Since Jason Kenney came back to Alberta to unite conservatives, there has been a constant drumbeat from his most hardened pundits and skeptics — he is about to lose.
This was the case for the PC Leadership and the 88 local delegate races that happened. Albertans constantly heard from those “in the know” that Jason couldn’t win, the obstacles were too great. Some suggested he was too bombastic, his vision too far removed from mainstream conservatives. Nevertheless, he came through with victory after victory.
It didn’t stop there. Albertans heard that he couldn’t win under the PC Leadership rules that gave votes to hundreds of legacy members and youth, a move that seemed to tilt the playing field against Kenney. It didn’t matter, when push came to shove, Kenney delivered. PC conventions became unity conventions under his leadership, and the group that predicted his imminent defeat became increasingly embittered and moved on to predicting that doom was still just a few months away.
Many thought Kenney may lose his leadership prior to the election and there was no shortage of hot takes during the election that Kenney was on his way to defeat, that the election proved he was not a good campaigner and that the NDP could be moving on to a second term.
It turned out they were wrong again. Kenney won a commanding majority government with 55%of the popular vote – larger than Ralph Klein or Peter Lougheed’s original victory.
The premier now faces the biggest political challenge in his career.
COVID-19 and the slump in energy prices have disoriented the government’s agenda and unity within the party. This has been an international crisis that has hurt leaders everywhere, and Alberta’s leader has been no exception. Albertans rightly demand high performance of their government and are not quiet about making their views known.
Still, the pundits and activists who claim Kenney’s defeat is imminent haven’t been able to muster any actual victory together. It’s always been a loud and cantankerous minority.
For months we’ve heard that Kenney’s time in politics was soon at a close. From rumours of a big caucus showdown to a broad grassroots revolt, and most recently it was expected that the UCP AGM would be a gong show — with a lack of support for the Premier from the party’s members.
As we say in Alberta, the anti-Kenney forces have been all hat and no cattle.
There was no revolt. There were no walkouts.
At the party’s AGM, people were friendly and reconnected with many friends that they haven’t seen in some time. The Premier then gave a rousing speech, which many expected to be poorly received, which instead received 12 standing ovations from the vast majority of the room.
They also proved to be in the minority in the board election votes.
Those leading charge to force a leadership review and have called for a change in leadership all lost their bids to sit on the party board. Members took a long look at what they had to offer and said no thanks. It’s an encouraging sign for Kenney, as the leadership review in April becomes his next big political hurdle.
At some point, those that continue to predict the imminent end to Kenney are going to have to have something to show for it.
Until then members have been clear. They want more unity and less drama in the United Conservative Party.
At the end of the AGM, I heard journalists complaining that there was nothing to write about. But maybe that’s because these journalists don’t want to admit that Kenney scored an important early win in his bid to mount his comeback.
This could be the theme from here on out.
The UCP AGM shows that United Conservatives are more united than a lot of pundits believe and that we may see Jason Kenney lead a resurging Alberta economy in the years to come.