Kenney hopes 2019 election will be 'respectful, policy-based debate'

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney says he hopes the tone of the spring provincial election will be respectful and focused on policy, not a nasty exchange of personal attacks.

UCP leader reflects on 2018, looks ahead to spring election in year-end interview

UCP Leader Jason Kenney speaks with CBC provincial affairs reporter Kim Trynacity in a year-end interview. (Peter Evans/CBC )

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney says he hopes the tone of the spring provincial election will be respectful and focused on policy, not a nasty exchange of personal attacks.

"Obviously there's going to be some clash," Kenney told CBC provincial affairs reporter Kim Trynacity in a year-end interview.

"Obviously I'm going to disagree with some NDP policies, and vice versa, but I think what would be really neat [is] if we actually showed the rest of the country how to have a respectful, policy-based debate in the upcoming Alberta election."

Kenney became leader of the UCP in October 2017 after leading the successful push to unite the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties.

He was sworn in as the MLA for Calgary-Lougheed in January and took his seat as leader of Alberta's Official Opposition at the start of the spring session in March.

The UCP has maintained a wide margin of support over the governing NDP in a number of polls, suggesting Kenney would become premier if the election was held today.

However, Kenney has been dogged by critics who suggest he will make 20-per-cent cuts to government spending if he becomes premier — an allegation he denies — and change policy to please his social-conservative supporters. 

As UCP leader, Kenney has faced fresh controversy on a weekly basis, from nomination candidates outed for holding racist or homophobic views to his own past statements on same-sex marriage and abortion. 

On the final day of the fall session, Kenney urged Notley to call the election for early March, the earliest time possible under Alberta's fixed-election-date legislation. 

Notley has not said which way she will lean nor what factors will influence her decision. The election needs to be held between March 1 and May 30.

'Historic vote' 

Whenever the vote is held, Kenney said the election will be historic. Voters will have a chance to pass judgment on the province's first NDP government, he said.

"The choices we make next year will be, I think, profoundly important, not just for Alberta but for Canada," he said.

Asked about the tone of the campaign, Kenney said he has always praised Notley for her public service and has encouraged supporters to show her respect.

While it's true Kenney doesn't engage in direct attacks on Notley, the UCP leader has supporters and allies on social media who have stepped in.

The Unite Alberta Twitter account run by Kenney's political staff has gone after anyone seen as sympathetic toward the NDP, including Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, and Duncan Kinney, executive director of Progress Alberta.

The account recently singled out journalists, claiming Kenney is being treated unfairly compared to Notley. 

Kenney shakes hands with UCP MLAs after being sworn in as MLA for Calgary-Lougheed in January. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

When asked whether political leaders should intervene when they see supporters engaging in personal attacks, Kenney said it's best to lead by example.

"A lot of people are just angry about the situation Alberta is in right now and sadly some of them lash out at their leadership in ways that are unacceptable. I've consistently denounced that," he said.

"You know, I don't hold Premier Notley responsible for angry people on the left saying vicious personal things about me and I don't expect her to police angry people on Twitter.

"I think it's up to leaders to set the right tone and and lead by example and that's certainly what we've tried to do."

Kenney has already formed a transition team to take quick action if the UCP wins power next spring. 

He intends to repeal the carbon tax and appoint a minister in charge of cutting regulations that Kenney feels "add no value to Alberta but are impairing or impeding investment."

While he wants to keep new measures that ensure employees can take compassionate leave and be protected from workplace harassment, Kenney wants to repeal some elements of the NDP government's changes to labour legislation.

Kenney points to restaurant owners who are required to pay staff for holiday Mondays even if the restaurant is not open. 

He also wants to bring back secret ballots for union-certification votes regardless of how many people are verified members. 

The NDP's labour code changes eliminated that requirement if 65 per cent of employees are union members.