Jason Kenney ready to 'raise the bar' of decorum in Alberta legislature
Year of political campaigns leaves Jason Kenney with long to-do list heading into 2018
With four electoral victories under his belt in 2017, including a byelection win that left challengers trailing in the dust, United Conservative Party (UCP) Leader Jason Kenney is looking forward to assuming his role as leader of the Official Opposition.
During a year-end interview with CBC News, Kenney said when he brings together his caucus in the legislature, he wants to "raise the bar" when it comes to the cross-floor banter.
At times during the combative fall sitting of the legislature, emotional and hyper-partisan exchanges deteriorated into insults and outbursts.
No name calling
"One thing I want to do is get beyond some of the high school-level name calling that's come to characterize our politics recently," said Kenney.
While Kenney said he wants to strike a more stately tone in the legislature, he's not about to give the Notley government a pass.
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He intends to focus on NDP economic issues, such as the carbon tax, which he says "have been bad for the Alberta economy," and don't represent good economic or environmental policy.
And as the NDP government signals it will dial back its infrastructure stimulus spending, Kenney is reluctant to offer praise.
"Even the premier seems to be signalling their intention for some greater restraint in public spending, but unfortunately I think it's too little too late to be taken seriously," said Kenney.
Calling for a period of "sustained fiscal restraint," Kenney has often pointed out that British Columbia spends 20 per cent less per capita than Alberta, "often with better outcomes."
"If we can get the economy restarted and growing at three or four per cent a year, and then restrain spending at zero or perhaps one or two percent reduction, we would get to a balanced budget by 2022."
That would be one year sooner than the balanced budget promised by the NDP government.
Building the party
Next year will be a year of "building" for Kenney's emerging political party, he said.
That will include establishing constituency associations, recruiting candidates and creating the all-important policy framework.
Kenney said UCP members will gather in May for a founding convention, after which an appointed committee will turn resolutions into a blueprint to guide the party toward the spring 2019 provincial election.
Until then, Kenney isn't willing to delve into the fine detail of what "returning to the Alberta Advantage," actually means.
"We got this far in the unity project in the past 18 months because we did it patiently, deliberately and democratically. That's how I intend to develop our specific policies over the next year," said Kenney.
For the aspiring premier, there are many challenges ahead.
Though Kenney, 49, is a lifelong political veteran, he is wading into uncharted territory personally as a new leader of a blended caucus.
Kenney said he's confident MLAs have now moved on from divisions incurred from the leadership race, and believes his MLAs are working together "in the same direction as a team."
Kenney said he has had the advantage of working in a large federal caucus, and observing other successful political leaders.
"My approach is to delegate. I like critics to be strong, proactive [and to] take the initiative in their own areas, not wait for micromanagement — that's not my style."
But it will be far from a free-for-all in the Kenney caucus.
Taking a page from the well-reported leadership style of his former boss, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Kenney vowed to keep a tight grip on who says what and to whom.
"We need to be prudent and disciplined, focused on the key messages and not go off in unproductive directions."
Kenney expects the NDP will continue to attack him on social issues, which he said they have done without success for the past year.
Kenney said that approach backfired on the NDP in the recent Calgary-Lougheed byelection, which resulted in NDP voter support being cut in half compared to the 2015 provincial election.