After weeks of speculation, Jason Kenney announced his bid for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative (PC) party at a Calgary event Wednesday.
Since the last federal election, Kenney’s name has been floated as a possible replacement for Stephen Harper in leading the federal Conservative Party. In recent weeks, however, rumours have been circulating that the Calgary Midnapore member of parliament would aim to unite the right in his home province of Alberta, instead.
“I’ve decided to seek the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta seeking an explicit mandate, to unite with the Wildrose Party and all like-minded Albertans so we can defeat the NDP and put this province back on the right track.
“We must fight the ideological agenda of this accidental NDP government to limit the damage that they do to our province now and we must do everything within our power to eliminate the risk of a second NDP term which would be catastrophic to the long-term future of Alberta.”
Kenney shared his recent experiences as minister of citizenship and immigration, saying his most enriching work was working with new Canadians and members of cultural communities to turn “hundreds of thousands of natural, intuitive small-c conservatives into big-C Conservatives.”
He said details of his plan to unite the right would be released Thursday.
The MP delivered a lengthy speech at noon and took no questions from reporters before he left for to Grande Prairie, Alta. and then on to Edmonton Thursday.
Kenney’s political history includes having played a major role in uniting the right and forming the federal Conservative Party.
News Talk 770 radio host Danielle Smith, who led a mass floor-crossing of Wildrose MLAs to the Tories in December 2014, said she wishes Kenney well but isn’t sure he can win.
“There’s a big cultural difference between the Wildrose, the Progressive Conservatives, even the federal Conservatives,” Smith added. “I think one of the things that he may be misjudging is just how progressive Calgary and Edmonton are.”
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Tuesday he thinks running for premier is like running for mayor in some ways: “it’s hard to hide behind the party; you have to run on your own merits.”
“I think a lot of MLAs, Members of Parliament, don’t always understand that people don’t know them as well as they know their party,” Nenshi told reporters.
“So it’ll be an interesting opportunity for him to introduce himself to Albertans and see what they think. But he’s got a very long record and so he has to determine whether or not that record is going to be attractive to Albertans.”
Smith suggested Kenney is “more of a social conservative” when it comes to abortion, LGBTQ rights, pot legalization and assisted dying—issues she calls “foundational for why people join political parties.”
“The question will be: can he win the PC leadership?” she said. That’s the first step towards any merger process, and I think at this point it’s kind of 50/50, maybe even less.”
Smith said a second potential problem is the sentiment from some that both Wildrose and the PC brands are “too damaged for either of them to be successful.”
The decision for Kenney to run is not sitting well with all current PC MLAs.
Alberta provincial legislator Sandra Jansen has said that if the party turns further to the right under Kenney, she may leave.
“If somebody comes in and they make a decision that it’s not going to be the progressive party anymore then I won’t be a part of that,” Jansen said in a past interview.
The PCs will launch their leadership race in October. The leadership convention will be held in Calgary in March.