General

For Kenney’s leadership review, Red Deer is ground zero

Jason Kenney will face the leadership review he agreed to let the UCP members hold in April, and he’ll do it amongst friends.

For $10, you can become a member of a private club (if they permit) and for an additional $100 (plus expenses), you too can have the privilege of letting your vote count.

For the leader of the UCP – who remains Premier between elections if the private club allows – in this case, Jason Kenney, Red Deer will provide the stage upon which he will likely give his best-received performance to date.

Unlike Edmonton, Calgary, or Lethbridge, in Red Deer, there is no NDP MLA next door – in fact, here’s a vast stretch of land between the city and the nearest NDP-held riding.

Red Deer is the place where Jason Kenney first flexed his organizational muscle and gave the PCAA a sneak peek at the new – but old school – playbook.

In 2016, busloads of youth showed up at the PC Convention to vote for new representation on the Progressive Conservative Youth Association board.

Youth voting for the Kenney-linked slate were treated to a pizza party and a private meet-and-greet with former Prime Minister Stephen Harper before being loaded up and returned to wherever it was they came.

It was the same city that hosted the celebration of the finely-spun merger of the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose parties in 2017- at no additional expense to members beyond the cost of a membership, I might add.

In 2018, it was the site of the United Conservative Party’s inaugural Annual General Meeting and Policy Convention that drew somewhere between 2,000 and 2.500 people – depending on who is recounting the tale.

In the “historic” provincial election in 2019, the UCP reclaimed both seats in the city, even crowning the Red Deer North MLA Minister of Education – a nod to the city’s motto, “Education, Industry, Progress“, perhaps.

Completely surrounding the city are ridings held by Kenney loyalists, both old and new.

Former Wildrose heavy, Environment Minister Jason Nixon, obtained the highest level of support as a UCP candidate from his riding, Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, at 70 per cent.

In the local A&W, where Nixon gets feedback he wants to hear, supporters are ecstatic about the economic rebound that has nothing to do with market forces and everything to do with decisions made by a man who has never allowed his own hands to get dirty.

Innisfail-Sylvan Lake – where former Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (son of former Kenney colleague and MP Earl Dreeshen) hangs his hat – holds the distinct honour of hosting the most successful fundraising event for the Party in 2021.

The annual “UCP Derby” raised more than $180,000 during the “best summer ever” that, while spawning a fourth wave, helped the party save face by raising almost, but not quite, as much as the opposition NDP since the pandemic started.

Rounding out the trifecta is Lacombe-Ponoka. MLA Ron Orr was appointed Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women, becoming Minister of Culture after Kenney carved off Multiculturalism and Status of Women to make it easier to promote mediocre white men.

Orr, who was first elected as a Wildrose MLA in 2015, managed to get on Kenney’s radar by claiming the Premier was “the leader God raised up for these times” in May and was promoted to a Cabinet position soon after.

For those who believe they have nothing to lose by re-electing Jason Kenney, Red Deer is the place to be.

Don’t get me wrong, Red Deer is also home to some who would like to see the UCP go down in flames. In fact, the prospect of Jason Kenney leading the party into the next election provides a known ‘enemy’ and adversary who will properly face Albertans for a real leadership review – it doesn’t hurt anyone but the UCP.

As the saying goes: “when your opponent is busy punching himself in the face, let him.”

However, there are people who voted for the UCP because they wanted strong conservative policies guiding the province.

What they got instead was a man who believed that being given important titles meant he was competent.

They got a spendthrift instead of a fiscal hawk who threw Albertans’ money on loss, after loss, after loss.

They got a problem gambler who finally scored big thanks to someone else’s (cough – Peter Lougheed – cough) bet.

The people who have come to understand this know the UCP’s fortunes are anything but secure with Jason Kenney.

They know they would stand a better chance at a second term with someone else leading the party.

There are people inside and out of the UCP who know both of these things are true, but while Kenney will take risks with Alberta’s money, he isn’t willing to do the same with his electoral aspirations.

After ensuring the legality of third-parties purchasing tickets for others to attend political events, and passing Bill 81 – which allows memberships to be bought in anyone’s name without consent – I expect there will be busloads of members headed to Red Deer to show their support for Jason Kenney’s leadership – absolute busloads.

This post contains opinion.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a political podcaster and commentator.
Connect: @Mitchell_AB for more, or @politicalRnD for posts

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