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Jason Kenney wins, completing double reverse hostile takeover of Alberta's conservative parties

Jason Kenney. Image: michael_swann/flickr

As predicted in this space regularly since well before the party actually existed, Jason Kenney has won the leadership of Alberta's United Conservative Party.

Kenney, 49, won it last night on the "first ballot" -- although there wasn't really any such thing in this case, more like the first run through the computer -- with 61 per cent of the vote. Again, this was no surprise.

Indeed, it was obvious back in July 2016, when the former Harper Government utility cabinet minister and Calgary MP announced his intention to run for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party, that to the well-heeled insiders who pull the strings of Alberta's conservative movement, Kenney was their man and the process of reuniting the province's right would be strictly choreographed from the get-go.

If that wasn't obvious to former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean at the time, it certainly was by last night when someone at UCP headquarters pushed the start button on the vote-counting machine. Jean's foretaste of doom as a UCP leadership candidate was clear in his desperate 11th call just before midnight Thursday for the voting to be halted because of "suspicious behaviour" in the party's computerized voting.

And so the double-reverse hostile takeover of Alberta's two main conservative political parties is now complete, first of the Progressive Conservatives by the Wildrose Party, then on the Wildrose Party by the Conservatives, in each case with Kenney, the consummate political insider, as the catalyst.

Whether we admire Kenney or distrust him, this accomplishment must be acknowledged. So then, congratulations, Jason!

Kenney's supporters will party tonight, and so too may the NDP Government's political strategists -- for, while they realize re-election will be an uphill fight, and despite Kenney's formidable talents as a campaigner, the social conservative baggage the new UCP leader carries is heavy, and may well not appeal to Alberta's increasingly liberal silent majority.

Kenney's victories did not come without flaws and controversies.

In a distasteful exhibition, candidates for the PC Party leadership who seemed to present a real threat to Kenney were bullied into leaving the race. One joined the NDP, another left the party completely, another has made her peace with the UCP.

The pleas Thursday night to halt the vote by Kenney's two remaining opponents in the UCP leadership race, Jean and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, also highlight practices that are questionable at best, unsavoury at worst.

The head of the party's leadership election committee, who is married to a paid Kenney organizer, could see no problems worthy of consideration, and the voting proceeded. If there were to be an investigation, it would be conducted by an accounting firm run by the sons of a key Kenney supporter.

This hardly passes the sniff test, although none of that means Kenney wouldn't have won both races anyway.

After all, there is a Nixonian quality to the character of the man, a tendency to overkill that was evident is his supporters' electoral excesses. The same thing infects the insiders club of Tory Old Boys, men like former prime minister Stephen Harper and Reform Party leader Preston Manning, who backed him from the start.

The right-wing media echo chamber will be onside in the run-up to the next Alberta general election, of course. The financially troubled Postmedia newspaper corporation's last gasp may well turn out to be the full-court press for Kenney that has already begun in its pages. Last night, one of Postmedia's columnists was already calling this entirely predictable result "a miracle"!

You have to know, if it hadn't been for the Calgary election polling fiasco, Postmedia's Calgary Herald would probably be releasing a poll today "proving" Kenney is wildly popular among women and Millennials. (I'm joking … at least, I think I'm joking.)

Whether Kenney will now strategically moderate his radical social conservatism or double down on his controversial views about gay rights, sex education and reproductive rights remains to be seen.

Whether he will run for a seat in the Legislature or snipe at the government of Premier Rachel Notley from the safety of the outside also is not yet clear. Most likely, he'll wait outside.

Whether he will welcome well-known Airbnb host Derek Fildebrandt back to the UCP Caucus may already have been decided. At least, Fildebrandt was reported to have been seen on stage with Kenney last night.

Characteristically, Kenney refused to speak with media after his victory was announced in Calgary last night. Instead, he will hold a tightly controlled news conference in that city this afternoon.

As the results of Alberta's recent municipal election suggest, there really is a silent majority in this province that, while far from radical, is still bound to be extremely uncomfortable with Kenney and what he would do in office.

So "uniting the right" is not the end of this story when the progressive wing of the PC Party and the grassroots-oriented philosophy of the Wildrose Party have both been destroyed within the UCP by Kenney's ascendancy.

Alberta has changed and, no matter what happens in 2019, it is not going to change back into what it was before. We face interesting times.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: michael_swann/flickr

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