Jason Kenney: Conservative saviour or a guy with the appeal of a trip to the dentist?

Posted on June 22, 2016, 1:46 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: Jason Kenney at a NATO do, looking positively Nixonian (from his Facebook page). Below: The only shot I ever managed to get of Mr. Kenney myself; former Progressive Conservative saviour Jim Prentice; Mr. Kenney letting his hair down at Toronto’s Caribbean Fest; and Mr. Kenney with senior Republican Paul Ryan. 

“There is an end to our line of credit. Canada may be 12 to 24 months away from a total fiscal collapse!”
— Jason Kenney, President, Association of Alberta Taxpayers, May 9 1993

Yesterday, tout le monde political Alberta was abuzz with word Jason Kenney, Conservative MP for Calgary Midnapore and former Harper Government cabinet heavyweight, is about to abandon federal politics and make big waves here in landlocked Alberta.

KennyMineThe media punditocracy apparently unanimously agrees: Mr. Kenney, 48, is about to embark on a career in Alberta politics, uniting the discombobulated provincial right with the snap of his fingers and swiftly sweeping the province’s New Democratic government from the field.

“Kenney’s decision will be huge, not only in Alberta where the fractured right-of-centre vote contributed to the NDP’s stunning majority win last year, but in federal politics,” Chris Hall, the CBC’s National Affairs Editor, hyperventilated yesterday. (Emphasis added, of course.)

The general consensus appears to be that Mr. Kenney, who served as prime minister Stephen Harper’s defence minister and multiculturalism maven, will be an unstoppable juggernaut, crushing anything that wanders into his path as he steams majestically toward inevitable power.

Given the burgeoning excitement on the political right and among its journalistic auxiliary, it is fair for us to ask: Are Alberta’s conservatives about to make the same mistake with Jason Kenney their hapless Progressive Conservative wing made in 2014 when it chose Jim Prentice?

Call it Saviour Syndrome. In 2014, Mr. Prentice, a former banker and federal Conservative cabinet minister, looked like the guy who could work the miracle necessary to make the Alberta Progressive Conservatives, then creakily approaching the 43rd year of dynastic rule in this province, whole again. Mighty Hosannas rang throughout the land.

PrenticeAnd – oh boy! – were they ever wrong.

Not only did Mr. Prentice turn out not to be very likeable at all, he was politically tone deaf – deaf to what Albertans were saying and, worse for his political prospects, deaf to what they heard him saying, for example, when he famously told us to look in the mirror.

The results – combined with the undeniable political talents of Rachel Notley, then the four-member NDP caucus’s new leader – were spectacular to say the least.

On May 5, 2015, the Tories were swept out of power and didn’t even get enough seats to form the Opposition. The Opposition Wildrose Party, which had expected to become the government, remained disgruntled in Opposition. Mr. Prentice promptly quit, and presumably drove off into the sunset in that sweet little $54,000 T-Bird convertible he’d just bought, blind to why that would bother anyone.

Now Mr. Kenney is being touted as the saviour of Alberta’s disunited conservative movement, the next sure thing, the deadbolt cinch who will fix everything. Judging from the CBC’s story, Mr. Kenney appears to have reached this conclusion himself.

I am not so sure. I first met Mr. Kenney in May 1993, when I interviewed him for the Calgary Herald. At the time he was president of an entity called the Association of Alberta Taxpayers, another Proposition 13 spinoff like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

FunnyKenneyWho knows. Maybe I just had an irrational Dr. Fell thing about him, but Mr. Kenney struck me then as a callow youth, and I don’t see much difference now, except that I suppose no one except an old wheeze like me is likely to think he’s very youthful any more. Still, Jason Kenney seems to me to be the kind of fellow of whom it can be properly said, “no shirt too young to stuff.”

In fact, if you ask me – and I know many of you aren’t asking me – Mr. Kenney had very little political appeal then and nothing has changed. In some ways, he makes Mr. Prentice look positively warm and cuddly. He’s a fellow who couldn’t have gotten elected anywhere but a place like Alberta, which in those days reflexively voted Conservative.

As I wrote back in ’93, “His complexion is chalky, his five-o’clock shadow positively Nixonian, his smart blue suit rumpled, and his tummy, a victim of too many quick and greasy restaurant meals, creeping over his belt. … The 24-year-old Ontario-born, Saskatchewan-raised anti-tax crusader snaps up headlines daily in Alberta’s newspapers. His pronouncements on fiscal matters are treated with reverence by pundits. And he even gets invited to Premier Ralph Klein’s office for private tête-à-têtes.” (That said, Mr. Klein is on record as not having liked him very much. And it still strikes me as a small miracle this article made it into the fusty old Herald.)

W-RyanMr. Kenney’s sloganeering was, to say the least, derivative: “No taxation without representation!” His economic analysis was hilariously out to lunch: “Canada may be 12 to 24 months away from a total fiscal collapse!” His political intentions, then well known, were couched by claims he had no personal agenda beyond cutting taxes. “I’m able to have greater impact on some major policy decisions than a whole lot of backbench MPs and MLAs.” Not much later, he ran as expected.

