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Jason Kenney's sneak attack in Alberta aims to restore neoliberal agenda

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In many ways, as was said here two days ago, Jason Kenney is a miscast and unattractive candidate for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives -- an extreme social conservative, a divider and a dog-whistle politician not unlike former prime minister Stephen Harper, with whom he was and is closely allied.

But we ought not to sell Kenney short in this contest, because he comes with formidable political skills as well, and, more important, with a well-connected political network within both Wildrose and the Conservative circles that is prepared to work behind the scenes to install him as the Crown prince of the Albertan right.

If certain members of those parties don't like it -- and this includes the present leader of the Wildrose Opposition, Brian Jean -- this group, which certainly includes many of Kenney's Ottawa caucus mates in the Conservative Party of Canada and people in the moneyed Calgary circle that bankrolls former Reform Party leader Preston Manning's political efforts, is prepared to shove them aside to fulfill their master plan.

Chased out of Ottawa by the voters of Canada -- and aware that it won’t be easy to return with a popular leader like Justin Trudeau occupying 24 Sussex Drive -- the movers and shakers of Canada's conservative movement and their many allies in mainstream media have turned their attention back to Alberta as the most important place to reestablish a beachhead for their dangerous ideology in an increasingly liberal nation.

They have done the math and realize, as the unite-the-right crowd keeps pointing out, that conservative voters still outnumber progressive voters in Alberta -- if not quite as decisively as they would like us to imagine.

So they have concluded the best time to strike at the NDP led by Premier Rachel Notley is in its first term as the government deals with difficult economic circumstances not of its making, and before more centrist voters are persuaded the NDP reflects their values and delivers competent government.

As CBC National Affairs Editor Chris Hall argued on Tuesday, Kenney and his friends in low places have decided "the path and time frame for a return to power in the province is shorter than rebuilding the federal party as an alternative to Justin Trudeau's Liberals."

This is why an extreme social conservative who clearly would be a better fit in the Wildrose Party is set to run for the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives, a party that retains vestiges of genuine progressive attitudes in some policy areas, not to mention includes many influential people who actively dislike him.

And Kenney's backers do have a plan, his many obvious liabilities with modern voters notwithstanding, that they believe can work. It is a version of the reverse hostile takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada engineered in 2003 by Manning and Harper, with the help of strategists like Tom Flanagan, who emerged this week as Kenney's stalking horse. It resulted in the creation of the thoroughly unprogressive Conservative Party of Canada in 2003 that was followed by the dark years of Harper's prime ministership.

How will it work? Well, readers naturally understand that Flanagan and Manning don't phone me up and tell me their plans, so this is necessarily speculative.

But it seems likely their strategy will be to use Kenney's acknowledged strength as a backroom organizer, plus the persuasive skills and influence of his friends in the CPC and allied organizations, to sweep aside what is certain to be a field of less skilled and less experienced challengers for the PC leadership next year.

They expect do this whether well-known progressive-wing PCs like former deputy premier and leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk and Sandra Jansen, now the PC MLA for Calgary-North West and a possible leadership candidate herself, like it or not.

"Jason has never been a friend of the Progressive Conservative Party, there’s nothing progressive about Jason Kenney," Jansen told CBC Calgary this week. "I think it's an interesting strategy, the idea of coming into a party that stands for very little of what he stands for to try to take it over and create a merger where we certainly haven’t asked for one."

Still, it makes sense if you consider the challenge the people backing Kenney face. Anyway, they will be just as happy if they can drive progressives like Jansen out of the party, where she could continue to be a nuisance, just as Harper purged the progressive Conservatives disparaged as "Red Tories" when he latched onto real power in Ottawa.

This won't necessarily be easy. As blogger Dave Cournoyer explained in his Daveberta.ca blog, next year's PC leadership contest will be structured to require candidates to have broad support in all 87 Alberta constituencies. Moreover, Alberta law won't let political parties merge into one another just because they feel like it.

So the other key to success will be what also is happening behind the scenes in the Wildrose Party at the same time, and we have already caught a glimpse of how this will play out.

For Kenney has allies there too, some of them associated one way or another to the Opposition Conservative Party in Ottawa, and they will continue to do whatever they can to undermine Mr. Jean.

So, count on attacks on Jean's leadership from Wildrose constituency associations continuing and intensifying, with new challenges appearing from right field very soon, possibly in the next week or two.

Loyalty to the man who saved the party at its darkest moment, after former leader Danielle Smith, pushed by Manning, led a majority of her caucus to the PCs in December 2014? Forget about it!

You could argue that this sneak attack presents a mortal danger to the values of both the PCs and the Wildrose. It is designed to root out the last progressive instincts of the PCs and equally to destroy the bottom-up populism of the Wildrose Party. Both, after all, threaten the neoliberal agenda of the insider cabal that hopes to restore its grip on Alberta, and, eventually, on Canada.

The people behind this plan expect many supporters of both groups just to give up, or to support other parties.

But they believe by giving them no other conservative option they can hold onto enough moderate voters, who still think of themselves as conservatives, to take back the province and restore their elitist, entitled rule.

The game's afoot! Only, this time, with Kenney at the table, it will mostly be played behind closed doors.

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

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Image: Flickr/mostlyconservative

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