Jason Kenney, the Conservative MP who has upended right-wing politics in Alberta with the suggestion he's considering a run for the leadership of the PC Party, isn't getting drawn into a war of words on his ambitions.
Some party members are none too pleased at the prospect of Kenney as their leader, particularly since the former federal cabinet minister has made it clear he would try to unite the right in the province.
Kenney was in Calgary Tuesday night speaking at an event hosted by Tribute to Liberty, a charity group that is raising money to create a national memorial to the victims of communism.
Thomas Lukaszuk, who lost a leadership bid against another former federal minister, Jim Prentice, said there should be restrictions on who can run to lead a party.
He said Kenney's politics don't align with the PCs and the MP for Calgary-Midnapore supported the Wildrose Party in the last provincial election.
There's also the issue of taking the helm of a party just to destroy it.
"Why would you want to join a party that just a few weeks ago in Red Deer almost unanimously voted not to enter into any merger negotiations, on a platform to literally blow up and merge with Wildrose, when even Wildrose doesn't want to be a part of that," said Lukaszuk.
Despite dodging questions about whether he will enter provincial politics, Kenney has made it clear he wants to see a unified right wing in Alberta, modelled on the merger of the federal Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance.
"When we made that coalition, there were people at the very margins who didn't feel comfortable in it, that's fine, but at the end of the day we won three elections and in the last election we won over 60 per cent of the vote in Alberta," said Kenney on Tuesday.
Kenney would not respond to Lukaszuk's criticism or similar comments made previously by MLA Sandra Jansen, saying he wouldn't "entertain all these hypotheticals."
But Lukaszuk wasn't pulling any punches.
"My question is, what is it about federal Conservative cabinet ministers who think that they can come into Alberta and win premiership of this province, not based on ideas or platforms or inspirational plans for this province, but simply on creating a situation where you huddle up enough numbers and do floor crossings and mergers just to become a leader for the sake of being a leader of this province," he said, unable to resist taking at stab at his former leadership opponent.
The Alberta Tories have been without a permanent leader since the party was swept from power last spring by Rachel Notley's NDP.
Former provincial cabinet minister Ric McIver is serving as the interim leader. The party will choose a new leader early next year at a delegated convention.
Both McIver and Calgary MLA and former cabinet minister Sandra Jansen are reported to be considering bids for the leadership.
Last week Jansen said she would leave the party if Kenney became leader.
Wildrose leadership bid?
Political scientist Duanne Bratt said it's not clear Kenney is up to, but speculates a Kenney run for the PCs could spook Wildrose members into calling for new leadership.
"He's taking this pretty seriously, and I wonder if his announcements and people around him, if it's really about running for the PC leadership or it's about a draft-Jason Kenney movement in the Wildrose Party," he said.
Bratt said Kenney would divide the PC Party if he runs, with more progressive elements abandoning the party, as Jansen has already threatened to do.
"Don't underestimate Kenney's organizational skills. He is very formidable at that, but this is a very tough nut to crack," said Bratt.
Perhaps hinting at those organizational skills, and the people needed to help mount a successful campaign, Kenney said something needs to change for the Conservatives to form a government in Alberta.
"Most of the folks who helped to elect the federal Conservative MPs in Alberta have been sitting out provincial politics in the recent past because they're frustrated with this division. They don't see it serving any useful purpose except electing the NDP."