Jason Kenney

Friday, Sept. 23, will be Resignation Day for Jason Kenney, the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership candidate told a crowd of about 50 — most of them PC Party members whose support he is seeking — in the Edmonton bedroom suburb of St. Albert last night.

“Friday of next week, I will resign,” Kenney told the crowd, emphatically, later confirming that his Parliamentary R-Day will be Sept. 23 after talking steadily for nearly two hours.

And if he felt a tinge of regret at his decision not to seek the leadership of the federal Conservative Party of Canada now that the presumed front-runner, Peter MacKay, has announced, also yesterday evening, that he will not be running after all so that he can spend more time with his family, Kenney kept it close to his vest. Instead, he plunged ahead with his well-polished pitch to unite Alberta’s right under his leadership.

If you were a Tory true believer — and most, although far from all all, of the people in the room at the St. Albert Inn were — Kenney’s performance left little to complain about. For the most part, he stuck to well-practiced key messages, stayed inside his message box, and revealed little we all haven’t heard before.

If he were running things now, Kenney said, he’d leave the royalty regime alone (which, it must be noted, is precisely what the NDP government is doing), slow down increases to the minimum wage, eliminate the carbon tax, and let electricity re-sellers keep their contractual escape clause regardless of how it was negotiated. He characterized the latter suggestion as “making clear that Alberta respects the sanctity of contracts.”

If you took Kenney’s implications at face value, you’d think the NDP had caused the Great Depression, never mind the current low oil prices, and that the Harper government, of which Mr. Kenney was a trusted part, was behind every economic success in the past decade. But that’s political boilerplate, expected of all politicians in such circumstances, so he must be forgiven.

When he tried to make a case that the NDP’s “social license” approach to getting pipelines built will never work because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with mayors in British Columbia and Quebec, plus the leader of the B.C. NDP are all arrayed against Alberta’s oil-shipping ambitions, his audience seemed mostly untroubled.

Anyway, no one laughed out loud when he stated, as the pièce de résistance of his argument, that “Barack Obama vetoed Keystone XL a week after the Harper government left office. He didn’t dare do so when we were in office because of the diplomatic implications he knew would follow!” (emphasis added.)

Indeed, the only moment that wasn’t smooth sailing for Kenney came when a determined questioner — definitely not a conservative — told him how his grandparents moved west because “they felt Quebec was overrun by professional politicians” and quizzed the candidate relentlessly about what jobs he’d had before becoming, um, a professional politician.

The answer, apparently, other a few college part-time gigs in the food industry, was “I ran the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.”

“That’s more or less politics,” sniffed Kenney’s interlocutor as attendees began to grumble.

“I had to take an organization basically from zero to a $4 million non-profit organization in the course of three or four years,” Kenney responded testily. “You don’t do that by sitting around chatting. That’s non-profit entrepreneurship right there!”

Other than that? Not much that’s startling, but for Kenney’s open acknowledgement — whether accidentally or with intent, it is unclear — that the Calgary-based Manning Centre is playing an active role in his unite-the-right campaign.

And if it’s not him, Kenney promised to stick around and serve whomever is elected as the PC leader — ‘I will say, ‘Ready, Aye, Ready!’ — although no one rudely asked him if that included such potential candidates as Sandra Jansen, who is generally perceived as a Tory of a sort too red for the likes of a social conservative like Kenney, or St. Albert’s own Thomas Lukaszuk.

On a social conservative note, Kenney neatly sidestepped the only question about LGBTQ rights with a non-answer that suggested, well, nothing much.

After excoriating the NDP for what he called its carbon tax “hidden agenda,” Kenney asserted the new right-wing party he would like to found after merging the Wildrose Party and the PCs needs “to get the democratic horse before the policy cart” — which sounded to me a lot like ‘no policy till after we’re elected.” Well, whatever …

Getting back to where we started, Kenney has said in the past he will resign from Parliament on or around Oct. 1, but last night’s revelation puts a firm date on the Point of No Return in his plan to set aside his long and successful federal political career to focus on Alberta provincial politics, a crusade he characterized as a fight to save the province from a second NDP majority.

“When I resign my seat in Parliament, I will be the first ever elected candidate for party leadership to give up their seat to pursue that leadership,” he boasted, adding that for the next couple of years at least he will be going without income, receiving “just receipted expenses.”

Kenney repeated his pledge to give 100 per cent of his pension to poverty relief charities, and to release his tax records to prove he has done so, “if I am in any position in the public sector, like as an MLA.”

And since, unlike MacKay, he has no family, that’s “one of the reasons I can do this,” Kenney said to a few chuckles.

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

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David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...