United Conservative leader’s byelection win sets showdown with Alberta premier
by Dean Bennett
Political analysts say United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney’s byelection victory fires the starting pistol on an unofficial 16-month election campaign that will be defined by the skills and personalities of party leaders.
“We’re dealing with two political heavyweights going head-to-head,” said Mount Royal political scientist Duane Bratt, referring to Kenney and NDP Premier Rachel Notley.
“We have a full sitting premier going up against a former federal cabinet minister. We haven’t seen that sort of dynamic ever before.
“Instead of having separate press conferences sniping at one another, they’re going to be two sword-lengths away in the legislature.”
Kenney took 72 per cent of the vote to soundly defeat all challengers in Thursday’s Calgary-Lougheed byelection. He will sit front and centre on the official Opposition benches when the spring sitting begins, likely in late February.
Lori Williams, political scientist at Mount Royal, said the dynamic of Kenney versus Notley is crucial.
The NDP has been governing for 2 1/2 years after a lifetime in opposition, while Kenney’s team is partly composed of former Wildrose members who have never been in government.
“The focus is going to be primarily on the leaders and their visions,” said Williams. “There isn’t enough to distinguish the two in terms of bench strength to lean (a voter) one way or the other.”
Kenney was a longtime Conservative MP and cabinet minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper.
His win caps an 18-month campaign that saw him successfully unite the centre-right Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties under one new United Conservative banner.
Observers say the decisive byelection win in a longtime conservative stronghold doesn’t necessarily translate into broader support for Kenney’s party or a rejection of Notley’s NDP.
Calgary pollster Janet Brown said there were different reasons to vote for Kenney in the byelection.
“Maybe because you do want him to be the next premier of Canada. Maybe you’re not sure you want him to be the next premier of Canada, but you think we’d have better government if he was in the house (as Opposition leader).”
Kenney declined an interview request Friday.
Categorised in: Canadian News