Alberta the natural fit for Kenney’s conservatism

Conservative MP Jason Kenney missed Wednesday’s House of Commons committee on electoral reform to pursue his own version of electoral reform, in Canada.

He has departed federal politics in a bid to win the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party, unite it with the Wildrose Party and create a single conservative springboard to defeat NDP Premier Rachel Notley in the 2019 provincial election.

Mr. Kenney had been a leading candidate – indeed the odds-on favourite – to replace Stephen Harper as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. The former Immigration and Employment minister was arguably the most effective of Mr. Harper’s ministers in its final mandate. He was certainly the most visible.

But being the government’s chief spear-carrier on controversial issues meant he was most identified with all that voters came to find unappealing in the late Conservative government. His candidacy would have been sorely tested in a national leadership run. Conservatives wanting to turn the page on the Harper years and craft a different appeal to voters would have been hard-pressed to consider Mr. Kenney as the best choice to move forward.

His departure, therefore, should not surprise anyone.

Canada is an altogether different story. Mr. Kenney’s brand of conservatism is most at home there. Canada has loomed large as the ‘true north’ on the conservative compass for many years. It had an obvious outsized influence in the Harper government. Premier Ralph Klein’s early years of government downsizing followed by tax cuts and debt elimination remains the symbolic high-water mark for many conservatives.

There is simply no other place in the country that an unreconstructed Harper Conservative could find such a ready audience to hear, and a ready vessel to transport, this type of conservative message. For truly that is what he is running as.

His launch speech contained a vigorous defence of the Harper government and, fairly given the circumstances, his achievements in it.

But while such a speech would garner plaudits from core-vote Conservatives everywhere, its ability to gain new adherents is limited much beyond Canada.

Mr. Kenney said the word ‘progressive’ only when he named the party he is running to lead. It was not one of the principles he set out for either himself or the new united conservative alternative he seeks to form.

Every other styled Progressive Conservative party in the country would balk at such an overt rebranding. Mr. Kenney will likely have opponents to challenge him on this very score.

But then again, the new life Mr. Kenney is seeking to breathe into the current PC Party of Canada is only a form of temporary resuscitation. He has come to bury not praise.

Out of power, parties seek historical lodestars to guide them back to victory. For Mr. Kenney it is Ralph Klein and Stephen Harper. Casting himself as the legitimate heir to Mr. Klein’s fiscal legacy and Mr. Harper’s political legacy comes so naturally and authentically to Mr. Kenney, it raises the question, ‘Was there any other choice but to run in Canada?’

Mr. Kenney’s departure is at first glance a loss for the federal Conservative Party. His political and organizational talent will be hard to replace.

There is now no obvious western regional candidate to challenge two declared Ontario candidates (plus maybe two others), one Quebec candidate and possibly Peter MacKay from Atlantic Canada. For a party holding its strongest base in western Canada, this is an unwelcome development.

But for a party that needs to show voters a different face and form a part of a more modern, contemporary conservatism, it is the opposite.

By choosing a different path for himself, he sets up the party he left for a different path for itself. That may have come about anyways, but it would have been more fractious and fissured than it will be now.

In leaving to run in Canada, Jason Kenney has done his former party one last political favour.

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