For Jason Kenney, now the real work begins

​Jason Kenney just orchestrated what some PCs are calling a hostile takeover of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta.

Winning the PC leadership the first step on the winding road to the next provincial election

Jason Kenney delivers his victory speech at the Alberta PC Party leadership convention in Calgary on Saturday. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

​Jason Kenney just orchestrated what some PCs are calling a hostile takeover of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta.

It's taken almost a year of planning and hard work. He says he drove 65,000 kilometres in that blue pickup truck.

Now he's the PC leader.

He has won a job that pays him nothing. The party confirms it will not pay the new leader a salary.

Kenney isn't an MLA. And he doesn't intend to ask any of the few remaining PC MLAs to resign so he can run for a seat in the legislature.

After all this, now comes the hard part.

Kenney wants to form a new party that all conservative-minded Albertans can join. Unlike PC leaders over the past decade, he talks about the Wildrose Party as his friends.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean has the same goal as Kenney but some different ideas about how to get there.

Jean envisions his party being the foundation of a united conservative movement. Wildrose has even registered the name it alone can use to rebrand itself.

The Conservative Party of Alberta.

Jason Kenney waves to supporters outside the Telus Convention Centre. Kenney was chosen as the new leader of Alberta's Progressive Conservative party. (CBC)

The leader of the official opposition wants the newly minted PC leader to drop by his office to chat on Monday. He'll let Kenney know that Wildrose members want one party — and that party is the Wildrose.

Political scientist David Stewart has been watching the Alberta PCs for the past couple of decades.

About the only thing certain here is: there is a ton of uncertainty.

Is this really the death of the once mighty PC Party?

"It's not out of the question. I think that there still could be two parties of the centre-right in the next election," said Stewart. "It's unlikely but it's not impossible."

One imagines that besides two leaders who both think they have the best plan to get their respective parties together, the lawyers are going to have a lot to say here, even if they'll be working pro bono.

Stewart points out that yes, Wildrose has a couple of million bucks in the bank. But the PCs say despite perceptions their party is broke, it actually has $1.5 million in the bank accounts of all its constituency associations.

While diehard partisans in both parties warily eye each other as they say slightly nicer things about "that other party," there is one thing they agree on and seems to propel them: they detest the NDP and its policies.

Kenney and some of his team had a tendency in this race to get the elbows up. But in one of his speeches at this convention, he said the NDP aren't bad people. It's just that they have "a lot of bad ideas."

Jason Kenney was selected leader of Alberta's Progressive Conservatives on the first ballot. (CBC)

Kenney does have a take-no-prisoners track record.

Let's not forget that ruffling feathers in the PC Party isn't new for Kenney.

Back in 2012, he referred to then-deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk as "a complete and utter asshole" in an email Kenney accidentally sent to all of his Alberta Conservative Party colleagues.

Lukaszuk was at this weekend's PC leadership convention and it looks like merger or no merger, he's done with the PCs after 30 years.

He's expecting while Kenney and Jean are busy trying to unite the right, it's worth keeping an eye on the centre space because that's where a majority of Albertans are politically.

"They're loyal to the ideology, to centralism, to an embracing a fiscally responsible Alberta and they will not blindly follow the two letters no matter where they happen to go," said Lukaszuk. "The same thing will have to happen to the centre. Whether it will be Liberal or Alberta Party or a new platform, who knows."

And indeed, even as Kenney was delivering his victory speech, some PCs — like former MLA Doug Horner — did walk out of the convention hall.

Kenney and Jean are determined to bring about the unification. They both say it will be up to their party members to decide if that's how they want to go.

The death of the PC Party? Maybe not yet.

Now an MP, Ron Liepert spent years inside the PC Party. Despite the drive to unite, he says: not so fast.

"Let's say for instance the Wildrose membership disapproves it. Then I assume Jason Kenney is going to be leading the PC Party in the next provincial election," said Liepert.

For political observers, it's also going to be worth following the polls.

Kenney wants to form a new party that all conservative-minded Albertans can join. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

If one party or the other starts pulling away as a viable alternative to the NDP, maybe they won't feel compelled to compromise on some things to join forces.

Liepert points out that if Kenney is still the leader of the PC Party in 2019, some disaffected PC members could return home and he could also draw enough Wildrose support to win that election.

To him, it's a story that has yet to be written.

But hey, step one of Kenney's plan worked out. Maybe the rest will too.

And if he succeeds in the next couple of steps (negotiate how to join forces, get members of both parties to support it), then it leads Kenney to yet another leadership race.

After 20 years in politics, it's clear he enjoys what he's doing.

Unless and until this gets sorted out, David Stewart figures the NDP just might be enjoying this.

"The Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose are going to be talking with each other and trying to arrange how they can interact rather than focusing exclusively on the NDP."


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