On Jason Kenney’s Progressive Conservative leadership victory: big money guys finish first (nice guys, not so much)

Posted on July 20, 2017, 1:15 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: Tory volunteers and armed guards move cash into Jason Kenney’s campaign vault. Actual Progressive Conservative bag people and security measures may not appear exactly as illustrated. (Photo … dimly recalled when needed … University of Victoria Archives.) Below: Alberta Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney and badly outspent leadership contender Richard Starke.

Jason Kenney has now officially broken his promise to publish the names of his leadership campaign donors who gave him money before the formal campaign started, but that’s not as much of a shocker as the sheer amount of money he admitted spending to capture the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party.

According to his Elections Alberta filing, Mr. Kenney spent $1.46 million on his successful hostile reverse takeover of the PCs, thereby setting the stage to turn the mostly welcoming dynasty that ran Alberta for 44 years into a darker, nastier, smaller-tent version of the Wildrose Party.

Mr. Kenney drummed up nearly a million and a half free-floating Canadian Loonies, and more like $2 million when you count the additional still-anonymous donations to Mr. Kenney’s “Unite Alberta PAC slush fund, presumably to ensure that progressive conservatism dies forever in Alberta and conservative voters have no options come election time but to move much farther to the right or hold their noses and vote for parties they have traditionally spurned.

Close to $130,000 of this sum was spent on campaign travel expenses, though Mr. Kenney claimed to be couch surfing at the time to save money. Hmmmmm …

Once the contest had officially begun, broken promises notwithstanding, Mr. Kenney was required by law to name donors who kicked in more than $250, a group of people that included such well-known billionaires as Fred Mannix and Nancy Southern, who each donated more than $20,000, and former prime minister Stephen Harper, who contributed a comparably paltry $1,700. There were several donations by less well-known but obviously well-heeled individuals surpassing $25,000.

In response to the growing brouhaha about the size of his expenses, especially relative to those of other candidates, some of Mr. Kenney’s (paid?) supporters on social media took to doxxing critics who noted his broken promise or were otherwise critical of his spending levels. (“Dox. Verb, informal. Search for and publish private or identifying information about [a particular individual] on the Internet, typically with malicious intent.”)

Needless to say, this kind activity gives license to some of the nastiest characters on the Internet to get up to the same kind of anti-social behaviour. If you think this sounds like a cheap imitation of the sort of thing Donald Trump’s campaign did south of the now-harder-for-Canadians-to-cross Medicine Line, it would be hard to disagree.

Of course, Kenney critics can also expect to be called “communists,” a kind of invective that used to be disapproved of in that innocent time not so long ago when Alberta’s conservatives, most of them anyway, were led by premier Ed Stelmach. But that was then and this, thanks to the arrival of Mr. Kenney on the provincial scene, is now.

In fact, I’m willing to bet, there was really more than $1.4 million available to Mr. Kenney’s campaign, at least in the form of a pool of guaranteed cash to draw upon if necessary to ensure he was elected.

That is to say, if the No. 2 candidate – the thoroughly decent Richard Starke – had come up with more than $162,603, additional donations would soon have been available to Mr. Kenney to ensure he was able to outspend and out-organize the MLA and retired veterinarian from Vermilion, or any other candidate.

Speaking of Mr. Stelmach, as we were, he donated $382.50 to Dr. Starke’s quixotic effort.

As it turned out, presumably, outspending Dr. Starke nine to one was deemed, accurately enough, to be sufficient by Mr. Kenney’s bankrollers. With the small amounts spent by the other two leadership candidates left in the race after the female contenders had been driven out by Mr. Kenney’s supporters, the partly anonymously funded candidate outspent all of his remaining competitors by seven to one.

As the CBC pointed out in its coverage of the publication by Elections Alberta of the PC leadership candidates’ spending reports on Monday, Mr. Kenney’s campaign expenses included a non-refundable $30,000 fee to the party in order to be on the ballot, and a $20,000 compliance bond to encourage candidates to obey the rules, of which he had to forfeit an insignificant $5,000 for ignoring the rules.

