Former leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative (PC) party Jason Kenney became the latest to join the race for the leadership of the new United Conservative Party (UCP), announcing his campaign in Edmonton July 29.
“This campaign is bigger than any individual. The time is now to move beyond egos, beyond nostalgia for the past, beyond recriminations and pointless division,” he said. “It is about this province, her people and their future. Together, we must restore Alberta as the economic engine of Canada. Together, we must begin the renewal of Canada’s conservative movement right here in this heartland. Canada is counting on us to get it right.”
Like Brian Jean, the former leader of the Wildrose party who announced July 24 he would run for UCP leadership, Kenney’s speech focused more on how he could be the one to lead the UCP to defeat the ruling NDP than on his own platform.
“There is only one way to ensure that we defeat the NDP in 2019 and get Alberta back on the right track,” he said. “And that is to unite Albertans around a common cause, around a united, principled, compassionate and diverse free-enterprise party.”
Kenney said the NDP has “poured gasoline on the fire of the recession through reckless policies that have driven away investment and jeopardized our future.”
According to Kenney, the NDP is planning to “remake Alberta into their own image.”
“That’s why they’re spending $200 million of the healthcare budget not on beds or nurses, but on washing machines, to move the laundry jobs from the private sector to the government,” he said. “It’s why they’re wasting $50 million to move laboratory services from an efficient private firm to the state. None of this to improve public services. All of it so they can grow the number of people paying dues to NDP affiliated unions.”
Kenney also took aim at the NDP’s plan for Alberta’s education system, saying it is “re-writing the school curriculum in secret.”
Kenney has been a controversial figure in politics, serving as MP for Calgary Midnapore from 1997 to 2016, first as a representative of the Reform Party, then the Canadian Alliance Party and finally the Conservative Party of Canada. He became leader of the PCs in March.
Kenney has raised eyebrows for his comments on refugees and gay-straight alliances. His heckling of federal Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan in the House of Commons in February, during which he allegedly said MPs needed an ” English-to-English translation” as the defence minister spoke about the government’s plans to deal with the so-called Islamic State, led to Kenney being labeled a racist by some Liberal MPs.
Talk of a merger between the PCs and the Wildrose began in early 2017 after Kenney was elected leader of the PCs. Jean and Kenney began meeting in March and announced May 18 a merger agreement had been drafted. Party members voted 95 per cent in favour of the merger July 22. Members of the new UCP will vote for a new leader Oct. 28.
Along with Kenney and Jean, Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer has also announced he will seek the UCP leadership. The three will now battle to gain the support of UCP membership.
“Our province, and many of her people, is going through a time of adversity. But united, we will get Alberta back on track for them. United, we will restore this province as a beacon of freedom, hope and opportunity,” Kenney said. “And united, we will emerge – as in the words of the motto of our province – strong and free.”