,” Smith told The West Block.
With winter coming, the premier-designate stood firm on the COVID policies she proposed while on the campaign trail.
“We’re going to make sure that there is no worker who gets fired from their job because they have made a medical choice about being vaccinated. And we can do that in our jurisdiction,” Smith said. “We are not going to be enforcing federal lockdown measures or federal restrictions.”
Smith is expected to be sworn in as premier on Tuesday in Edmonton and is expected to call a byelection to gain a seat in the legislature shortly after.
Watch the full interviews of Danielle Smith and Jason Kenney with Mercedes Stephenson on The West Block on Sunday morning.