Jason Kenney Presser

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The crowd may have seemed grey and paunchy via the TV feed from Calgary, but there were plenty of fresh young faces lined up behind Jason Kenny yesterday as the 48-year-old former Harper government cabinet minister made it official he’s about to attempt a rare double reverse hostile takeover of both the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties.

This will be a neat trick if he can pull it off — sort of like Throw Mama from the Train with Kenney in both lead roles — uniting two right-wing parties that don’t particularly like or trust each other and, he hopes, thereby putting himself in a position to defeat Rachel Notley’s NDP and become premier of Alberta at the head of a Conservative restoration.

One potential pitfall along the way could turn out to be the behaviour of young people. Conservatives used to be able to count on them not to vote, but they’ve shown in a couple of dramatic recent elections they’ll do so if they think the stakes are high enough. And having had a couple of tastes of NDP and Liberal success, they probably won’t vote conservative.

This surely makes the blood run cold in the veins of the now-shut-out lobbyists and conservative insiders backing Kenney’s leadership bid, and probably explains yesterday’s stage-dressing gaggle of young people, some of them clad as working folks in a manner reminiscent of a Village People performance.

But at least one of the young conservatives lining up for Kenney illustrates another, potentially more serious, difficulty facing the Kenney campaign: how to overcome the deep distrust between big-tent PCs and their angry, aggressive Wildrose challengers who just days ago were swearing never the twain would meet.

Because the young woman just behind the candidate on the right of the TV screen yesterday has been no friend of the PCs — at least until the Wildrose-leaning Kenney and his backers came up with the scheme to take over the PCs through their planned leadership race, then leverage the Wildrose takeover of the PCs into a PC takeover of the Wildrose Party led by an unwilling Brian Jean.

Caitlyn Madliner — campus co-ordinator of the University of Calgary “Students for Liberty” club — has been a vocal and highly visible critic of the PCs.

She has ties to Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a campus firearms advocacy group, the Manning Centre, where she was an intern, and an unsuccessful boycott of Tim Hortons coffee shops brewed up after the chain pulled an advertisement for a pipeline company on its in-store screens when customers complained.

More important in terms of Kenney’s efforts, she has been involved in high-profile stunts attacking the PCs that generated publicity and resentment: Organizing a petition demanding a recall election for Danielle Smith for crossing the floor of the House to join the PC government in December 2014, and creating an excruciating rap parody in 2014 attacking the PCs in general and former premier Alison Redford in particular while she worked for the Manning Centre.

None of this seems guaranteed to win friends in PC ranks, but perhaps the prospect of a chance at the restoration of right-wing rule in Alberta is enough to overcome such hesitation.

Certainly there was no shortage of conservative politicians in evidence on the video feed, among them Conservative MP and former PC minister Ron Liepert, who has apparently buried the hatchet with Kenney after sharp words last year, former Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson, defeated PC MLA and minister Gordon Dirks, Con MPs Deepak Obhrai and Michelle Rempel, and defeated federal Calgary Con MP Joan Crockatt, among others.

Conservatives contacted by the media raved about the impressive quality of Kenney’s speech, although it sounded to me as if he’d torn the first half from the notebook in which he’d drafted the announcement he’d be seeking former prime minister Stephen Harper’s job.

Apparently nostalgic, Kenney made at least half a dozen references to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the right-wing Astro-Turf group with which he got his start in public life, and included a maudlin look back at the late premier Ralph Klein, author of the Kleintastrophe of the mid-1990s. “We miss you Ralph. My goodness, we miss you!”

The most memorable line of Kenney’s speech? His reference to “the nattering nabobs of negativism.” Alas, he didn’t offer any attribution for these memorable words, penned in the mid-1960s by the late New York Times columnist William Safire for U.S. Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew, also now dead.

It is a line oft quoted in this blog, written as it is for an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals. Agnew, of course, was vice-president to Richard M. Nixon, of whom Kenney always faintly reminds your blogger, and his use of the phrase was a nice tribute to the Nixon Era, which I remember vividly. Anyone who says otherwise is a hopeless, hysterical hypochondriac of history.

Kenney did give a nice shout-out to Crockatt for her work as a reporter for the Calgary Herald — where, I can assure readers, she never worked as a reporter. However, in the candidate’s defence, it is difficult to keep clear which Alberta newspaper is which nowadays.

Kenney took shots at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but — significantly, if you ask me — never mentioned Premier Notley by name.

He fumbled none of his lines but, if this was the rip-roaring political speech he was credited with giving by the Alberta punditocracy, the quality of political rhetoric in this province is sadly in decline.

None of this may matter at this stage of the game, though, if there are no strong PC candidates to oppose Kenney. Only one thing is for certain: it will be interesting to watch this strange campaign unfold.

Jason Kenney’s Parliamentary web page used to link to partisan Alberta site

Should Jason Kenney be linking to his Progressive Conservative campaign page from his taxpayer-supported MP’s page on the Parliament of Canada website?

The taxpayer-funded Parliamentary site, administered by the office of the Speaker of Parliament, directs readers to Kenney’s JasonKenney.ca website. But the link has been changed to take them to his partisan “United the Right” site instead.

Surely this violates Parliamentary rules and is an inappropriate use of taxpayer’s subsidies, which are intended to assist the legitimate work of MPs.

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

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David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...