Well, that was then and this is now. Now Mr. Kenney seems the kind of callow oldster who wouldn’t appeal to very many young people who get their news from social media to vote for him on a bet. Not unless, perhaps, he lets his hair down like he did at Toronto’s Caribbean Fest last August.

What’s more, Alberta has changed since 1993 – as Ms. Notley proved with a vengeance last year – and I doubt Mr. Kenney’s recent pronouncements on the niqab and “people like” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, or his federal department’s vile policy of denying health care to refugees, will play much better in urban Alberta than they did elsewhere in the country.

Speaking of which, if you believe the CBC’s analysis, Mr. Kenney decided not to vie for Mr. Harper’s old job because “the path and time frame for a return to power in the province is shorter than rebuilding the federal party as an alternative to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.”

Could be, I suppose. Could also be that Mr. Kenney is smart enough to realize he has about as much appeal as a trip to the dentist for most voters outside Alberta.

Maybe it’ll be different here in Alberta. I could easily be wrong about Mr. Kenney’s appeal. But from Ms. Notley’s perspective, it’s said here there are far more challenging conservative candidates she could have to face than Jason Kenney.

If you’re laughing at that, just remember what most of us were saying about Jim Prentice on this date in 2014.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

25 Comments to: Jason Kenney: Conservative saviour or a guy with the appeal of a trip to the dentist?

  1. Eric Cameron

    June 22nd, 2016

    Somebody needs to tell Jason Kenney that you can’t go home again.

    Reply
  2. Eric Cameron

    June 22nd, 2016

    According to CBC:

    “Sources tell CBC News that Kenney made his decision following a series of weekend meetings with key friends and advisers in Ottawa and Calgary.

    The group includes former MP Monte Solberg, former Conservative campaign guru Tom Flanagan as well as a number of key figures in the former Harper government: Howard Anglin, Mark Cameron and Ian Brodie.”

    Am I being cruel if I describe this as the last gasp of the Harper leftovers?

    Reply
    • PIGL

      June 22nd, 2016

      Not at all…unless truth is cruelty in which case I say “bring it”.

      I heard the CBC piece this morning. Shocking in its uncritical, fawning sycophancy. Also, too, nauseating.

      Reply
    • Filostrato

      June 22nd, 2016

      I heard that CBC thing, too. Flanagan? The Wiz who pulled the levers behind Harper’s curtain? File under barrel, the bottom of, scraping.

      Why does “approaching someone” for advice always sound so shady? Apparently, that’s what Kenney did. It sounds like Flanagan encouraged him.

      And one more time, my absolute favourite quote from The Wiz:

      “By using confidence measures more aggressively,” Flanagan wrote, “the Conservatives can benefit politically.” If the opposition backs down, Harper gets his laws passed. If not, Tories “get an election for which they are the best prepared.”

      Flanagan concluded: “‘Fortune is a woman’,” Machiavelli wrote in a now politically incorrect aphorism, ‘and it is necessary, if you wish to master her, to conquer her by force.’ It is time for the government to take advantage of its advantages.”

      http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/editorial/story.html?id=7107ada6-9122-4acf-9631-26f0d386870c

      Reply
  3. Ron

    June 22nd, 2016

    Funny….
    camouflaged by the trappings of power, these guys like Harper and Kenny look like tin-pot dictators.
    Out of power they look like fast-food workers who lost their jobs to the temporary foreign workers they brought in.

    (Prentice always looked like he got lost on the way to a religious service by Mormon Bishop Mitt Romney.)

    Reply
  4. Farmer B

    June 22nd, 2016

    You made me smile this morning Dave. As I finished breakfast I thought I should have a quick look at Alberta politics I bet he is going after Jason Kenney. And sure enough you didn’t disappoint. Being on the opposite end of the political spectrum I have generally liked Jason Kenney’s outlook. I think it is going to be fun to watch. Have a good day:-)

    Reply
  5. Reynold Reimer

    June 22nd, 2016

    I say “bring him on”. If anyone could prove more repulsive to voters than Prentice it would have to be Kenny. As minister of “defense” he used to love to yammer about how war was the the answer to everything. As minister of citizenship and immigration he tried to prevent British MP George Galloway from speaking in Canada. That was a crass attempt to silence criticism of the conservative government’s war mongering. Mr Galloway was against the war in Afghanistan and in favour of justice for Palestinians.

    Reply
  6. Martin d'Entremont

    June 22nd, 2016

    To amend the inimitable Squeaky Fromme’s quote: “Harper’s reality wearing a new face”.

    Reply
  7. PIGL

    June 22nd, 2016

    I thought it was the great Dalton Camp who remarked that Baby Frum proved there was no shirt too young to be stuffed?

    I have always savoured that memory…thank you, Mr. Climenhaga, for reminding us.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      June 22nd, 2016

      Vancouver Sun columnist Jack Wasserman said much the same thing of the Vancouver Club, if memory serves. Where I first heard it.

      Reply
  8. ronmac

    June 22nd, 2016

    The headline puts it well. Kenny has all the appeal of a “trip to the dentist.”

