Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney is a bad Premier.

There is no doubt that Jason Kenney changed the face of Alberta politics when he jumped into provincial politics in 2017.

He succeeded in leading the merger of the Wildrose opposition with the Progressive Conservatives remanent into the United Conservative Party.

And, for a period, he was able to convince the two warring factions to put aside their differences and focus on a higher goal: winning the 2019 election.

And it worked.

At least it did for a time.

The UCP won a big majority, but quickly discovered that all those things the PCs and Wildrosers didn’t like about each other still existed, but now they were in the same party.

Last night, Kenney announced his plans to step down as UCP leader after getting a weak 51.4 per cent endorsement an acrimonious, divisive and drawn-out leadership review.

How did we get here so fast?

The COVID-19 pandemic definitely derailed Kenney and his party, but that wasn’t his only mistake.

Let’s look back at the chaos of the past three years.

Kenney’s much promoted Open for Summer plan in 2021 alienated a large swath of Albertans who were uncomfortable with removing public health restrictions so quickly and haphazardly just for the Calgary Stampede.

Rachel Notley’s NDP were riding high in the polls and fundraising, and to a lot of Albertans it looked like Kenney was dropping the COVID-19 restrictions to fast to save his party’s fortunes and his own leadership.

But being forced to backtrack and reintroduce restrictions when COVID-19 cases and deaths predictably skyrocketed and hospitals and ICUs overflowed only served to alienate a growing group right-wing populists and Freedom Truckers who were then highly motivated to defeat Kenney in the leadership review.

Despite flirting with right-wing populism before the 2019 election and during his time as Premier, Kenney is not a populist.

Kenney is probably far more comfortable discussing the works of Ludwig von Mises in the salons of the Manhattan Institute than driving a big blue truck around rural Alberta.

He sold Albertans, and conservative activists, a bill of goods that he could not deliver on.

But again, it wasn’t just COVID-19 that sealed his fate in the leadership review

If Kenney had not been so deeply unpopular with Albertans and if the UCP hadn’t been trailing the NDP in almost every poll since late 2020, he would have had a stronger hand to play.

But he didn’t.

Let’s look at why.

Somewhere along the line Kenney and his ministers began to believe that the big electoral mandate they got in 2019 meant they could impose their platform with abandon and, perhaps fatally, not have to listen to Albertans who started pushing back.

While Kenney’s opponents were always going to oppose his plans to privatize health care and schools, it wasn’t just NDP partisans who pushed back.

It was normal Albertans.

And Kenney didn’t seem to realize this.

Kenney and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon’s plans to close and sell more than 140 provincial parks sparked a province-wide lawn sign campaign that crossed the partisan divide.

After months of actively dismissing and attacking opponents of these plans, the UCP government was forced to back down.

The UCP’s eagerness to open the Rocky Mountains to open-pit coal mining produced a similar backlash.

Kenney and Energy Minister Sonya Savage pushed forward, again dismissing the opposition, which included dozens of southern Alberta municipal councils and country music artists like Corb Lund, Paul Brandt and Terri Clark, until they were forced to back down.

Kenney and Health Minster Tyler Shandro picked big fights with nurses and doctors during the pandemic, which almost certainly undermined public confidence in the government’s ability to handle the pandemic.

Kenney and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange were almost engaged in daily fights with teachers, even when the safety of children during the pandemic was the biggest concern for almost every Alberta parent.

Alberta can already be a notoriously difficult place to govern, but at times it looked like the UCP was actively trying to make it more difficult.

And then there were the scandals.

The kamikaze campaign.

The RCMP investigation.

Shandro yelling at a doctor in his driveway.

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu phoning the chief of police after getting a traffic ticket.

Lawsuits alleging of drinking and sexual harassment of political staff by cabinet ministers.


The Sky Palace patio party.

Betting and losing $1.3 billion on the Keystone XL Pipeline.

And the theatrics.

The Energy War Room staffed by UCP-insiders.

The late and over budget Allan Inquiry into nefarious foreign interference that found nothing illegal.

A referendum about equalization that was always going to be ignored by Ottawa, and ironically, was ignored by most Albertans.

The never ending legal challenges against the federal government.

