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.

Join the Conversation


  1. I am not surprised that he won. I am very disappointed at this size of his majority. 70% Really? I simply don’t understand those people. What do they think they are voting for? On what planet can Notley’s government be regarded as “job killing socialists”?

    1. Notley’s government has indisputably made Alberta more hostile to business investment which is the only true driver of employment growth. It inherited a fiscal disaster and actually made it worse by further increasing spending. At the very least it could have frozen headcount and aggressively negotiated with contractors, notably on the infrastructure side, to realize lower costs. It launched another royalty review only a few years after the previous one more or less supported the status quo. It’s tax increases have yielded no incremental revenue. Actively shutting down coal fired generation and mandating renewables has proven unnecessary and expensive as most generators would have migrated to gas on their own due to economics. Alberta faces an impending crisis entirely of it own making after one NDP and two pseudo NDP (Stelmach and Redford) governments. As interest rates rise, annual borrowing is set to blow out to $20B. A 12% HST would only bring in $7B at best. 10% across the board public sector compensation rollbacks and 10% head count reductions would save $5B. Cutting capital in half would deliver $4B. No matter what the public sector is facing a decade of austerity. If only the Alberta Teachers Association hadn’t hijacked the PC party during the 2006 leadership race, the province wouldn’t be in this mess.

  2. If you can’t win the safest conservative riding in Alberta in a landslide, you should holster your Tweets. What were the media pundits expecting exactly — a Roy Moore-like political Armageddon?

    The Jason Kenney astro-turfers celebrating their end zone dance again today on the 50-yard line boasts of overconfidence. The same overconfidence that cost Stephen Harper and Jim Prentice dearly. Kenney and the right-wing mutual admiration society should pay heed — “It ain’t over till it’s over.” A full 18 months is a long time in politics.

  3. I am sure the NDP’s spin will be that incumbent governments do poorly in by-elections. I would argue that Justin Trudeau just won 3 of 4 recent by-elections.

    What really interests me though is that in David’s opinion to beat Kenney the NDP needs to remember “who their supporters are”. Looking at the 2012 election the NDP recieved just under 10% of the popular vote, in 2008 they recieved 8.5% of the popular vote. So I am curious who he feels these supporters are traditionally. I would say the only part of the Alberta’s population that the NDP hasn’t angered would be organized labor. Let’s be realistic, they have thrown everything at Calgary but the kitchen sink and still over 70% of voters voted for Kenney. I am curious though David why is it ok to make negative comments about Jason Kenney’s weight? If I was to comment on anyone’s weight or size in the NDP I would be taken to task. enjoy your day

    1. I’m afraid I must agree with Farmer B on one point (this is indeed a rare occurrence), and that’s with respect to commenting on Mr Kenney’s body shape.

      My Registered Nurse Practice is in the field of chronic disease prevention and management, and let me tell you, Weight Bias is pervasive in our society, and is a documented barrier both to successful weight management and to equitable treatment for heavier people. We don’t tease people with diabetes or arthritis for their chronic disease; obesity is also a chronic disease (which affects about 60% of the Canadian population) and we should treat it as such, and treat individuals living with this condition with respect, dignity and empathy.

    2. Farmer B I don’t fully agree with you on the supporters issue. It is a fact Albertans gave the Notley NDP a majority mandate to deliver the policy changes they had championed for 40 years.

      By “governing like Conservatives with a conscience” on the big issues of non-renewable resource management, so-called partnerships to build public infrastructure, agriculture, and industry’s capture and control of the regulatory system, the NDP delivered Harper Con policies instead of the Norwegian policies the public associated with them.

      This may well have paved the way for the return of the scorched earth policies of the Harper era under a Premier Kenney.

    3. You may be right. But if this NDP government really is a ‘accidental’ government, then all the more reason for them to go for broke at this point and put forward policies that are as far to the left as they could possibly go. Indeed, if they’re going to be voted out anyway and are never to see the halls of government again, then what do they have to lose?. They may as well go all the way and give you some ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’ true orange, Tommy Douglas, old CCF-type policy. According to folks like you, the electorate can’t get any angrier.

    1. Your average public opinion poll surveys 1,000 people out of Alberta’s population of 4,000,000, which is about a 0.004% sampling rate. This byelection surveyed 10,852 people out of Calgary-Lougheed’s population of 30,023, which is a 36.000% sampling rate.

      This byelection result was essentially a big public opinion poll that had a sampling rate 1,447 times greater than the average poll.

      It IS a SIGNIFICANT “uprising of rage against the government.” Dismiss at your own peril. Be sure that Notley’s inner circle took note. Kenney’s vote tally was some 15-20% higher than the UCP has been polling at. David Khan more than doubled what his Liberal Party is currently polling at. The NDP lost 50% of its vote from 2015.

  4. Derek Fildebrandt will be interesting. In spite of David’s valid point about Fildebrandt and Kenney being soulmates, Kenney also has to be wondering if Fildebrandt is too much of a liability. In addition to the legal/ethical problems Fildebrandt has had lately, Fildebrandt also gave Brian Jean cause to suspend him from caucus for his behaviour regarding Kathleen Wynne and homophobic tweets.

