Kenney's 'Unite Alberta' campaign will unite his political enemies: Chris Hall
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Rachel Notley have added incentive to work even closer
Country music blared from the loudspeakers Wednesday before Jason Kenney got behind the lectern with its "Unite Alberta" placard and announced his plan to run for the leadership of the province's Progressive Conservative Party.
The choice of music, one suspects, was as much a statement as the slogan the longtime Calgary MP chose.
After two decades spent as a central player in fashioning the federal Conservatives into a powerful, national political force, Kenney is getting back in touch with his Alberta roots.
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There was a shout-out in his announcement to Ralph Klein, and Kenney's own dealings with the popular premier back in the '90s when he led the taxpayers' federation.
There was an attack on NDP Premier Rachel Notley's tax-happy, spending-obsessed agenda that would drive Alberta to ruin.
"We must put Alberta first and we must focus on the future not the past, on what unites us not what divides us and we must come together to form a single, free enterprise party and we must do so before the next election."
Others have written about the challenges Kenney will face trying to win the leadership of a party that retains "progressive" in its name for a reason, and the impact his campaign will have on the race to succeed Stephen Harper as federal leader.
Notley was quick to respond Wednesday with, well, let's call it a shrug.
"We have a record to present to Albertans that we are proud of and that we are happy to have them judge us on," she told reporters mere minutes after Kenney completed his announcement. "That's my focus no matter how many Conservative leaders and parties may be involved."
That record includes a number of initiatives that play right along with the priorities of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Notley's government is bringing in a price on carbon to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Alberta signed on to the federal government's plan to increase benefits (and premiums) under the Canada Pension Plan.
The prime minister has helped Notley by fast-tracking a $700-million infrastructure payment to the province earlier this year, and by extending employment insurance benefits for up to 20 weeks to people who've lost their jobs in the northern part of the province due to the sharp and sustained drop in the price of oil.
Incentive to work together
But while the two governments had a reason to work together before, they will have an added incentive to do so in the months and years ahead should Kenney become the next leader of the Alberta PC party.
Start with Notley's call for a pipeline to take Alberta's oilsands bitumen to port. The federal government has added another layer of review to the proposed Trans-Mountain and Energy East pipelines to give First Nations and other communities along the routes a direct say.
But some strategists believe Notley's proposed carbon tax and cap on oilsands emissions starting next year make it much easier for the Trudeau cabinet to say yes to at least one of those projects, and to hand Notley the chance to face voters in 2019 having delivered what PC governments in the province never could.
Chad Rogers, a Conservative strategist and founding partner of the public relations firm Crestview Strategy, says that's not the only way Trudeau and Notley can help each other.
"The federal Liberals will work with her to deliver on whatever list of infrastructure priorities the province has put forward," he said, helping both parties expand support in Edmonton, and to solidify gains both parties made in Calgary.
Check marks next to 'delivered'
None of this is to suggest Kenney will necessarily win the leadership next March. His mere presence in the race provides an incentive for Ottawa and Edmonton to work together, to put some check marks next to "delivered" in their to-do list.
But don't count Kenney out. The task of winning over the progressive wing of the provincial conservatives will be difficult. Harder still will be convincing them that his barely concealed preference for Wildrose in the past two provincial elections is a thing of the past.
"That was a 20-year project. It succeeded and now it's over. This is a different project, and a different set of challenges and he's energized by it."
So the Kenney campaign to "Unite Alberta" is underway. It may already have succeeded in creating a unity of purpose for his old Liberal opponent in Ottawa and the NDP leader he now wants to take on in Alberta.