And then there’s the curriculum.

Pledging during the 2019 campaign to take ideology and politics out of the draft K-12 curriculum, Kenney’s government injected new levels of weird and outdated ideology.

Panned by teachers, reviled by curriculum experts, and mocked internationally as age-inappropriate, outdated, Eurocentric, jargon-riddled, inaccurate, unconcerned with developing critical thinking skills, and rife with plagiarism, is how columnist David Climenhaga described it.

And then there’s that thing about Kenney’s grandfather, Mart Kenney, showing up in the curriculum, which felt like weird pandering by the programme’s authors.

We never got a glimpse into who Kenney really is or anything about his life outside of politics really.

Aside from politics, we don’t really know what makes him tick.

We know he rented a room in mother’s basement, enjoys listening to Gregorian chants and is a devout Roman Catholic, but that’s almost all we were allowed to see.

Not that we are owed any more.

Politicians deserve their privacy but Kenney’s weird blank slate outside of politics probably contributed to him being not very relatable to most Albertans.

So it becomes a trust thing.

Kenney is popular with many white collar conservatives and former staffers in Ottawa who have fond memories of his two decades as a determined opposition critic and hard-working cabinet minister.

Many of them see him a kind of Philosopher King of Canadian Conservatism.

But whatever charm worked inside the Queensway didn’t translate in the Premier’s Office.

Maybe being a trusted lieutenant to Prime Minster Stephen Harper was a quite different job than being Premier of Alberta?

Someone who has known Kenney for a long time once told me that they believed one of his biggest weaknesses is that he still saw Alberta politics through a 1990s lens.

I’m not sure I totally believe that but I think there’s a hint of truth to it.

And it might be why he has misread Albertans so badly over the past three years.

Kenney got his start in Alberta politics in the early 1990s as the founding spokesperson of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

It was a heady time for deficit hawks and social conservatives, and Kenney frequently engaged in very public quarrels with then-Premier Ralph Klein over government expenses.

The young conservative activist with a trademark Nixonian five-o’clock shadow pioneered the CTF soundbite machine with great success.

It’s where he cut his teeth in politics.

Thirty-years later, Kenney will soon be ending the latest phase of his political career in the same building where he started.

But this time he might not be coming back.

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23 replies on “Jason Kenney is a bad Premier.”

I enjoyed the content, and I think you offered a succinct and probably accurate assessment. You have an engaging writing style as well. I would recommend a proofreader though, as there are a couple of technical errors and places of weak argument. As an outsider, I feel your post helped clear up a lot of questions about Mr. Kenney’s actions during his time in power. It’s been, as they say, interesting times.

Thank you for the comment. I’m glad you enjoyed and found the article interesting. I’m my own proofreader, so sometimes I do miss some typos! Thanks for letting me know though. I will fix them.

Not super thrilled by the implication in “It wasn’t just NDP supporters who pushed back. It was normal Albertans.” that you can’t be both an NDP supporter and a normal Albertan! But the rest is good.

That’s much closer to accurate, but there are in fact plenty of NDP partisans (i.e. members) who would qualify as “normal Albertans” too. I know that you’re aware that not all Albertans are conservative (especially these days), and some of them have joined the NDP. That doesn’t make them abnormal, or less Albertan.

After three and a half years, the thing that gets me the most upset is the idiotic “oil companies are price gouging at the gas pump, so we’re going to pay them $0.13/liter!” billboards showing up all over town.

Is Kenney so stupid he doesn’t understand the law of supply and demand?!?! (The price that generates the most profit for the seller is at the intersection of supply and demand curves.) Lowering the gas tax just puts more money in oil company coffers. He should be RAISING the fuel tax to fund a rebate, not giving oil companies extra profit.

Well, what do you expect with pretend conservatives and Reformers? Nothing good ever comes from their time in power, because they destroy everything they touch, do the most priciest shenanigans, and they have no regard for anyone else, but their rich corporate friends. These aren’t like the true conservatives we had under Peter Lougheed.

From NS I got the impression the lawsuits and pipeline deals were applauded by Albertans. Is his issue he want conservative enough? Or was he just mostly off side on most thing?