  5. We live in the riding. They could run a donkey here and it would be elected conservative.

    This is the area that voted for Bill Smith, notwithstanding the fact that he had no platform other than ‘elect me’.

    Go figure

  6. I agree that partisans sometimes tend to under estimate their opponents. While the Legislature was busily debating a number of potentially important bills and discussing various other big issues over the last few weeks, Kenney was seldom seen or heard of. He was focused on getting elected as MLA – he knew a big win would help a sense of inevitably for the UCP and perhaps help bring back some of the more opportunistic wavering PC’s. Let’s call it his version of a shock and awe campaign, but as we know from history shock and awe does not always turn out as intended in the end. I recall just a few years ago, another high profile MP from Ottawa returning to Alberta, winning not one, but several by elections and the feeling of inevitability at that time. Less, than a year later Jim Prentice lost the provincial election and what seemed inevitable at one time proved later to be as much of an illusion as the wizard of Oz.

    First, we should remember this riding was the one that Kenney hand picked – a comfortable suburban Calgary riding, close to his former federal constituency. One of the few that was held by the PC’s the last election despite their terrible debacle. Kenney is more successful when he is out of the public eye and out campaigning, so the by election was well suited for him. Second, unlike some politicians who are doing other things when they say they are out campaigning, I think Kenney really is out campaigning when he says that and with no spouse or children to distract him, he can really focus on that 100% unlike politicians with families or spouses. Third, he could also marshal all of the conservative resources in Calgary in support of this campaign.

    I think Kenney is much like a ground hog or a duck, all the interesting and important stuff goes on beneath the surface. It is an old style of politics which can easily be a liability these days, but that does not seem to have caught up with him so far. Kenney is also good at motivating and organizing his supporters, even if they are not the majority – also a strength in a by election, when turn out is seldom close to that of a general election.

    Another mistake some make is over estimating the importance of what happens in the Legislature. The bills and debates over the last few weeks while important to many Albertans obviously did not have a big impact on this particular relatively comfortable riding. However, this is not a riding a non PC ever won before anyways and is probably not your typical Alberta riding. Ultimately, elections are fought on a riding by riding basis more than in the Legislature.

    Lastly, I think this by election shows those who have doubts about Kenney that the smaller parties are not likely to give them much hope in defeating him. The Alberta Party did not even run a candidate and now can’t seem to even get its leader to run for leader. The Liberals who have a leader, bravely him in this by election, but were not even close to second place.

    What the by election result shows is that it will be hard work for the NDP to win the next election and it will take everything they got. Kenney is not to be underestimated or dismissed, but many of us probably already knew that.

    1. The hard part that now starts for Jason Kenney and UCP MLA’s is the requirement to take their marching orders from Preston Manning, Stephen Harper and the Taxpayers Federation who are not accountable to anyone.

      1. I can also add Jason Kenney needs to take his marching orders from Ted Byfield and his disciples (now with the Edmonton Sun) who are part of the now defunct Alberta Report:

        History and profile Alberta Report

        The magazine began as St. John’s Edmonton Report in 1973. The founders were Ted and Virginia Byfield.[2] It grew out of the older Byfield’s lay Anglican religious order called the Company of the Cross which operated boarding schools) in the 1970s, where employees were paid $1.00 per day, and lived in a communal apartment building.[3]

        The magazine was published for a time in three separate editions, the Alberta Report, BC Report, and Western Report. These were merged in 1999 into The Report, later known as the Citizens Centre Report[2] in connection with Link Byfield’s successor organization, the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy.

        The magazine often struggled financially, with the senior Byfield mortgaging his own house four times to keep it afloat. It shut down in June 2003.[2] According to the Edmonton Sun, some employees were still owed back pay nearly six months later, and complained when the Citizens Centre was directing money toward its political agenda.[4]

        A number of right-wing journalists/commentators or pundits in Canada who are prominent today began their careers writing for The Report magazines, including Kenneth Whyte, the editor in chief of Maclean’s; Colby Cosh of the National Post, Kevin Michael Grace, Lorne Gunter, Ezra Levant, Brian Mulawka, and Kevin Steel. Other former staff include: freelance journalist Ric Dolphin, former National Post writer Dunnery Best, U.S. food writer (and founding editor of Equinox magazine) Barry Estabrook, former Profit editor and publisher Rick Spence, author D’Arcy Jenish, and Paul Bunner, who in 2006 became a speechwriter for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

        The Western Standard, launched in 2004 by Levant with the participation of several other Report alumni, aimed to fill the space in the market that had been held by the Report. The Standard became an exclusively online publication in 2007

  7. I hate to say it (I really do) but my dream in 2015 was that the NDP become a solid opposition; they didn’t. I’ve lived in Alberta my whole life, and May 2015 was the single most shocking Political occurrence of my life (Trump is really close………I mean really). I don’t think it will happen again in the foreseeable future. I think we may need to temper our expectations and hope for a strong and effective NDP/other opposition; Like it or not that’s where the short/mid term future lie. I will say it is disheartening that more of the same old gets 70% of the (albeit small) vote.

  8. We have not had much luck with Calgary ridings. First we moved into Harper’s riding. Then we found ourselves living in Anders riding. Now we live in Kenney’s riding. Difficult for us to make our vote count.

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