You’ve got to hand it to Jason Kenney. He is doing his absolute best to cast himself as the saviour of Alberta conservatism, even as his party deliberates his fitness to remain leader of the United Conservatives.
Keeping his job as leader is the only path to unity, Kenney says, and in a recent speech to the party as the mail-in vote on his leadership began, he actually had the chutzpah to compare himself to Ralph Klein, universally beloved by Alberta conservatives.
Kenney noted that Klein had a leadership review in 2006 and received only tepid backing, leading to his resignation. A lot of the issue was Klein promising to resign as leader, and then pushing the date down the road by a year, then two.
“They kicked him to the curb,” Kenney exclaimed, unspoken was “just like me!”.
It was the leadership review on Klein, Kenney says, that lead to years of fighting on the right, that can only be healed by keeping himself as leader.
He then added that the only people who benefit from Kenney being removed as leader are “left-wing ideologues”, ie, Rachel Notley of the NDP. Now there are some who buy into that. If fact earlier in April a group of 19 former PC and Wildrose MLAs endorsed Kenney. They believe, they said, that removing Kenney at this point would only help the NDP. The election is next spring, hardly time to elect a new leader, let alone introduce him/her to Albertans. Pundits quickly pointed out that the particular group of MLAs were hardly the “A-list”.
Next up, Kenney cast himself as bravely keeping the job even though he doesn’t want it. It would be a far easier path, he said, to quit and go to the private sector — take his football and go home as it were — but to leave would be grossly irresponsible and hand the election to the NDP.
He insists that those driving the leadership review are a small minority, and also insists, somewhat laughably, that he will keep the UCP a “mainstream, centre-right party”.
He blames a lot of the divide in his party on COVID. There were those who didn’t think the deadly virus was even real, and fought against restrictions of any kind, and were fervently anti-vaccine. Kenney says that the party needs to put those divisions behind them. COVID is in the rear view mirror now, Kenney says. While I really hope he is right, for all our sakes, I don’t quite buy his optimism. COVID is still out there. And if it does come back for another wave in the fall, even if Kenney survives this leadership review, all of the division will return if there is a suggestion of returning to any sort of restrictions.
Kenney is also insisting that a 50 plus 1 vote for him is all that’s needed for his leadership to be confirmed. Interestingly, in Klein’s 2006 leadership review, backing from 55 per cent of the party was considered a crushing defeat. To each his own, I guess.
In any event, the outcome of the leadership review will be announced on May 18, 2022.
Kenney should be helped right now as the Alberta economy rises on high oil prices. But his latest polling in early April shows his approval rating below 30 per cent, and his party polling behind the NDP.
The pollster, Think HQ, also said that feelings on whether Kenny should be replaced have remained stable all winter, with 63 per cent saying he should be.
“If Jason Kenney is retained, the UCP is going to have a more difficult time. There’s more resistance to considering voting for UCP led by Jason Kenney then there is to UCP led by a new leader, particularly among undecided voters,” said Marc Henry, ThinkHQ president told CTV Calgary.
That’s bad news for Kenney, no matter how optimistic he is publicly.