Jason Kenney readying exit from federal politics, sources say

Conservative MP Jason Kenney is poised to announce this summer that he will leave federal politics, fuelling expectations that he intends to run a campaign to unite the right in his home province of Alberta, CBC News has learned.

Meeting of key conservatives fuels talk Calgary MP ready to lead unite-the-right movement in Alberta

Jason Kenney, a key minister in the Harper government for nearly a decade and a driving force in the federal Conservative party, is ready to leave federal politics, sources tell CBC News, amid renewed talk of a bid to unite Alberta's conservative parties. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Conservative MP Jason Kenney is poised to announce this summer that he will leave federal politics, fuelling expectations that he intends to run a campaign to unite the right in his home province of Alberta.

Sources tell CBC News that Kenney made his decision following a series of weekend meetings with key friends and advisers in Ottawa and Calgary.

The group includes former MP Monte Solberg, former Conservative campaign guru Tom Flanagan as well as a number of key figures in the former Harper government: Howard Anglin, Mark Cameron and Ian Brodie.

Kenney's decision will be huge, not only in Alberta where the fractured right-of-centre vote contributed to the NDP's stunning majority win last year, but in federal politics.

He's considered a leading contender to replace Stephen Harper, and there's been intense pressure on him to run to replace the former prime minister.

"I feel that if I decide to run I would have very broad and very deep support in the party," he said in a May 28 interview with CBC Radio's The House. "But this still doesn't make it an automatic decision for me. There's a lot to reflect on and that's what I'm taking time to do."

Kenney was first elected as an MP in 1997 when he was just 29. He held a number of senior cabinet posts in Harper's government, including National Defence, Citizenship and Immigration and minister responsible for multiculturalism. He is considered the architect of the Conservatives' highly successful inroads among immigrants and ethnic voters that contributed to Conservatives three straight election election wins.

He's also been a money-raising machine for the federal party. In 2015, his Calgary Midnapore riding association doled out $183,000 to 44 Conservative candidates according to returns filed with Elections Canada.

But insiders say Kenney is focused on returning to Alberta — and his belief that the government of NDP Premier Rachel Notley is charting the wrong course for the province.

'Defeat the socialists'

Kenney, himself, seemed to confirm that last month during a panel discussion at the Conservatives' convention in Vancouver.

"To my Alberta colleagues here let's make Alberta again the free-enterprise capital of Canada by working together to defeat the socialists in 2019."

Kenney's supporters say he's also attracted by the challenge of uniting the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties. They also believe the path and time frame for a return to power in the province is shorter than rebuilding the federal party as an alternative to Justin Trudeau's Liberals.

The PC leadership has been vacant since May 2015 when then-leader Jim Prentice resigned after leading the party to its first defeat in four decades. Prentice quit despite winning his own riding, leaving the PCs with just nine seats and in third place behind Wildrose.

No other candidates have declared for the leadership race, which must be held before April 30, 2017.

Sources say Kenney recently renewed a PC membership. But his possible candidacy is sure to spark controversy inside the party because of his support for socially conservative positions, and what is perceived as his support for Wildrose in the last two provincial elections.

Wildrose, which finished second in 2015 under leader Brian Jean, has more seats and more money but is in the midst of an internal revolt.

So the challenge is enormous. A merger of the two parties will be difficult. A takeover, messy.

Kenney ducked CBC reporters on Tuesday and calls to his office looking for comment were not returned. His office did reply to an email, saying Kenney was not available.

But one source said Kenney is ideally suited to take on the task, and will borrow heavily from the experience of 2003, when Harper led the merger between the federal PCs and the then Canadian Alliance.

It was that merger that led to the creation of the Conservative Party of Canada, and the breakthrough election victory just three years later.

Jason Kenney: King or Kingmaker in Tory leadership race?

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Chris Hall

National Affairs Editor

Chris Hall is the CBC's National Affairs Editor and host of The House on CBC Radio, based in the Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He began his reporting career with the Ottawa Citizen, before moving to CBC Radio in 1992, where he worked as a national radio reporter in Toronto, Halifax and St. John's. He returned to Ottawa and the Hill in 1998. Follow him on Twitter: @chrishallcbc