It’s springtime for Kenney in Wildrose country as Alberta bids farewell to progressive conservatism

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PHOTOS: Jason Kenney salutes his supporters after winning the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party on the first ballot yesterday. (Screenshot.) Below: Richard Starke, the Vermilion-Lloydminster veterinarian who was Mr. Kenney’s main rival, although not much of one in the event; Opposition Wildrose leader Brian Jean; and Peter Lougheed, PC premier from 1971 to 1985, the founder of the political dynasty that ruled Alberta for nearly 44 years.

So that’s the end of it, then.

Whatever happens, the old Progressive Conservative Party that ran Alberta for nigh unto 44 years is gone like the wind.

At the culmination of the party’s leadership convention in Calgary, yesterday afternoon delegates elected Jason Kenney, 48, the social conservative former Stephen Harper lieutenant who has pledged to dismantle the party and merge it with the Wildrose Opposition in a double reverse hostile takeover modelled on the Reform/Alliance party’s capture and destruction of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 2003.

Aided by social conservative activists drawn from Wildrose Party ranks and signed up as new PC members, Mr. Kenney’s campaign triumphed as predicted on the first ballot just before 5 p.m. He had about 75 per cent of the vote.

“Today, it’s springtime in Alberta,” Mr. Kenney grandiloquently intoned in his victory peroration – presumably intending a tip o’ the top hat to Ronald Reagan, but raising the suspicion in some minds that Mel Brooks must be writing speeches for Mr. Kenney now.

He also made a pro forma pledge to PC members on the party’s once significant progressive side who are unhappy with his merger plan that he’ll be “inclusive and welcoming to all.”

But if you were looking for a more evocative signal of the party’s likely future course under Mr. Kenney’s leadership, it came about four hours earlier when the old PC Party’s standard bearer, Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke, was roundly booed from the floor by Kenney supporters.

Dr. Starke’s offence? He was warning delegates about the dangers of merging with the Wildrose party when the catcalls began ringing out: “If we unite, then what? We hold our breath hoping that none of our candidates believe that gay people spend eternity in a lake of fire, hold our breath that one of our campus clubs doesn’t send out an email saying feminism is cancer, hoping one of our MLAs doesn’t heckle the visiting premier or that a group of nine MLAs does not compare the Ukrainian famine genocide to the carbon tax? And hoping our leader doesn’t joke about violence against the premier. because, my friends, if anything like that happens, you can hand Rachel Notley and the NDP the keys to the Legislature for another four years.”

I suppose the Kenney PCs can now argue they were jeering at the genial veterinarian from Vermilion-Lloydminster because he dared to suggest there’s a road to re-election for the NDP, but it sure sounded from up here in Edmonton as if they were endorsing homophobia and attacks on women.

We will see the true face of the new style Alberta Conservative party soon enough as Alberta’s conservative movement is hammered into the template set out in the Preston Manning playbook Mr. Kenney is following.

In his speech, Mr. Kenney also repeated his past vow – red meat to the Wildrose base – to repeal every single piece of NDP legislation regardless of its merits. This includes, presumably, even the law requiring students to be allowed to for gay-straight alliances in schools that was actually passed by Jim Prentice’s PC government.

The night before the speeches – in an act of not much significance, perhaps, but a certain symbolic power – a former Kenney campaign strategist, suspended from party membership for a year last January for calling someone he was arguing with an “asshole” on social media – apparently took a swing at a security guard who tried to get him to leave the Telus Convention Centre. He was later taken away in handcuffs by police.

Can chants of “lock her up” be far behind? Oh, wait, they’ve already happened, led by one of the sad sack collection of candidates campaigning contemporaneously to lead the federal division of the combined Wildrose-Conservative Party.

Well, it may seem strange for an old Dipper to lament the passing of the PCs – Kenney backers would likely just say it’s proactive sour grapes ’cause they’re gonna win in 2019 and party like it’s Saturday night at Mar-a-Lago. But it’s not a good thing that the kind of conservatives who helped build Canada and actually believed in conserving valuable institutions we’ve created together no longer have a political home of their own in this province or this country.

If nothing else, occasional runs of progressive conservative government acted as a useful steam valve to relieve without too much damage the periodic dissatisfaction with the more progressive governments, whatever their label.

Peter Lougheed, premier of Alberta from 1971 to 1985 and the effective founder of the PC Dynasty in Alberta, must be spinning like a top in his grave in Calgary’s Union Cemetery tonight at the thought of someone like Mr. Kenney leading his party. Mr. Lougheed had his flaws, as readers of this blog point out from time to time, but he was neither a market fundamentalist ideologue nor a rage-steeped social conservative, and he certainly didn’t believe in unrestricted resource development or running roughshod over other provinces.

Mr. Jean, leader of the Opposition now in the legislature, has said he hopes to meet with Mr. Kenney tomorrow morning to talk about the future. Whether that meeting comes about on Mr. Jean’s schedule, or at all, will give us some hints about how Mr. Kenney and his advisors plan to roll out the next stage of their takeover plan.

Meanwhile, another open question is what those who loved the P in PC will do.

Will the majority of them look for a completely new home, gravitate toward another existing party or stick with the Kenney PCs and hope for the best?

It’s too soon to tell. But one thing is clear: the days when Alberta politics were boring have not yet returned.

NOTE: This post, which also appears on Rabble.ca, has been amended to include a more complete copy of the remarks by Dr. Starke that drew the boos of Mr. Kenney’s supporters, which had disappeared from an early news report but was screen-shot by a reader, and to make it clear that while Dr. Starke lives in the Vermilion-Lloydminster riding, he doesn’t live in the town of Vermilion. DJC

Categories Alberta Politics