As Albertans enter the final leg of a leadership race that has seemed to emulate American political theatre ad nauseam, let’s take a moment to reflect on the past three months. Yes, the leadership race officially began on July 22, 2017. It feels longer because unemployed politician Jason Kenney, Fort McMurray-Conklin MLA Brian Jean and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer have been campaigning for 15, 10 and 4 months respectively. It probably also feels longer because as of today, the leadership race has been going on for three months and 5 mind-bendingly long days.
|L-R Doug Schweitzer, Jason Kenney, MLA Brian Jean
On a positive note, it is almost over and we will finally have the privilege of knowing who almost half of the UCP membership will choose to lead the united conservative party. There’s something old, something new and a veritable palette of shades of blue.
Doug Schweitzer made non-UCP members pay attention in the wake of Charlottesville when he called out Rebel Media’s Alberta Bureau Chief for stoking white nationalism. It also garnered Schweitzer the title of “leftist” from said Chief. Schweitzer ran a decent campaign as the “moderate conservative” and has attracted support from a number of former PCs who somehow believe he has a hope of winning the leadership. While his campaign is almost as factually creative as Kenney’s, Schweitzer’s message of “new blue” moderate conservatism speaks to a broader general electorate who, after 44 years of electing progressive conservatives, may themselves be moderately conservative.
Brian Jean is the favourite among moderate conservatives from the former Wildrose camp (who are also likely former PCs). Brian has been a staunch conservative, voting against same-sex marriage while an MP and strangling all effectiveness out of the phrase “will not increase your taxes” as the newly elected Wildrose leader. He has mellowed somewhat since being elected to serve Albertans in the legislature and now takes a a more libertarian stance of “social issues only exist if we talk about them”. Brian Jean is in the unique position of having the party stalwarts turn on him in favour of Jason Kenney who, ironically, won the leadership of the socially progressive party. And if you haven’t seen Kenney’s number one fan, Campaign Life Coalition’s, updated criticism of Brian Jean’s voting record (here), you are missing out on basking in the intended consequence of social conservative back-patting.
And then there is Jason Kenney, self-styled as Alberta’s Saviour. The plucky young liberal from Saskatchewan, who realized he was instead a conservative, bragged about running from a Saskatchewan NDP government two full years before an NDP government was elected there. Kenney spread his doom and gloom clear across the province at the fiscally conservative cost of $1.5 million dollars; that’s $250,000 per month or $1,347.71 for each of the 1,113 votes he received to become leader.
Kenney has indeed accomplished something spectacular in winning the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta; where once a proud legacy of social progressiveness was an honourable badge of leadership, Kenney’s personal brand of social stagnancy now tarnishes the legacy of a once innovative and forward-thinking party that helped Alberta become the economic envy of a nation.
While the votes are still being counted, side bets are being taken on how much of the vote Kenney will take on the first ballot. In certain circles of people who know people, the numbers are as high as 65%. There are few who believe the other two candidates have a chance against Kenney; some of whom have probably paid the $20 fee to be in the Palomino Room at the BMO Centre in Calgary on Saturday at 5:00 pm. While there are few who believe a second ballot will be needed, it’s still fun to imagine something interesting could happen.