Jason Kenney's entrance into PC race ignites interest and emotions

Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman could hardly wipe the smile off her face when answering questions about the entry of Jason Kenney into provincial politics.
Conservative MP Jason Kenney announced Wednesday he will be seeking the leadership of Alberta's Progressive Conservative party. (The Canadian Press)

Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman could hardly wipe the smile off her face when answering questions Wednesday about the entry of Jason Kenney into provincial politics.

"I think he's certainly the type of person who could lead the PCs into the 20th century," Hoffman said with a laugh shortly after the Calgary Conservative MP announced he was running for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives. 

In his announcement, Kenney said he would attempt to unite the PC and Wildrose parties to take on the NDP in the next election. 

Hoffman often acts as the government's designated hitter on issues that need more grit and raised elbows than statesmanship. Kenney's announcement gave her a chance to take a few jabs at his record. 

"When I think about unity and I think about Albertans who are certainly inclusive and progressive and who voted for having a stable government rather than one that's reactionary, I think about Rachel Notley," she said. "I don't think about Jason Kenney."

Premier Rachel Notley was a little more diplomatic. She told reporters at a news conference in Edmonton that she is focused on running Alberta, and won't be preoccupied by efforts to unite Alberta's right-wing political parties. 

"However many Conservative leaders and Conservative parties may be involved in that election at that time is less my concern than having a record that I'm proud of and proud to present to Albertans," she said.

Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman reacted to the Jason Kenney's decision to enter the PC leadership race Wednesday. (CBC)

But the NDP has to be eyeing what's happening with the two main opposition parties even though the next election won't be held until 2019.

The NDP upset in the May 2015 provincial election came in part from the unpopularity of long-governing PC party, and a strong showing by its rival Wildrose.

Now Kenney wants to unite the two parties to defeat what he calls the "accidental NDP government." He said if the NDP were elected to a second term the effect would be "catastrophic to the long-term future of Alberta."

'Democracy is never wrong'

Hoffman says comments like that are an insult to Alberta voters.

"Democracy is never wrong," she said. "Jason Kenney seems to feel otherwise, but I'm really proud we're here doing what we were elected to do."

Kenney's entry into the PC leadership race exposes a very clear divide in what once the big-tent party of Alberta politics. 

Interim PC leader Ric McIver, considering a leadership run himself, isn't shutting the door on uniting with the Wildrose under a Kenney leadership. But he says party members will ultimately make that decision.

"The membership has the right to decide through their votes and has the authority to decide, and that's really like any other leadership contest our party has ever had," McIver said. "While people are trying to make this sound a lot different, it really isn't."

Richard Starke, PC MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster, takes the opposite view, shutting the door on any merger with the Wildrose.

Starke may also enter the leadership race the leadership and has been organizing party support across Alberta for months.

He says Kenney can run for the leadership, but he has to make is clear, what direction he wants to take the party.

"There's going to be a lot of discussion and debate about what our vision is for our province over these next number of months," Starke said. "It's up to all of our members to listen to those conversations."

The PC MLA for Calgary-North West Sandra Jansen is the most vocal critic of Kenney and his mission to 'unite the right."

Characterizing Kenney's attempt to lead the PCs as a "hostile takeover," Jansen says she hopes a social conservative never forms government in Alberta.

"Jason is a social Conservative and that's a real turn-off for a lot of people in this province," she said. 

Grande Prairie-Wapiti PC MLA Wayne Drysdale  says he's met Jason Kenney, and doesn't have a problem with him, but he isn't sure his politics line up with Kenney's

At this point, Drysdale isn't willing to throw his support behind anyone.

"You never bet on a horse race until you know all the horses that are in it," he said, "you might end up with a mule."