Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, back from an ill-timed and seemingly mostly fruitless trip to Washington D.C., pleaded for federal Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole’s political life yesterday at a typical Alberta Government news conference about nothing in particular.
“I would just say this to my friends in the federal Conservative party, I don’t think in the long run it makes sense to change leaders after every election,” Mr. Kenney said in response to a reporter’s question about whether he still supports Mr. O’Toole in the face of an uprising by the national party’s large social conservative caucus.
But he had to have been thinking about his own predicament – unpopular with voters, undercut by the United Conservative Party’s COVID-denial caucus, and facing a leadership review of his own in April, when he went on to opine that, “I think stability, continuity are important Conservative principles.”
“I also would just encourage my friends in the federal Conservative Party not to do or say things right now in the heat of the moment that they might end up regretting on either side of this debate,” he said, a little pleadingly, undoubtedly worrying that the federal party risks fragmenting again into multiple factions.
If that happens, as conservative columnist John Ibbitson observed in the Globe and Mail last night, it’ll be “a glorious time to be a Liberal.”
Stability and continuity will be at the heart of Mr. Kenney’s pitch this spring to carry the UCP’s standard into the next battle against Rachel Notley and the Alberta NDP despite his current deplorable approval rating and the problematic news yesterday the New Democrats had crushed the UCP at fund-raising in the fourth quarter of 2021.
The NDP raised $2.1 million to the UCP’s $1.2 million between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2021, Elections Alberta reported.
It was the fifth consecutive quarter the NDP out-raised the UCP and left the Opposition party led by former premier Notley ahead by $6.2 million to the UCP’s $3.8 million for the year.
The anti-abortion activists of the Pro-Life Political Association – the very social conservatives who helped Mr. Kenney win the UCP leadership in 2017 just as they helped Mr. O’Toole win his in 2020 – placed third in fund-raising, as they did in the third quarter, posting $121,500.
Flanked by acting justice minister Sonya Savage and Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney, Mr. Kenney’s main topics on his news conference agenda were convoys and COVID, with a side of whom he managed to talk to at the weekend state governors’ convention in Washington.
The fact anti-vaccine-mandate truckers with an extreme rightward tilt had been illegally blocking Alberta’s southern border with the U.S. and rampaging through Ottawa for three days while the premier partied in Washington put Mr. Kenney in an awkward position.
After all, like the members of the Pro-Life party, the scofflaw truckers are undeniably part of the original coalition that helped Mr. Kenney beat Brian Jean for the UCP leadership in 2017.
This required the premier to simultaneously suck and blow, something that seems to come naturally to him, begging them to stop their illegal activities while praising them as mostly very fine, law abiding people.
“There have been no good choices in any of this,” he complained of his government’s response to two years of pandemic, an argument unlikely to arouse much sympathy among the truckers still defying the RCMP as they continue to block the border at Coutts.
“So to folks that are motivated by that frustration, I totally sympathize with that, but please express that in a way that is lawful, and peaceful,” Mr. Kenney begged. “You know, don’t make a bad situation worse!
“I’m out there tryin’ to campaign to end the quarantine requirement for unvaccinated cross-border truckers. I went down to Washington in large part to make that case. … I will continue to. So for those who feel that way, I’m on your side!”
“But part of the argument we’re making there is that the restriction on unvaccinated truck drivers doesn’t make sense and it’s going to further force up food prices and create challenges for supplies, including food. So that’s exactly what’s happening at the Coutts border crossing right now.”
Work with him, sure, but Mr. Kenney also made clear he’s not actually willing to meet the protesters in person. Well, it’s hard to blame him for that. They appear to be violent thugs, notwithstanding his protestations to the contrary. But it’s worth keeping in mind the next time Conservatives condemn Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the same thing.
At least Mr. Kenney, like Ontario Premier Doug Ford, firmly disavowed any plans to seek the federal Conservative leadership himself.
And what did he accomplish in Washington, other than a few awkward photo opportunities with miscellaneous Republican governors? Not much, it would seem.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the Democrat with whom he wanted to discuss keeping the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline open, refused to meet him. That’s what you get for calling someone you disagree with “brain dead,” presumably.
So someone else will have to make the case for keeping open Line 5, which crosses northern Michigan to supply much of Eastern Canada with petroleum products from Alberta.
Speaking of Michigan, Mr. Kenney did manage to score bragging rights to an audience with a couple of powerful U.S. union leaders, including Detroit-born Jimmy Hoffa Jr., who was until last year the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
If only Mr. Kenney would agree to talk to Alberta union leaders like Alberta Union of Provincial Employees President Guy Smith or United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith.