PHOTOS: UCP Leader Jason Kenney celebrates his victory in the Calgary-Lougheed by-election last night (Photo: CBC). Below: NDP candidate Phillip van der Merwe, Liberal leader and candidate David Khan, and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, all their photos grabbed for simplicity’s sake from Twitter.
Never mind Surrey and Alabama. Jason Kenney won his by-election victory last night, and he won it decisively – by better than 70 per cent of the vote.
Granted, Mr. Kenney was running in Calgary-Lougheed, a determinedly conservative riding. And while the percentages were high, the turnout was not so spectacular – a total of 10,852 people bothered to cast a ballot out of more than 30,000 eligible voters in the riding.
Still, numbers like Mr. Kenney’s don’t lie, even if the leader of the United Conservative Party does from time to time.
In this by-election, the government was spared the embarrassment of coming third. The NDP candidate, physician Phillip van der Merwe, came second with 17 per cent of the vote despite the presence of Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan in the race. Mr. Khan captured about 9 per cent of the vote.
But to those New Democrats (and not a few old style Progressive Conservatives) who wished for Mr. Kenney to win the UCP leadership in October in the belief he would be easier for Premier Rachel Notley to defeat than the former Wildrose Party Leader, Brian Jean, I say be careful what you wish for!
Yes, Mr. Kenney’s many flaws are writ large upon his ample frame. But his political virtues considerably outweigh them. He is a campaigning machine who cares not a whit about anything but politics and his social conservative beliefs. And why not? He has no spouse or child to worry about.
He is willing to do whatever it takes to win, as we saw in his ruthless elimination of opponents in the previous race to lead the Progressive Conservative Party last spring.
What he lacks in likability, he more than makes up for in political savvy and a vast network of connections built up over 20 years in politics. He has mainstream media and Alberta’s Conservative establishment in his corner, and he knows how to make effective use of them. Already, mainstream media is spinning this undeniably significant election result his way – the word “landslide” was atop almost everyone’s story last night.
Readers will notice that Mr. Kenney has laid out his plan quite clearly and publicly from buying the blue Dodge pickup truck to changing the draperies in the Premier’s Office, and that at every step to date he has achieved his goals on schedule. You underestimate him at your peril.
When the CBC reported the percentage of his victory, I was reminded of Dr. Johnson’s observation, as recorded by Mr. Boswell: “Depend on it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
Alberta’s NDP Government will need to concentrate its mind on its strategy – and perhaps reconsider some aspects of it – if it is to survive Mr. Kenney’s onslaught.
It is a frequent failing of first-term NDP governments in Canadian provinces to forget who their supporters are, and try to govern as if they were conservatives with a conscience. As an election approaches – not in a fortnight, but soon enough – members of the government should keep that in their minds.
They may also want to rethink their angle of attack on Mr. Kenney personally, since their focus on his social conservative beliefs, as opposed to his economic views, seems not to have had much impact, with Calgary-Lougheed voters at least.
Mr. Kenney’s widely forecast election victory yesterday formally brings to an end what has been called here the double-reverse hostile takeover of the Progressive Conservatives by the Wildrose Party and the Wildrose Party of the Conservatives.
Alberta’s PCs no longer exist. The political entity known as Alberta’s Conservative Party is more akin, ideologically, to the Wildrose Party, but with the PCs’ kinder, gentler branding still largely intact. In other words, this is a repeat of the Reform Party/Social Credit takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, imagined and made reality by Preston Manning and implemented by Stephen Harper. Canada has not yet recovered, although the land is strong.
Using social media, Premier Notley publicly welcomed Mr. Kenney to the Legislature once yesterday’s foregone conclusion was concluded. “Congratulations and welcome to the AB Legislature @JKenney – I look forward to debating you in the House,” she Tweeted. Political observers of all stripes, I have no doubt, look forward to that spectacle.
Things to watch for once Mr. Kenney actually takes his place in the House:
- Who will be up, and who will be down, in the UCP’s fractious Legislative Caucus? Expect a shuffle of shadow cabinet portfolios soon, and count on Mr. Kenney to swiftly forge a more disciplined team.
- To which insignificant post will Jason Nixon, who served poorly in Mr. Kenney’s absence as House Leader, be consigned? Service Alberta?
- How quickly will Derek Fildebrandt, who is clearly Mr. Kenney’s ideological soulmate, be welcomed back into the UCP Caucus? As predicted in this space yesterday, tonight’s convincing percentage is likely to persuade Mr. Kenney he can do what he pleases in this regard.
- Who hires the former Calgary-Lougheed MLA, Dave Rodney, who made way for Mr. Kenney by resigning his seat, and to do what?
Lost in yesterday’s main unsurprising news was the equally unsurprising decision of Calgary-Elbow MLA Greg Clark, who stepped or was pushed aside as leader of the Alberta Party last month, not to run again in the leadership race his departure triggered.
Mr. Clark said he wants to spend more time with his family. So far, by the sound of it, so do all the other potential leaders of the Alberta Party.