But the bulk of the money, more than $660,000 went to paid organizers, and, in fairness, presumably the bulk of the travel expenses run up while Mr. Kenney couch surfed did as well.

So while it is true that the former Harper Government cabinet minister and unrepentant paleo-social-conservative has a justified reputation as a hard and effective campaigner, it is also worth noting that well over half a million dollars would have bought Dr. Starke, or candidates like Stephen Khan, Byron Nelson, Donna Kennedy-Glans or Sandra Jansen, a heck of a lot of expert organizers too.

All across Canada initiatives by governments to get the big money out of politics are proving popular with voters.

Mr. Kenney is doing his bit to keep the big money in.

But look at it his way, and from the perspective of his deep-pocketed supporters. Big money guys tend to finish first in our kind of society. Nice guys? Not so much.

NDP still leads in second quarter fundraising

Having gotten the PC leadership bombshell out of the way, yesterday Elections Alberta yesterday published its second-quarter financial disclosure results from the province’s political parties.

The results show the ruling NDP led by Premier Rachel Notley still slightly in the lead for donations in the April-to-June quarter, even when constituency donations to the Wildrose Opposition are added in. The government party is entitled to crow about this.

Still, too much ought not to be read into this narrow differential, since cash is probably not readily flowing to the two main conservative parties at normal rates with the outcome of this weekend’s merger vote still unsettled.

The NDP raised $553,733 in the second quarter, compared with $511,704 for the Wildrose Party, a sum that includes constituency donations, which the NDP does not accept. The PCs raised $78,252, the Alberta Party $37,969, and the Alberta Liberals $33,845.

NOTE: This post has been edited to clarify the source of the donations not reported as promised by Mr. Kenney’s campaign.

8 Comments to: On Jason Kenney’s Progressive Conservative leadership victory: big money guys finish first (nice guys, not so much)

  1. Mohamed Mahdi

    July 20th, 2017

    My jaw felt like dropping when I saw the amount kenney spent on the PC leadership contest. He probably spent way more then needed in that leadership race even if a lot of it was to help him win a race in a level of government he has never been in before.


      July 20th, 2017

      this must be that fiscal responsibility i keep hearing harperites talk about.

  2. Bill Malcolm

    July 20th, 2017

    And the Death March rolls on. Judging by the fact that most normal people spend almost zero time thinking about politics, when this version of the National Socalist Party, dubbed UCP or given some other flim-flammery name completely inapropos of its true mission fights the next election, it’s highly unlikely that your average person will think this is anything but just the old PCs in shiny new armour. Which is what these sleazebags want. Uninformed voters braying for Alberta itself, cheered on by lies like the equalization boondoggle, how unfair everything is on poor little Alberta, how charter schools make better children with an outlook likely to generate future aristocratic Conservatives, er, entrepreneurs, and the coup trap seems ready and only needs to be baited and set at the appropriate time.

    I assume Kenney will win the leadership, as he will no doubt assassinate Brian Jean metaphorically or otherwise, based on this reportage. The storm troopers will be doxxing any opposition away with imagined flaws of character, entirely made up in their nasty heads. Repeat for the election itself as character assassination of other politicians and parties will be a complete doddle in the heat of battle, and Imperator Jason The Cherub 1 in-waiting will then ascend to the throne. Selecting well-known advisors, his premier’s office will contain the best of jackals and tongue-lashers, finally giving Ezra a cushy government job to spread his particular brand of enlightenment.

    Doesn’t look good to me, I must say. When you have people with zero compunction at breaking the recognized rules of deportment, bankrolled by idiotic millionaires who feel hard done by at having to share anything with the proles, all you need is an announced platform that is the opposite of the final intent, promising anything to your average citizen just for votes, and soon you have a bunch of very nasty people indeed in charge. People with imagination only on how to hurt any opposition to stifle criticism, order the population around because they know best, fill their minds with carefully crafted hate messages against minorities, and fill their own pockets with lucre. Alberta for Albertans! Conservatism 2019 style from the people who know what’s best for you!