It’s more complicated than that. He isn’t conservative enough for his rabidly right-wing rural base — which comes largely from the Wildrose side of the merger — but has been too right-wing for more urban voters.

Who knew that ranchers and farmers would stand up against the UCP in opposition to coal-mining that would endanger the water supply? Not Kenney. Ranchers and farmers as environmentalists — the urban vs. rural divide is more complicated than we have been led to believe. It’s 2022, not 1950. Climate change is real. We’ll all have to be pro-environment if humanity is to survive.

“While Kenney’s opponents were always going to oppose his plans to privatize health care and schools, it wasn’t just NDP supporters who pushed back. It was normal Albertans.”

While I support your work generally, I take extreme umbrage with this phrase. As if being a 4th Generation Albertan AND an NDP supporter isn’t “normal.” Thanks for completely alienating me from my own home and othering me. Real class act there. And how long have your people been in Alberta, Dave? Seriously… Nativist bullshit is disgusting and I’d expect better from you…

I partly agree here, but would go further and say Kenney was a bad person. I am a bit hesitant to further demonize him at this point, but I strongly believe many of the flaws that led him to be a bad Premier were at the more personal level. For instance, as Rick Bell so forcefully said, he didn’t listen.

Further to my point, I would say Getty and Stelmach were bad Premiers too, who struggled with leadership in challenging and changing times. However, one of Getty’s legacies is Family Day and Stelmach tried to increase oil royalties. They maybe did not succeed, but they tried to do some better things.

There always was a hubris with Kenney’s very ideological view of the world. He wasn’t here so much to govern and adapt to circumstance, as much as implement his agenda. I always felt he was a better foot soldier in the culture wars than a leader. Even Harper at times could be pragmatic when necessary or politically expedient. Kenney just seemed like he was on a mission and did not care if that upset people or disrupted things too much – the war on doctors and health care was a prime example.

He wasn’t so much the Churchill he liked to imagine he was, but more a western Canadian version of Margaret Thatcher with a bit of Richard Nixon mixed in. It wasn’t so much that he was fairly right wing or socially conservative. Heck, Stelmach was fairly socially Conservative too. It was the style and aggressive approach that put off so many on all sides of the political spectrum.

Politics often isn’t nice, but it is better when things are done in a nicer way. It wasn’t just that Kenney was a bad Premier, there is more to it than that. However, maybe with time to reflect in the future and being away from politics, which frankly sometimes brings out the worst in everyone, Kenney will have a chance to become a better person. I do hope he has a good future in which he puts his talents, determination and strong work ethic to better use.

Very well written.
My family are a southern Alberta pioneer family, so you would expect total right wing support, but not with Kenney.
The only trust we had with Kenney was his cabinet’s lunacy and incompetence. I’ve been a conservative voter all my life until I could not tolerate the extremes and divisiveness of the current conservative groups in the province. That’s why I voted for the NDP for the last two elections. Even if I don’t agree with all their policies, at least there will be adults in charge (hopefully) and the basic services of a civilized society can get some funds to operate.

I’m a big NDP supporter, but even I don’t agree with all their decisions. But a big difference is I can always tell who the decisions are supposed to help. Even if you think they’re wrong, how they think it’s going to benefit people is always clear.

That’s something I never felt from the UCP. At best it’s clear who some of their decisions are supposed to hurt.

The path to hell is made with good intentions. I prefer my government do alot less helping. Thats because their help doesnt help.

You stated: “Aside from politics, we don’t really know what makes him tick. We know he rented a room in his mother’s basement, enjoys listening to Gregorian chants and is a devout Catholic, but that’s almost all we are allowed to see.”
You ignored or missed the younger Kenney’s actions at university, where he led a successful petition to deny dying Aids patients’ visitation by the partners during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. A despicable act for which he has never apologized, despite numerous times being asked to do so. A simple Google search will find references to this act. Also this YouTube video entitled Jason Kenney’s Real Record tells the story of Kenney’s actions against the gay community. There has been no evidence that his views on such issues have matured over the years.
Since the separation of church and state is absolutely crucial in today’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic populations, Kenny’s devoutness is a huge issue. We may not be owed more information about Kenney’s personal life, but when his deeply held beliefs guide his governance of a province, that’s a problem. It prevents him from listening to those with opposing views. It prevents him from reflecting on his beliefs. That has been proved by how out of touch he really is with most Albertans.

