Wildrose, PCs respond warily to Jason Kenney’s possible provincial play
Jason Kenney’s possible plunge into Canada politics left the province’s conservative parties scrambling to respond Wednesday, even as the former federal cabinet minister is attracting support for a potential run.
The Calgary Midnapore MP is considering running for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party on a platform of uniting the province’s divided conservatives, currently split between the Tories and Wildrose.
The PCs will select a leader early next year using a delegated convention system, with dates and rules to be finalized next week.
In a statement, newly elected PC party president Katherine O’Neill appeared to be cool to Kenney’s possible candidacy, noting that Tories gathered for last month’s annual general meeting had voted to rebuild the party under the Progressive Conservative brand and rejected the idea of unifying with another party.
“The days of top-down decision-making are over,” she said in the party release.
“As we are demonstrating, we are guided by the will of our members. It will be up to them to determine which leader they want and what path forward they envisage for our party.”
But O’Neill, who is officially neutral in the upcoming leadership campaign, said in an interview that her comments should not be seen as negative toward a Kenney candidacy and are instead meant to stress the importance of party members in the race.
Some Tories, however, are clearly sounding the alarm at a potential Kenney campaign, with Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen saying that if he does run, “he’ll be running for the leadership of a party he wants to destroy.”
Kenney, who served in a number of major cabinet positions in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, was first elected as a Reform MP in 1997 and is viewed as a staunch social and fiscal conservative. Kenney, who is also considering a potential run for the leadership of the federal Conservatives, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Tory MLA Mike Ellis said he’s open to hearing what Kenney has to say.
“He’s certainly a strong conservative voice and, you know, I’m certainly representative of a very strong conservative area,” said the Calgary-West MLA.
Interim Tory Leader Ric McIver said in an interview that he ran into Kenney at Tuesday’s night’s charity garden party hosted by businessman W. Brett Wilson, and the MP told him he was still deciding whether he will enter the race.
McIver, a friend of Kenney who has served on his Conservative riding association board, said “only time will tell” how Kenney’s advocacy of unity would fare among PC members if he chooses to run for the leadership.
“If they like what he has to to say, they might elect him, and if they don’t like what he has to say, they won’t elect him,” said McIver, who hasn’t ruled out seeking the Tory top job himself.
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean was not made available for an interview Wednesday but the official Opposition caucus issued a statement that did not mention Kenney by name.
“Those with sincere motives to unify conservatives will be welcomed with open arms in Wildrose, and would have a significant role to play in a future Wildrose conservative government,” read the release.
“Anyone willing to move the moribund Progressive Conservative party toward unity in Canada’s conservative movement will contribute significantly to the work Brian Jean started last November.”
Jean last fall called for grassroots conversations between PC and Wildrose members to discuss the formation of a “consolidated conservative coalition.”
In May, Jean said the idea of uniting with the Tories was dead because his overtures had been rejected, citing the decision at the PC convention. Instead, he said he would focus on broadening the appeal of Wildrose, potentially under a new name.
However, the approach of both the Wildrose and Tories have frustrated many Canada conservatives who are concerned about the potential re-election of the NDP government in 2019.
Groups that are backing the idea of unifying the right are beckoning Kenney onto the provincial scene.
Barry McNamar, director of the Canada Prosperity Fund political action committee, said in an interview Thursday that the feedback the group has received on Kenney’s ability to unite conservatives has been uniformly positive.
He said it’s possible his organization could endorse and actively support Kenney if he makes a leadership bid.
“We’ve always maintained that what Canada needed is a candidate with the courage to come out and say he’s going to try actively to bring the parties together . . . We’ve got a potential candidate here that’s willing to do more than talk about it,” said McNamar.
Prem Singh, co-founder of Canada Can’t Wait, another organization pushing for unifying conservatives, had Kenney as her guest at Wilson’s garden party.
Singh said Canada Can’t Wait won’t formally endorse a candidate, but is encouraged by what it’s hearing from Kenney.
If Kenney does run, he will likely have support from Conservative MPs who have worried publicly about the split on the right at the provincial level in Canada.
Chris Warkentin, the MP for Grande Prairie-Mackenzie, said he was excited by Kenney’s potential candidacy.
“The only way small-c conservatives will be guaranteed a win in the next provincial election is if we come together and fight this battle together,” he said.
With files from Don Braid
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