Alberta Politics

Kenney is the closest thing the Conservatives have to a “Svengali-like genius”

Six weeks after the federal election, Andrew Scheer has resigned as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, raising instant speculation about who might enter the contest to replace him.

Rona Ambrose
Rona Ambrose

While there does not appear to be an obvious heir apparent, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney‘s name immediately comes to mind as a potential successor. But is appears as though Kenny could just be a visitor in Ottawa for the foreseeable future.

Kenney told Postmedia columnist Don Braid yesterday he had “absolutely no intention” of running for the leadership and offered what appears to be an early endorsement of former interim party leader Rona Ambrose.

In response to rumours of his federal ambitions, Kenney told Postmedia’s  Stuart Thomson that “I should be flattered that they think I’m some kind of Svengali-like genius.” The thing is, Kenney is probably the closest thing to a Svengali the Conservatives have. Whether you believe he a brilliant political operator with good intentions or a sinister political beast plotting to smash his growing list of enemies likely depends on whether you are his ally or opponent (ask Rachel Notley and Brian Jean). But there is no doubt he is a skilled career politician.

He also checks a whole bunch of boxes on the list of Conservative constituency groups.

Kenney started his political career as a social conservative anti-abortion activist at a private Roman Catholic university in San Francisco. He returned to Canada to become a founder of the anti-tax Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He spent 19 years in Ottawa as a Member of Parliament and, after briefly losing some favour with the party during Stockwell Day‘s disastrous time as leader of the Canadian Alliance, proved to be a loyal solider to Stephen Harper and worked his way into a senior cabinet role. And he has deep connections to conservative think-tanks like the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (recently merged with the Fraser Institute) and New York City-based Manhattan Institute.

In less than two years, Kenney commandeered Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party and merged its membership with its decade-old bitter enemy, the Wildrose Party, by winning the United Conservative Party leadership. He then led the party to win the 2019 election. Plus, he, or his closest advisors, were not above testing the limits of what was acceptable in order to win. And since entering the Premier’s Office, he has been a master of sowing chaos and creating crisis in order to implement his political program.

Kenney is respected by Conservative partisans and, as long as he can keep up his winning streak, will remain one of the most prominent leaders of the Conservative movement in Canada.

Or maybe I’m just giving him too much credit.

Winning as a Conservative in Alberta is a much easier task than winning in other parts of Canada, including populous regions like Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto. Kenney’s whistle-stop tour through Ontario during the federal election resulted in dismal returns for Conservative candidates, and a recent poll shows his approval ratings in Alberta have plummeted by 15-points since his government tabled an unpopular provincial budget, which serves as a reminder that while he is a skilled politician, he is not invincible.

Which is why he might be reluctant to jump back into federal politics.

Being premier of a large province is certainly a more influential office, at least it is in 2019, and comes with more prestige than being leader of the official Opposition in Ottawa. But staying in Alberta means he is not one-step away from becoming Prime Minister of Canada, which many people still speculate is his goal.

7 replies on “Kenney is the closest thing the Conservatives have to a “Svengali-like genius””

Get it right, Dave. The smashing is done by Adriana “Claw Hammer” LaGrange. She promised today to take a big hammer to our duly elected CBE school trustees. Threatening people with a hammer sounds like something a criminal would do. Just Adriana’s way of wishing everyone a joyful, peaceful holiday season. And a Hammery New Year!

Stockwell Day did a very good job as leader of the Canadian Alliance, getting a higher seat count than Manning ever did in the three elections prior.

Svengali-like genius factory says:

“A United Conservative government would be champions for our forestry industry and stand with them against foreign-funded attacks to ensure that forestry workers get the respect and security they deserve.”


Svengali-like genius factory does:

The shift is to make sure “agricultural research is led by farmers, not government,” said Adrienne South, press secretary to Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen, in a Friday email.


I guess the Svengali-like genius figures the manipulees can’t read or use critical thinking. That would explain the urgent need on Friday to crush public school trustees in Calgary with a big hammer.

“Promise made, promise smashed to smithereens.”

I would agree with your brilliant political operator comment, but not that good intentions follow it. They do not necessarily go together. I think Kenney’s real intentions are mostly self preservation and advancement. I suppose if you are a supporter, good intentions may some how sort of follow from that, if not sinister intentions probably do. I think the biggest mistake political opponents sometimes make is to dismiss or underestimate him.

I think two things make it likely for him to jump ship back to Ottawa. First, the economy here is not going to get much better soon. It will be a real grind and his popularity is already taking a big hit. It may not become better, it may become a quagmire. Second, the longer he stays in Alberta the harder it will be to get back to Federal politics ever. It may not be the ideal time now, but it will probably be his best chance. He is an opportunist, so I suspect he will take the opportunity, whether he is ready to say so yet or not.

IMHO, Mr Kenney has missed his chance. Had Mr Scheer stayed on through the next election, then lost — again — the leadership would have fallen open after JK had been Premier for a decent interval, and he could then have jumped ship into federal politics. But for him to do so now would so offend his base, they’d torpedo his campaign in favour of someone else … anyone else.

As to whether a Kenney-led Conservative Party could ever get enough votes in The Rest of Canada to win a majority, in my view their positions on far too many issues of importance in parts of the country where there are heavier concentrations of voters than here in Saskaberta, will virtually guarantee they will never win government. They’ll have to shift their policy positions on many issues to win the hearts and minds of voters in Quebec, the GTA or the Lower Mainland.

Who they pick as their next Leader will telegraph whether they have done that. If they double down on climate change denial, misogyny and forced birth, xenophobia, and discomfort with marriage equality, by electing yet another so-con, expect years more of Liberal governments, with or without a majority. If OTOH they pick someone more modern in their thinking who espouses a laisser faire attitude about how people live their lives, and puts forward a credible plan to deal with climate change, then federal politics get more interesting.

Since no one has said it yet, I will. What kind of person wanders around with thoughts of themself being compared to Svengali/a genius? Surely no one except a creature who has indeed compared himself to Svengali/a genius. That is not something that pops into the head of a non-malevolent person randomly. It sounds more like something that a malignant narcissist/megalomaniac might say.

He’s the only hopeful with reasonable spoken French, Scheer flailed piteously in the French debate, as would Ambrose or Polievre. But he gratuitously punked off the Québecois nation by spinning a redneck fantasy version of how transfer payments work that was widely publicized in Québec. So, he’s unelectable federally, end of story, and surely if he’s the Svengali snake/bully he takes himself for, he knows that. It’s one term in Alberta, then a smorgasbord of corporate board appointments. One good turn deserves another.

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