For 16 months Jason Kenney has been running on a platform of uniting the right to beat Rachel Notley’s NDP government in the next election. Early on he criss-crossed the province in his blue pickup truck on that mission.
His stated goal was to tear down two political parties; the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties and rebuild them into one conservative party that he leads. On the weekend he accomplished this when he won the leadership of the United Conservative Party with 61 per cent of the vote.
His campaign was long on anti-NDP rhetoric and short on policy, which hardcore conservative supporters lapped up. He declared earlier he would not put forward any policy before the leadership vote, a strategy that apparently paid off.
But going forward Kenney is going to need more than anti-Notley political rhetoric to convince ordinary Albertans that he should be the next premier. The people who voted on the weekend were card-carrying conservatives.
Any leadership campaign can be divisive, but the divisions that kept Wildrose and Progressive Conservatives apart haven’t gone away with the creation of the new UCP party. While the two parties agreed on fiscal matters, the common ground on social issues is rocky. On the road to building a united right there have been political casualties with several former Wildrose and Conservative party members choosing to stay out of the new party.
Former St. Albert PC MLA Stephen Khan says the new UCP is merely “Wildrose 2.0” leaving a gaping hole for centrists and moderates in the party. He believes the UCP under Kenney will drive more of those people to the Alberta Party.
There’s no doubt Kenney has the support of the party faithful. His job now is to convince those in the centre that he’s the best person to lead the province, and if he has any chance at becoming premier, his policies need to reflect that.
Kenney will need to exercise extreme caution if he hopes to create a big tent party that will include social moderates. Kenney likes to be on the offensive, and he continues taking pot-shots at Notley. The right-wing ranting could backfire on Kenney, as it’s giving Notley the opportunity to tell Albertans that her government is the defender of the LGBTQ community and protector of jobs – fundamental issues that resonate with moderates.
Kenney’s going to have to prove to Albertans that his substance goes beyond attacking the NDP. He needs to have goals beyond simply beating Notley. Alberta has changed significantly in the last 10 years, and if Kenney wants to be premier, he too will have to change.