Kenney's 'Unite Alberta' campaign will unite his political enemies: Chris Hall

Jason Kenney announced his campaign for the leadership of Alberta's Progressive Conservatives with the slogan: Unite Alberta. That daunting task will be made even more difficult by the fact his campaign will further unite two of his political rivals: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Rachel Notley have added incentive to work even closer

Alberta Conservative MP Jason Kenney announces he will be seeking the leadership of Alberta's Progressive Conservative Party. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

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.

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.

And there was an appeal to all small-c conservative voters in the province to unite, behind him of course, as he embarks on his race to become PC leader.

Watch Jason Kenney announce official bid for PC leadership

CBC News Calgary

5 years ago
Jason Kenny has made it official: he's running to lead the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta in a bid to unite it with the province's other conservative movement, the Wildrose Party. 1:16

"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.

But what's just as interesting is watching how the Alberta NDP and federal Liberals will try to take advantage of his decision.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley now have added incentive to work together. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

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.

Notley and Trudeau spent time touring fire-ravaged Fort McMurray and pledged to work together to help the community rebuild.
Notley and Trudeau hug after speaking with media about the Fort McMurray wildfire. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press )

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.

Rogers says Kenney is not only a good campaigner, but determined to take on a new challenge after playing an integral role in building the federal Conservatives.
Kenney faces a daunting double challenge: winning the PC leadership and uniting Alberta conservatives. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

"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.​


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.