Jason Kenney is the Hillary Clinton of Alberta politics!
Before you all start screaming, or convulsing with laughter, let me explain.
I do not mean that Kenney, the front-running social conservative candidate to lead the Progressive Conservative Party and thereafter unite Alberta's right, precisely shares the views of Clinton, the unsuccessful Democratic Party candidate in last week's U.S. presidential election. Just the same, despite big differences on issues like climate change and women's rights, their neoliberal economic positions place them closer together than might be immediately apparent.
Nor do I mean that a conservative party led by Kenney couldn't, or wouldn’t necessarily, win the next Alberta provincial election, expected in 2019. It wouldn't have taken much to make Clinton the victor on Tuesday night either -- indeed, she likely was if you go by the number of votes she received.
I do mean, however, that Kenney is neither very well liked nor very much trusted, even by his own supporters, but that the Alberta conservative political establishment is prepared to roll the dice to get this candidate anyway despite all the baggage he carries because they are certain they can win the next election with any standard bearer.
If they gamble and win, they reckon, they will get the most out of Kenney when it comes to their personal and corporate interests and their ideological hobbyhorses, which usually amount to the same thing.
So they are ready to bend the rules and bully recalcitrant opponents -- as they proved Nov. 5 and 6 at the Progressive Conservative Party's policy conference in Red Deer -- to ensure that Kenney wins no matter what.
They were particularly anxious to ensure no women remained in the race, because they fear -- rightly -- that Albertans are not only ready for female leaders, but they may actually prefer them. This may be part of the explanation for the unexpected success in May 2015 of a social democrat like Rachel Notley, now Alberta's NDP premier, despite the province's reputation as a conservative enclave.
So, it could be argued, any woman in the race had an edge going into the contest, however slight -- and deeply cynical campaigners like the men backing Kenney would do whatever they needed to do to eliminate it.
Compounding their problem was the fact that both the women who had declared themselves as candidates, former Calgary MLA and cabinet minister Donna Kennedy-Glans and sitting Calgary MLA and former cabinet minister Sandra Jansen, come from the progressive, democratic wing of the party -- which Kenney’s supporters would like to disenfranchise and, if possible, completely eliminate.
In addition, both were opposed to Mr. Kenney’s plan to merge the PC and Wildrosse parties, another threat the Kenney forces would like to eliminate.
So eliminate it they did -- at least in part through bullying and intimidation, it is obvious. As to Kenney's claim he was bullied too, this is typical right-wing misdirection, equating disagreement with thuggery, and utterly lacking in credibility. Readers worried about his welfare can be assured Kenney is safely surrounded by supporters in camo hats wherever he goes at such events.
There will be a party investigation of the complaints by the two former women candidates, but since the PC executive now seems to be fully under the control of Kenney's campaign, don't hold your breath for a meaningful outcome.
Moreover, the PC party establishment pushing Kenney -- people like Preston Manning, former prime minister Stephen Harper, the candidate's boss in federal politics not so long ago, and the army of lobbyists who grew fat on 44 years on PC rule -- have a policy agenda far to the right of where public opinion research suggests the people of Alberta want to go.
So either Kennedy-Glans or Jansen was likely to offer a more compelling vision to many PC members and Alberta voters generally than did Kenney, whose core beliefs on social matters are in fact much more like those of U.S. President Elect Donald Trump, and whose economic views may even be somewhat to the right of Trump's.
As for comparisons to Trump’s overt racism, throughout his political career Kenney has relied on dog whistles rather than outright slurs to convey the same messages to his base supporters -- but convey the same messages he has. At least Kenney isn't a serial groper of women, although he would certainly restrict their reproductive rights if he could find a way. As premier of Alberta, he would have tools at hand to do just that.
So the PC party's establishment is confident enough they can win with any candidate that they'll do whatever they can to make sure Kenney is that candidate -- just as the Democratic Party establishment in the United States, dominated by Clintonistas, bent the rules to ensure Bernie Sanders, despite polls suggesting he could have beaten Trump or any other likely Republican candidate, didn't win.
Once they're done with the PCs, Kenney’s double reverse hostile takeover will move on to the Opposition Wildrose Party, so Opposition Leader Brian Jean is also likely to be rolled over, in much the same way if necessary, as Jansen and Kennedy-Glans.
Our neighbours to the south now face the nightmare of a Trump presidency -- something that is almost certain to end in tears, and not just for Trump's opponents.
But I am not so sure Kenney, if he fulfills his ambition to become the merged Wildrose-PC party’s leader here in Alberta -- heavily laden with his social conservative views on women's reproductive rights and immigration and his evident contempt for the rules -- couldn't turn out to be a candidate more like Clinton, who seriously underperforms expectations.
The folks bankrolling Kenney, of course, will dismiss this as fantasy -- just as Clinton's backers did.
They'll have polls and powerful arguments to back them up -- just as Clinton did.
And perhaps they'll be right. But I can't shake the thought Kenney could easily turn out to go down in history as the Hillary Clinton of Alberta politics. And if he does, please remember where you heard it first.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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