    I hope I’m wrong, but the omens do not look good. All that stands in the way of this nightmare is the decency of other conservative politicians to form another party to take a more balanced view and compete, plus of course the NDP. Then they’ll have to fight this den of vipers hard to get their message out. Hmm. One hopes that battle plans by others are in advanced stages already, or they’ll be submerged by relentless foes. Pretending it’s politics as usual up against Kenney and being polite ain’t gonna cut it.

    • tom in ontario

      July 20th, 2017

      Once again bringing to mind the words attributed to New York City politician Boss Tweed in the 1890s. When asked what are the two most important things in politics?
      “Money,” he replied, “….and I can’t remember the other one.”

  3. Tiddo

    July 20th, 2017

    Somebody had to pay for that truck.

  4. Farmer B

    July 20th, 2017

    Can you always be successful attempting to buy public support? In this case it appears Jason was successful. In the last election the PC’s outspent the NDP over 3 to 1 and the NDP still won. The NDP spent about 9 million trying to sell their climate leadership plan. The majority are not buying it. As for the continued attention payed to Jason Kenney, I think your betting on the wrong horse. I haven’t talked to a single person who backs the uniting of the 2 parties who feels Jason should lead the resulting entity. He is just not that popular. I certainly support the restrictions on election spending but when you think about it, it gives a huge advantage to the incumbent government. They spend money everyday advertising what they are doing and have done. So realistically they can easily outspend their competition before the election begins.

    • Paxton leChien

      July 30th, 2017

      Get real, the other politicians vying in the UCP elections were just standing around ignoring the division that led to the Notley problem. Kenney had to set aside his successful federal political career to make these muppets smarten up and get in line.

      The leadership election is simply Kenney versus the rest, the rest being a gaggle of opportunists who think they’ve a chance at the throne now that Kenney did the hardwork. Screw ’em give credit where credit is due, you want results in the next general election to remove that toad Notley? Go with the guy who already gave us the results we needed, Kenney is the only sensible choice.

      I’m not sure how you could possibly come up with Kenney being well funded as a strike against him. Businessmen and Albertans were understandably frustrated with the lack of initiative and selfish attitude of the political leaders pre-Kenney and knew that Kenney was the man for the job. They took him seriously and they got what they wanted, a unified right.

      Jean is the only real notable contender but he’s hardly inspiring, I mean, for Christ sakes when Danielle Smith and the 8 others and realized the errors of their ways and had crossed the floor to the PCs, Jean left his lackluster federal career to come back to Alberta and perpetuate the divided right problem and keeping the WR moving.

      Which pretty well just made Kenney have to come out and fix Jean’s mistake.

      “No Jean, Danielle was right, we’re stronger together.”

      And now that Kenney set things right it’s incredible that Jean has the audacity to do anything other than stand in the background clapping like an idiot.

  5. David

    July 20th, 2017

    I think the days where money buys votes are coming to an end, if not over in Canada. I suppose this is just another example of where Kenney is living in the past. Do the old ways still work sometimes? Yes, but not hardly as well as they used to.

    First you can’t have your cake and eat it to. If you accept large donations say $10,000 or $20,000 from wealthy members of the business elite, you can not then claim to be grassroots based and have anyone take that seriously. Second, if you don’t reveal who all your larger donors are there will be questions about who you “owe” what too. Third, if you rely on well paid organizers to get support for you, how genuine is that? I suppose 1.5 million or so can buy a lot of favorable tweets from internet trolls and various other favourable comment to make it appear like public opinion is on your side, but is it really?

    The term astroturf has often been applied to organizations that try to create the appearance of a grassroots movement often by using paid organizers or spokespersons. I would suggest that Kenney has bought a heck of a lot of astroturf for all the money he has spent on winning the PC leadership and campaigning for unite the right.

    It may seem like a clever strategy, but it relies on Albertan’s not being smart enough to tell the difference between astroturf and real grassroots. In the end, I think this might be the critical problem for Kenney. He may be a very well manufactured candidate, for all the money spent, but with a few too many artificial ingredients.


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