Jason Kenney has always been a masterful & tireless campaigner, but as the last three years have so clearly proven, he sucks at governing. Also, as one of CBC’s At Issue panelists said last night — if memory serves (for which there is no guarantee) it was Althia Raj — he never truly picked a lane on the pandemic. He refused to accept the advice of public health experts until he was forced to, at which time it was already too late … but he also never truly committed to the extreme libertarian “freehdumb” agenda as many of the worst American state governors did, and as his rural base wanted him to. So he pleased nobody and pissed off everyone.

Oh, and style note: there is no “inside the Queensway” in Ottawa; it’s not a ring road like Washington DC’s Beltway — technically Interstate 495. Ottawa’s Queensway is an east-west, partially-raised freeway across Ottawa, but it doesn’t surround the city, it traverses it. Parliament and many federal buildings are north of the Queensway, but not all of them. I guess one could maybe say “north of the Queensway”, but that doesn’t have the same ring … no pun intended.

From the Wikipedia page:
“The core section of the Queensway is eight lanes wide, four per carriageway.[9]
The freeway is elevated on a berm along some central portions of the route, providing views of downtown and the Gatineau Hills to the north. This section was constructed along a former Canadian National Railway railbed.[10] The route bisects central Ottawa with downtown and the Parliament Buildings to the north of the highway and residential neighbourhoods including the Glebe to the south. Towards the Richmond Road interchange, the original western terminus of the Queensway, both sides of the freeway are lined by residential subdivisions.[9]
Between Eagleson/March Road and Moodie Drive in the west and between Blair Road and Place d’Orléans Drive in the east, a bus-only shoulder is used by OCTranspo’s Transitway rapid-transit network.[11] Several closely spaced exits serve the downtown core of Ottawa, including Nicholas Street, Bronson Avenue and Metcalfe Street;[3] the former was once designated as various provincial highways, most recently Highway 31” [].

Its really disheartening to listen to pundits on the CBC suggest its best to stick within your bubble group. They are definitely part of the problem.

Thats correct, Kenney didnt pick a lane. He governed from the middle.

Consequently he took it from both sides. It takes bravery to do the right thing and he displayed it.

Point well made being that Kennochio has lived a lie his whole life and was exposed by the covid and of course by his own mendacious duplicity-maybe even the United Clown Party finally decided that character matters!

Nothing but partisan left wing commentary. Kenneys error was gong too far with the covid restrictions. He alienated the conservative base of this province which is 70% or more of it. It’s time for a true conservative leader.

Say what?

The Kenney government was elected on a platform, which they conveyed far and wide.

In government they enacted that mandate and made it into law.

I know politicians keeping their word is anathema to the progressive left, but for some of us, we kinda like that.

As to “warring factions” within the UCP. They are currently ironing out their difficulties. And they are not small. The issue is that progressive politics seeks to divide and conquer at a jurisdiction level.

The divide is between jurisdictions which consume commodities and jurisdictions which produce commodities.

And of course, we know which jurisdictions the progressive left support. That would be the populous metro ones, where all the votes are. So their policies are simple. Make life more expensive for commodity producing jurisdictions and cheaper for metro jurisdictions.

If the commodities produced in Canada are too expensive as a consequence, well just buy the commodities with free trade agreements and offer the commodity producing jurisdiction populations retraining opportunities.

Course the problem then becomes, and then what.

So, how is Europe(and Canada, I’m looking at you eastern Canada) out sourcing their Oil and Gas production working for the Ukraine right now?

And of course, its all commodities.

So thats the divide that is the issue with UCP currently. Resolving it is in progress.

Understanding the above makes it easier to understand the populations which have elected the last 3 or 4 governments in Alberta.

Before the UCP, the last three governments were metro populations in the PC and then the NDP. Specifically the last PC government was elected by the NDP vote. Politics makes for strange bed fellows.

Each of your disparagements on Kenneys government deserves rebuke, but understanding the above would need to come first.

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