Kenney Wins, But Can He Return Alberta to Its Glory Days?

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To the surprise of absolutely no one, Jason Kenney is the new premier of Alberta. 

Last week his United Conservative Party (UCP) crushed Rachel Notley’s governing NDP, relegating it to one of the feeblest corners of Opposition seen in Western Canada since, well, the Saskatchewan NDP was crushed in 2011, and then again in 2016. 

However, as hard as it might be to believe, it could have been worse for both sides.

Throughout the four-week campaign and with early polls predicting an enormous majority win for the UCP, Kenney did everything he possibly could to lose a sure thing. 

Notley’s camp rolled out video of a much younger Kenney gloating over his contribution to laws that overturned spousal rights for gay couples, which resulted in some partners being barred from
hospitals where their loved ones lay dying. 

Kenney refused to apologize and then went on to pour fuel on that fire by supporting a UCP candidate’s own homophobic history, and a promise to remove the current prohibition on parental notification when children join their schools’ Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs.

Kenney even became the first premier in Canadian history to form government while under RCMP investigation, regarding allegations of wrongdoing during his 2017 UCP leadership campaign. 

Yet despite this, or, depending on your political perspective, because of what many Albertans consider to be Notley’s unforgivable actions impacting their province’s economy, Kenney still managed to win by a landslide — but even still, not quite of the magnitude some had hoped.

Take it from a province that hasn’t had a viable government Opposition in over a decade; massive government, even one you support, is not ideal. Hell, Alberta doesn’t need to hear that from Saskatchewan. In 1982, the Alberta Conservatives governed for four years with a staggering 75 seats and a measly four Opposition members, giving licence to then-premier Peter Lougheed to basically do whatever he wanted. 

It took almost 30 years of free-rein by Alberta conservatives before the cracks began to show, as they did in 2012 with a fracturing of the right-of-spectrum electorate between the unpopular Alison Redford and the fledgling Wildrose Party, to an outright collapse in 2015 when Notley and her NDP were handed a modest majority of 54 seats, with 33 remaining in the hands of a discombobulated Conservative Opposition. 

When examined through this filter, Kenney’s 63 seats suddenly don’t seem quite so overwhelming. The fact the Alberta NDP held on to a third of the legislature still doesn’t totally make for the robust type of Opposition that is vital to ensuring transparency and democracy in government, but it does show that even with a united right, Alberta is no longer the bastion of social conservatism it once was. 

It means that Kenney won’t enjoy quite the same unbridled power that his pre-2012 predecessors did, or that his neighbours to the east – that would be us – have experienced for almost a decade.

Regardless of how much power he has, Kenney also has the burden of expectation weighing heavily upon his shoulders. Albertans, long accustomed to enjoying a certain stature, a certain lifestyle, are looking to him to reinstate not just their financial stability, but their empire state of mind. 

They should be grateful that as Kenney faces the challenge of keeping his promises and getting his province back to where it wants to be, he and his UCP have a relatively robust Opposition on the other side of the aisle, meaning they will be challenged by an appropriate level of accountability and forced to tackle the path they’ve laid for themselves transparently.