Jason Kenney is busy ticking off the boxes in his quest to be the next premier of Alberta:
- Become the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party—check.
- Maneuver Brian Jean (WR) into accepting a merger proposal—check.
- Merge the PC and WR parties into the United Conservative Party—check.
- Become the leader of the UCP—ongoing.
- Lead the UCP to victory in 2019—eureka!
The last two boxes might get a little messy.
The détente between Jason Kenney and Brian Jean shattered the minute the PCs and WR agreed to merge into the UCP. From here on it’s every man for himself.
We can expect Kenney and Jean to roar out of the starting gate like King Kong and Godzilla, beating their chests trying to convince conservative Albertans that the other guy doesn’t have what it takes to beat Rachel Notley (Fay Wray?) in the next election.
They’re both fiscal and social conservatives; neither of them is brimming with charisma so how do they intend to differentiate themselves from the competition?
The most obvious point of differentiation for a fiscal conservative isn’t his promise to cut public services (everyone says they’re going to “cut waste”) but whether he’s honest about how deep he’s going to cut in order to eliminate the deficit.
Both Jean and Kenney say they’ll balance the budget without cutting the front line (Kenney goes so far as to urge nurses and union workers to join his party). This is nonsense. The only way to balance the budget without cutting the front line is to raise taxes. That’s never going to happen.
Both candidates know it and are being equally dishonest with the electorate by refusing to admit they’ll cut health, education, and social services as much as it takes to eliminate the deficit.
There are many points of differentiation among conservatives on social issues.
Some social conservatives blast their views from the roof tops. Brian Trost is well known for his discomfort with “the gay thing” and Lisa Raitt says her personal views on abortion won’t impact the status quo. Others hide their beliefs by pretending social issues are irrelevant—governing is all about the economy, right?
Brian Jean and Jason Kenney fall into the latter category; for example, they’re consistently “otherwise engaged” when Pride parades are scheduled, however Jean has shown a willingness to be a bit more “progressive” when it comes to “the gay thing” and children. Jean made it clear he doesn’t support Kenney’s position that schools should “out” students to their parents if they join gay-straight alliances.
Jean appears to trust the electorate enough to reveal the extent of his social conservatism, Kenney on the other hand, continues to duck social issues, content to let his minions speak for him.
And that’s why the King Kong vs Godzilla leadership battle is going to get messy.
The existential battle for Alberta
Kenney and Jean pitched the merger as the first step in an epic battle to wrestle Alberta away from the socialists and give it back to hard working ordinary folk who’ve been victimized and ignored, over-taxed at home and under-represented in Ottawa. They positioned the UCP merger plan as the only way to reclaim the Alberta Advantage and reinstall Alberta to its rightful place in the firmament…and yet 45 to 50% of card carrying conservatives didn’t bother to vote in the referendum. They stayed home.
If the survival-of-the-province-depends-on-you message wasn’t strong enough to mobilize almost half of the card carrying conservatives to vote for the merger, what’s it going to take for the UCP to get the vote out in 2019?
Jean and Kenney are keenly aware that Albertans strongly supported the federal Conservatives in the last election. They’re also aware that conservative politicians like Kellie Leitch (Canadian values test) and Brian Trost (that gay thing) built up significant support using wedge politics.
We already know how far Jason Kenney (niqab ban) will go in search of votes. If Brian Jean follows Kenney down this squalid path we expect the UCP leadership race and the runup to the next election to be two long years of dog whistle politics.
So, here’s the plan, while King Kong and Godzilla are busy duking it out over there, let’s get behind our favourite progressive politician and prepare to take on whoever crawls out from the rubble to battle for Alberta in 2019.
(Hello Fay Wray!)