As members of Alberta’s United Conservative Party prepared to vote on his leadership, Premier Jason Kenney delivered a blunt, off-the-record analysis to party caucus staff. He was seeking to hold onto power to prevent “lunatics” from being at the helm of the oil rich province.
“What’s the easiest path for me?” Kenney asked.
“Just to take a walk. I don’t need the job. I could go into the private sector, have my evenings, weekends off. I don’t say this stuff publicly, there are just kooky people generally.
“I will not let this mainstream conservative party become an agent for extreme, hateful, intolerant and crazy views. Sorry to be so blunt with you but you need to understand what the stakes are here… The lunatics are trying to take over the asylum.”
He had earlier vowed that fifty percent-plus-one would be enough to stay on but told legislators and guests: “We need to put the past behind us.”
The United Conservatives must pick a new leader and premier in advance of an upcoming 2023 provincial election that its opposition is already busy preparing for.
Two of the “kooky people” who have tormented Kenney, a climate change skeptic and a globalism critic, say they will run.
Alberta is Canada’s Texas, its “oil patch” a source of wealth which waxes and wanes with global oil prices. Conservative governments have run the province for forty-six of the past fifty years. They have incessantly feuded with Canada’s federal government over oil prices and, more recently, the country’s carbon tax.
Kenney has been a combatant. He once called Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau an “empty trust fund millionaire who has the political depth of a finger bowl.” He described Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer as “brain dead” when she criticized a pipeline, carrying oil from Alberta’s tar sands, broke and caused one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history. The Kalamazoo River was its victim.
It was Kenney who authorized a provincial inquiry into whether U.S. and Canadian environmental groups were carrying on “anti-Alberta campaigns” designed to keep the province landlocked. The greens have opposed expansion of the TransMountain Pipeline to carry oil from Alberta south to Burnaby, British Columbia, for export abroad.
The inquiry found that “no individual or organization… has done anything illegal. Indeed, they have exercised their rights of free speech.”
What was wrong with the guy? He was not far enough to the right.
Kenney waited until hospitals were overflowing with COVID-19 patients but did impose mask and vaccine requirements. The action infuriated anti-vaxxers.
A former federal cabinet minister, Kenney was suspect for not being more confrontational toward Ottawa. Never mind that Canada’s federal government is footing the bill for TransMountain.
It did so because of a split on the right. Dissatisfied with a business-friendly ruling Progressive Conservative Party, rural activists formed the Wildrose Party, named for the province’s symbol. Wildrose split the conservative vote.
Bolstered by urban votes from Edmonton and Calgary, the NDP swept to power.
There followed an hysterical reaction to an environment-minded government that boosted funding for education and social services.
Since oil prices were in decline, it ran deficits.
Kenney took the wheel of a blue Dodge Ram and toured the province touting a Unite-the-Right movement. It succeeded after eight Wildrose legislators, including the party’s leader, crossed the floor of the legislature to join the Conservatives.
The United Conservatives won the subsequent election, with top heavy support from rural areas. Kenney, in power, began to act like an undisputed boss.
“I hold the pen,” he told party members. The “lunatics” fumed. A former Wildrose leader, Brian Jean, won a legislative by-election on an anti-Kenney theme.
“The healing process can’t begin until Jason Kenney leaves,” Jean proclaimed after the premier announced he was doing just that.
Despite lengthy one-party rule, only one of Alberta’s last seven premiers has finished their term. The Conservatives forced out a drinking premier (Ralph Klein), a premier deemed too dull (Ed Stelmach) and a premier who billed taxpayers for extravagant spending (Alison Redford).
What’s next for Alberta’s ruling right?
A likely public brawl, pitting Kenney cabinet ministers against the likes of ex-Wildrosers Danielle Smith and Brian Jean. If he got booted, Kenney warned caucus staff in March, it would “hand the NDP the next election.”
The “kooky people” are likely to have trouble with voters.
“Summertime daily highs have shown no discernable change,” climate skeptic Danielle Smith said in an essay. Western Canada was hit with record heat last June. “The number of forest fires has gone down,” Smith added in an essay.
The center of Alberta’s oil patch, the northern town of Fort McMurray, was partially consumed by a fire which forced its evacuation.
Urban Alberta is slowly transforming the province’s hidebound conservatism.
Still, it’s hard to think of Canada’s oil patch being governed, not once but twice, by a democratic socialist movement that introduced Medicare in Canada and – nationally at least – is outspoken on countering climate damage.
As for Jason Kenney, like many Canadian conservatives who lose elections, he’s likely bound for prosperity and free weekends in the private sector.