    On the other hand if you wake up at thrree in the morning with a throbbing toothache you’d give anything for a dentist, even if it means selling your soul to the devil.

    Reply
    • Filostrato

      June 22nd, 2016

      I agree – about the dentist thing, I mean. A member of this household practices that profession and I’ve answered the phone often enough outside office hours and heard the relief on the other end of the line when they could get some help.

      Kenney is not the guy who’d help in an emergency though. He’d probably give a lecture on one’s poor dental hygiene and then instruct you pray for relief.

      Reply
  9. Tom in Ontario

    June 22nd, 2016

    DJC’s inclusion of Mr. Kenney at the Carib Fest suggests a future role for him in the world of show biz advertising.

    From Wikipedia: “Poppin’ Fresh, more widely known as the Pillsbury Doughboy is an advertising icon of the Pillsbury Company, appearing in many of their commercials. Many commercials from 1965 until 2004 conclude with a human finger poking the Doughboy’s stomach. The Doughboy responds when his stomach is poked by giggling (Hoo-Hoo, or earlier on, a slight giggle “tee hee”).

    Reply
    • Filostrato

      June 22nd, 2016

      It’s been bothering me for ages who Li’l Jason reminded me of and you’ve nailed it. Poppin’ Fresh it is.

      Reply
  10. ema

    June 22nd, 2016

    Maybe Kenney could invest some of his gargantuan MP salary in some new clothing, as the last time I saw him at a public function in AB he looked so rumpled, that it appeared he may have slept en route in his ill fitting clothes.

    Or maybe he will realize that we don’t want him here with his poisonous Reform policies. This morning’s local news on CBC radio included an item from the PCs saying they were no longer a ‘top down’ party, so they apparently don’t want him either!

    IMO…….This is all about Tom Flanagan, Kenney and probably (that foxy old pest) Preston Manning trying to float a trial balloon.

    Reply
  11. David

    June 22nd, 2016

    After the Prentice disaster the Conservatives seem to believe, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

    In some ways Kenny may be a better choice than Prentice. He is probably better a political organizing, although Grande Prairie is very different than the ethnic communities of the lower mainland and the 905 area. Arguably, some of the same principles apply. Although he often seems somewhat pompous, Kenny comes across less like a bank director than Jim Prentice.

    However, Kenny faces a harder challenge as the Conservatives are no longer in government in Alberta or Ottawa. Prentice could offer cabinet posts to the Wildrose leadership, all Kenny can offer is the hope of power. Prentice initially seemed to be liked by both the PC’s and the Wildrose. While they are sort of looking for a savior, I get the sense the PC’s do not have very warm feelings about Kenny, whose connections with their party seem very tenuous at best, so there is no guarantee they will even pick him as leader. I also get the sense Wildrose is really not in a hurry to merge with the PC’s again after the Prentice debacle and they are not really looking for a savior right now.

    It will be interesting to see what happens, but I do think Kenny is not politically stupid. I wouldn’t be surprised if he backs off once he realizes this is no sure thing and he has been really oversold on this by Flanagan and Manning.

    Reply
  12. Expat Albertan

    June 22nd, 2016

    Kenny’s a bit of a mixed bag – as a cabinet minister, he had the reputation in Ottawa as being one of the hardest working members of the House of Commons. On the other hand, he has a very nasty (and very public) streak to him that only appeals to Sun newspaper readers. Regardless, he would have to unite the right in Alberta and I don’t think that WildRose supporters have any appetite for being fooled again.

    Reply
  13. Pogo

    June 22nd, 2016

    Look. Wolves gotta eat. Just throw us a fat giant over ripe baby and we’ll promise to leave you guys alone. Throw us a Jason Kenney and we’ll pick up the garbage on our way out!

    Reply
  14. Ward

    June 22nd, 2016

    If the Conservative Party wants to win the next national election they cannot chose the next leader from Calgary. Mr. Kenny, is too close to the former Prime Minister geographically and politically. They need a fresh face from outside Alberta to attract support elsewhere in the country where Conservatives are not elected as a matter of course. Mr. Kenny recognizes this fact and running for leadership of the PC party is his best chance at influence and power.

    Reply
  15. Val Jobson

    June 22nd, 2016

    Interesting development: Jason Kenney tweet about National Aboriginal Day raises some hackles;
    some indigenous tweeters think he was trollng indigenous people

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/jason-kenney-tweets-first-nations-settled-1.3647656

    But Ian Capstick thinks it was a coded tweet aimed at the Wildrose Party who I guess are not fans of all that talk about settler colonials so would like what Kenney wrote (near end of the clip):

    https://twitter.com/PnPCBC/status/745745372581072896

    Reply
  16. goodafternoon

    June 22nd, 2016

    A man who never smiles.

    I’d take trump over kenny.

    Reply
  17. student

    June 23rd, 2016

    Sounds like some quid pro quo from CBC. Perhaps now we know one of their ‘sources’ for leaks. Clear that Kenny plays a dirty type of politics.

    Reply

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