Asked to define the greatest challenge of leadership, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan replied: “Events, dear boy, events.”
Today, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney may be seeking solace in that quote, blaming events for his seemingly abrupt fall. He would be wrong. Because while COVID, mandates, shutdowns, truckers, or inflation could be cited as catalysts for the popularity reversal, it was his inability to meet these challenges and maintain the respect of the group that brought him down. .
Kenney didn’t know Alberta and Alberta didn’t know Kenney. Who was this gregarious, soft-spoken messiah from the east who had come from Ottawa to save the province? Savior or charlatan?
Albertans feel cheated, disappointed and angry. Kenney’s “Big Top” had become a circus, not the inclusive party she had promised.
During his 2017 leadership campaign for the new United Conservative Party, Kenney touted a large “Lougheed-style” campaign party that appealed to both fiscal and social conservatives, vaguely comparing himself to Alberta’s great Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Peter Lougheed. Many Albertans were offended by this crude comparison. Lougheed’s conservatives found him hypocritical, recalling that the former lobbyist and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Taxpayers had often criticized Lougheed’s “socialist government”. (A 1999 National Post article quoted Kenney as referring to “Lougheed-era neo-Stalinist manufacturing projects.”) An outraged Stephen Lougheed told the Calgary Herald that he was upset by Jason Kenney’s “false” praise of his father. Columnist Don Braid wrote, “Many heirs to Lougheed’s politics think a Kenney victory will be a final divorce decree for progressives and the UCP.”
Braid’s prescient remark during the 2019 provincial Conservative leadership may foreshadow today’s federal Conservative party leadership competition as the post-merger purge of progressives from both parties continues. As progressives have gone to the sidelines, Conservative party membership at the federal and provincial levels is now predominantly in the hands of the conservative social base who have been electing populist leaders and nominating populist candidates in their respective constituencies since the defeat of the Harper’s government. The more strident and emboldened right-wing ideologues become, the fewer seats they win across the country.
Alberta is Conservative and has continued to elect Conservative MPs, if only by default. Ingrained disdain for anything called Trudeau has outpaced a growing unease with the shift toward social conservatism and bigotry in the Federal party.
Albertans expected better from Kenney. While skeptical of political positions on education, laying off doctors in the midst of an epidemic, coal mining in the Rocky Mountains, and debauchery from outside enemies, it was incompetence and a growing mistrust that killed him. Alberta’s moderates and centrists have an abiding pride. Peter Lougheed for his character, integrity and humility. They will not tolerate perceived cronyism, old-timers, insider trading, or lack of transparency. In a recent review of the Lobbyists Act, Kenney MLAs voted against changes proposed by the Alberta Ethics Commissioner, including the establishment of a communications log to track meetings between lobbyists and public office holders. .
While activists on the UPC right and NDP left have moved to the rough edges of provincial politics, most Albertans remain in the middle: homeless and in search of leadership. They will be looking more carefully before casting their votes in upcoming leadership contests. After Kenney, populist victories here are no longer a given.
How all this will affect the federal Conservative leadership race will be the number one topic of discussion during the summer barbecue season. The 10 percent of the federal leadership “points” at stake in Alberta will be hotly contested.
This time, Kenney’s support will have little effect. His strong endorsement of Erin O’Toole in the previous contest and his criticism of Peter MacKay upset the former PCs. That may pay off for progressive candidates this time. Despite his close personal relationship with Pierre Poilievre, Kenney has so far been quiet and the populist candidate has carefully avoided any ties to Kenney, even though his top advisers, organizers and campaign workers are from the Harper/Kenney camp, which remains being the strongest political organization in the United States. Alberta
Poilievre is the majority choice of the Alberta CPC caucus and much of the pre-contest membership, however the memberships he sold playing on point issues may move on to other candidates as Bitcoin stocks fall, prices rise mandates and its policy are reviewed announcements. His Alberta social conservative campaign workers trying to get the vote will divide their time between the simultaneous federal and provincial leadership campaigns.
Patrick Brown has waged a stealthy campaign to sign up large numbers of ethnic sympathizers, often concentrated in districts where their numbers will capture a larger percentage of the 100 “points” available per ride. Brown also has the backing of the national associations of firefighters and health workers who have been promoting memberships among their Alberta members on his behalf.
Former federal Progressive Conservative leader Jean Charest will benefit most from Kenney’s failure, for ideological reasons, and the perceived status of a populist social conservative favorite. Progressive Conservatives prefer a leader who can unite the country and win the general election. Charest activist Robert Hawkes reports: “I haven’t found a former PC who isn’t supporting Jean. Homeless Federal Progressive Conservatives in Alberta are motivated, have purchased memberships and will vote.”
An early all-candidate debate in Edmonton set the tone for the federal leadership race.
When the Globe and Mail reported in May that former Reform Party leader Preston Manning said he was concerned about the personal and divisive tone of the Conservative Party leadership race, a letter to the editor soon followed with: “Isn’t it he who started in the first place?
Another wrote: “Stephen Harper had to gag his more embarrassing caucus colleagues to keep the party from becoming a laughing stock and, for the most part, kept a check on ‘extremist’ and ‘divisive’ comments.”
The preferential ballot, where voters can indicate an order of preference for candidates, will once again play a pivotal role in the Conservative leadership campaign.
In the last contest, a four-candidate race, there were three populist candidates and one progressive. Peter MacKay, the former leader of the Progressive Conservatives, won on the first ballot. Erin O’Toole, running as a populist, was second on the first count but inched on the second ballot when fourth-place social conservative candidate Derek Sloan was eliminated and most of his second-choice votes they went to O’Toole. On the third and final ballot, the majority of second-choice votes for pro-life candidate Leslyn Lewis also went to O’Toole, putting him on top.
With two progressives, Charest and Brown, currently supposed to be running second and third in the 2022 race, their combined votes may be enough to catch and overtake the perceived leader Poilievre, electing the first progressive since the 2003 merger. .
If that is the case, it will be a challenge for the new leader, as Erin O’Toole can attest, to lead the current caucus through the 2025 election while trying to present the Canadian electorate with a mainstream alternative to the ruling Liberals. The current caucus is seen as ideologically strident, intolerant and unlikely to change. A former deputy from the Reformist Party once told me: “We’d rather lose the elections than lose our values.”
Lee Richardson was Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Peter Lougheed, Deputy Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and a Conservative MP for Calgary from 1988 to 1993 and from 2004 to 2012, when he became Principal Secretary to Premier Alison Redford. This column first appeared in political magazine.