NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, May 19th, 2022

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney resigns after receiving results of leadership review

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.

Jason Kenney, former Premier of Alberta

Ken­ney at a press con­fer­ence in Edmon­ton last year (Pho­to: Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

“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.”

Pre­mier Ken­ney abrupt­ly announced his intent to resign Wednes­day, after receiv­ing just 51.4% sup­port among 34,298 par­ty mem­bers who vot­ed.

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.

In 2015, Alber­ta did the impos­si­ble. The left-of-cen­ter New Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (NDP) broke a forty-three-year con­ser­v­a­tive grip on power. 

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.

The New Democ­rats’ leader, ex-Pre­mier Rachel Not­ley, is rest­ed, ready and pop­u­lar par­tic­u­lar­ly in the province’s two biggest cities. 

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.

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