Kenney launches 'grassroots guarantee' as part of UCP leadership campaign

Saying he wants to avoid “a presidential-style campaign,” United Conservative Party leadership contender Jason Kenney launched a “grassroots guarantee” on Tuesday. He called for policy to be developed for the fledgling party by its membership, rather than being imposed by the leader.

Wants membership, rather than the leader, to form policy for the new party

United Conservative Party leadership contender Jason Kenney unveiled a "grassroots guarantee" calling for policy to be formed by the membership. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Saying he wants to avoid "a presidential-style campaign," United Conservative Party leadership contender Jason Kenney launched a "grassroots guarantee" on Tuesday, calling for policy to be developed for the fledgling party by its membership, rather than being imposed by the leader.

"We must develop policy in the same way that we created the united party, democratically, with the grassroots members in charge," he told reporters outside the Blackfoot Diner in Calgary.

The conservative movement in Alberta fractured in recent years, said Kenney, "partly because of an arrogant, top-down style of leadership."

"We had leaders telling people what to think, rather than listening to them in humility," he said.

"We must not repeat the mistake of that arrogance, we must have an approach of humility and servant leadership that empowers the grassroots members to decide the policy direction of this new party."

Leadership rival responds

Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, who earlier announced he is running for party leader, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon, calling Kenney's pledge "not good enough."

​​"It is critical that Albertans know where their leadership candidates stand on important policy issues. This is why I have issued a number of policies focused on creating jobs, getting spending under control, getting Albertans back to work, and implementing the largest tax relief in Alberta's history — all of which will go to the party for debate," it read.

"Jason's 'new' grassroots guarantee is simply a sad attempt to turn this leadership race into a campaign of rhetoric over substance. Voters deserve better."

Budget commitments 'imprudent'

Jason Kenney speaks to reporters outside the Blackfoot Diner on Tuesday. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Kenney has been criticized for not releasing a platform during the run-up to a merger between the Progressive Conservatives — which he led — and the Wildrose. But he says there was a reason for that.

"We don't know exactly how bad the situation is going to be two years from now," he said. "To be running around making specific budget commitments, for the year 2020, is completely imprudent. We don't know how deep the NDP debt-hole will be, we don't know how big their massive deficit will be."

The next provincial election is scheduled for 2019.

Asked about fellow leadership hopeful Brian Jean unveiling his own platform last week, which includes cutting taxes and reducing government spending by $2.6 billion, Kenney took a shot at the former Wildrose leader.

"I think they're making a mistake," he said. "In a certain sense, they're repeating the kind of top-down style leadership that got us into this trouble in the first place. This is a fantastic moment for us to have a fresh start and a new beginning, to put the membership in charge."

Jean responds

Jean issued a statement in response, saying "Albertans are tired of personality-based politics and want to understand what kind of foundation this party will be rooted in."

"I applaud Mr. Kenney's commitment to grassroots principles but the members need to know what the leadership candidates' positions are," the statement read.

"I used the policies developed by the members as the foundation for my announcements and I will continue to do so. These 'member approved policies' reflect a mainstream conservative approach to dealing with the problems that Alberta is facing. Albertans deserve to know what the leadership candidates stand for and I won't back down from proposing authentic conservative policies for our members to consider."

Plan for developing policy

Kenney outlined a five-point plan for development of grassroots policy, including:

  • Organize policy workshops in regions around the province "to invite informed and open debate."
  • Encourage constituency associations to hold local policy meetings where grassroots resolutions can be debated and voted on.
  • Allow all members to comment on and rank their preferred policy resolutions using a secure online platform.
  • Bring forward those resolutions, once prioritized, to the floor of the founding convention, where they will be debated, amended, defeated or ratified.
  • Appoint a platform committee made up of party members and MLAs to crisscross the province to listen to Albertans who are not part of the UCP to develop a platform. The platform would be published before or during the 2019 election.

Repeal the carbon tax

Kenney has revealed some policy points he'd like to see implemented, however, having said several times he wants to repeal the provincial carbon tax if the UCP wins the next election with him as leader.

The NDP has countered that doing so would effectively kill the proposed Green Line LRT in Calgary, as that's where $1.5 billion in provincial funding for the project is slated to come from.

But Kenney called that notion "smoke and mirrors."

"All of the revenue raised, whether it's income tax, business tax, carbon tax, it all goes into the same pot. It's called the general revenue fund," he said. "And it's all dispersed based on legislative appropriations from the same pot. It's called the Alberta budget."

The UCP leadership vote will be held Oct. 28.

With files from Monty Kruger