‘Ottawa’ Braid: Kenney Wins – now Comes the Hard Part
By a huge majority, Alberta Progressive Conservatives voted Saturday to dive into uncertain waters, with Jason Kenney swinging the paddle.
The former federal minister campaigned for eight months, grabbed an unfamiliar delegate selection system by the lapels, and finally shook free 1,113 votes of 1,476 ballots cast at the weekend convention.
That was good for 75 per cent of the total vote – a thumping victory for Kenney’s agenda of conservative unity, and for the politician himself.
The well-run convention was marked by more passion than I’ve seen at a PC gathering in many years. The stakes are so high; both a new leader but a new future for conservatism and Alberta itself.
Kenney declared “springtime in Alberta,” but the road to union will not be any lighthearted stroll through the daffodils.
The PC campaign was fraught with controversy, claims of thuggishness on Kenney’s part, similar countercharges from him, and powerful emotions from what one delegate described as “a civil war.”
The party even banned longtime organizer Alan Hallman, who was arrested and charged with assault after an altercation at the convention Friday night.
There’s plenty of leftover bitterness in the PC party, whose executive Kenney will meet Sunday. Some of his opponents may resign; others won’t. A good many of these people still think the PCs can win the next election. They’re ardently opposed to union.
Kenney will have his way with the board eventually; his support among members is too massive to be challenged in any serious way. But the dynamics could be tricky.
More hostilities lurk in the Wildrose camp.
The feeling between the two leaders’ groups is not exactly friendly. This could get worse in a hurry.
Jean issued a public invitation on Friday for the new leader to meet with him. Kenney’s people snorted; the meeting had already been arranged, they said, and Jean was just grandstanding, trying to look like he controls the agenda.
Kenney has a clear duty to try to forge a union with Wildrose. That was his campaign promise. Jean has the same obligation. Out of that would come a new party with a fresh name, although Jean insists it be built around the Wildrose legal structure.
There are legal serious complications to all this; for one thing, it’s almost impossible to take an Alberta party off the books.
When parties dissolve, all their assets go into trust for a year. After that, the money reverts to the Crown, meaning the NDP’s general revenue fund. Finance Minister Joe Ceci would enjoy that.
Fully 75 per cent of Wildrose members will have to agree to union. Kenney promises PC members a referendum on the details of the plan, even though the party has no mechanism for doing that. Adherents of both parties would have to choose a new name.
All this is likely to be harder that anything Kenney has already done.
Kenney is an extremely hard worker who will push every button and pull every lever. Eventually, if a merger agreement does emerge, there will be a yet another leadership convention.
It’s already occurred to many PCs that neither Kenney nor Jean would necessarily win, especially if they’re both tainted by difficult negotiations and infighting.
The warriors who fight the early battles do not always win the war. Not many conservatives expected Stephen Harper to win the federal Conservative leadership, you might recall.
Other candidates will emerge. Former Minister Diana McQueen is said to be interested, although she won’t confirm it. There’s nothing to stop Richard Starke from trying again. Eventually, this race could draw serious talent.
There’s also another, quite different possibility.
Kenney’s victory could bring the PCs a big bump in the polls. If that proves lasting, and Wildrose followers prefer Kenney to Jean, votes could bleed away from Wildrose. The PCs might be able to beat the NDP even with Wildrose still in the field.
Kenney has won a remarkable victory. He could be premier someday. But the truth is, nobody knows where it all goes from here.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald