United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney reached out to union members, nurses and public servants in his first speech as an Alberta MLA on Monday.
"If you are somebody who worked in the public sector — a nurse who's frustrated with massive over-centralization and bureaucracy — and you want the flexibility to do your job, and the resources that are necessary, then join us," Kenney told a crowd of supporters at the Matrix Hotel in downtown Edmonton.
"If you're a union member that feels that you've been misled by the NDP, maybe they're shutting down the coal mine where you've worked all of your life, then please join us," he added during his first speech as an MLA, less than an hour after being sworn in as the member for Calgary-Lougheed
Kenney, a former federal Conservative cabinet minister and long-time Calgary MP, was sworn-in by Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell in the chamber of the legislative assembly building earlier Monday afternoon.
In his speech, Kenney repeated his pledge that he and the UCP would "raise the bar" on political debate both in and outside the legislature.
"We believe Albertans deserve a legislature, deserve an Official Opposition that demonstrates civility and respect for our democratic institutions — including our opponents," Kenney said as the crowd applauded.
Kenney called on Alberta Premier Rachel Notley to stop the "anger machine" that has "coarsened" debate in the province.
"Please put an end to the politics of personal destruction," Kenney said. "Please commit to disagree with us in a vibrant, but respectful and civil democratic debate.That is our commitment. We hope and expect the same from the NDP government."
Over the last two years, there have been many complaints that Kenney supporters have often attacked other politicians or critics of Kenney. The most striking example was early in the PC leadership race in late 2016, when Sandra Jansen — now an NDP cabinet minister — claimed that she was harassed by Kenney supporters at a convention in Red Deer.
On Monday, Kenney did not make himself available to reporters after his speech. He dashed through a side door after spending time shaking hands with supporters and posing for photos.
A UCP spokeswoman said Kenney would be available for questions on Tuesday, following a retreat with caucus in Edmonton.
Ceremony in legislature
Earlier in the afternoon, most members of the UCP caucus joined Kenney inside the legislature chamber to watch him taking the oath of office.
Kenney's mother Lynne and former UCP MLA Dave Rodney, who resigned his seat so Kenney could run in a byelection, watched from the gallery.
Kenney won Calgary-Lougheed on Dec. 14 with 71.5 per cent of the votes.
In a brief speech, Kenney thanked his mother, Rodney and his "honourable colleagues."
"I waited a long time to say that," he said.
Speaker Bob Wanner welcomed Kenney to the legislature on behalf of all members.
Now that he has a seat, Kenney will be able to take his spot as leader of the Official Opposition when the spring session starts on March 8.