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.
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.