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Opinion: If past predicts future, Kenney's time is just about up.

Is time up for Premier Jason Kenney? Past conservative party patterns would indicate yes, says political watcher.
Who's to take the reigns of Alberta's leading political party next? Our political pundit says history shows Kenney's days at the helm are numbered. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

Alberta has had lame-duck premiers before--premiers who have announced they will resign but are awaiting the choice of a successor.

It has never before had a ghost premier. Jason Kenney may have been disowned by his own United Conservative Party in a leadership review vote in early April. But the party executive arranged not to release the results until mid-May.

The situation is extraordinary. The fact of another leadership change is not.

It’s a bit surprising that no one has developed a variation of the famous plea, “Please, God, let there be another oil boom and I promise this time …” (Several slightly different versions of the wording exist.)

The plea for the UCP and its predecessors over the last four decades would be: “Please, God, let us have another leader and I promise to be satisfied this time.”

But that promise would likely prove just as effective as the one about booms.

The old Progressive Conservatives had enough of Don Getty before he finished his second term as premier. (Or had he had enough of them?) Ralph Klein was popular for about a dozen years, but was eventually shown the door by his own members. Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford, David Hancock, Jim Prentice — none lasted more than one full term as premier. The length of the list shows how much of the 51 years since the PCs first won an election has been filled with internal strife or outright dysfunction.

Now Kenney has hit the same wall. There are obvious reasons--inability to connect emotionally with anyone but a small core of partisan insiders; unconvincing leadership; sliding poll numbers and wobbly fundraising; chronic tension inside a party that always included different factions.

The biggest reason is the same as it always is--a fear of losing the next election.

The harsh criticisms coming from some Conservative MLAs reflect disappointment and have a certain consistency. Leela Aheer, MLA for Chestermere told Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell: “There is an arrogance and an ego surpassing the ability to actually talk to people.”

Peter Guthrie, MLA for Cochrane said, “He is not as advertised. He portrays a part. He’s a federal Ottawa elitist who has been in this game most of his adult life … This is about him. It’s about cronyism. It’s about bad behaviour. It’s about a lack of knowledge of what Albertans want.”

Two things stand out there. Kenney’s supporters aren’t as loud, or as specific, suggesting they have doubts. And the same things could have been said three years ago, suggesting bad behaviour and emotional distance can be overlooked if they don’t jeopardize election chances.

Kenney made a speech before the leadership vote tracing problems back to the PCs’ choosing disunity when they turned away from Klein in 2006. That was inaccurate. The party always had to cope with closet Social Crediters, the sudden emergence of the Western Canada Concept in 1982, the later emergence of the Reform Party federally and Wildrose Party provincially.

Kenney also said his 2019 election campaign aimed at stopping “left-wing ideologues who want to turn Alberta into some kind of socialist lab experiment.” He said they had wrecked the economy. His real fear is not that an NDP government might live up to his description, but that it might not, and that such rhetoric would consequently prove empty.

The New Democrats have their own internal tensions. Some would be happy running a “socialist lab experiment.”

Still, the Conservatives seem a special case because of party culture and the self-identity of many supporters. Nearly every governing party in Alberta since 1935 has traded on perpetual resentment against Ottawa, perpetual claims of victimhood, perpetual insistence that Albertans always stubbornly go their own way. Is it any wonder people immersed in that political culture often rebel against their leaders, even the leaders they have themselves chosen only two or three years before?

Mark Lisac watches politics for Alberta Prime Times. He writes novels too, including the recently published Red Hill Creek.

Mark Lisac

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