Having worked in politics for as long as I have, it still surprises me how quickly our collective opinion or view of one person can change on a dime. They can go from seemingly unbeatable and invincible political genius in one minute, and all of a sudden come across as immensely vulnerable and the polar opposite the next. And what makes it all the more amazing is that it can happy so quickly or randomly that you never expect to see it coming.
That seems to be the case with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney these days. Going back just a few years ago he was that invincible political genius for some. He was an invaluable member of Stephen Harper’s cabinet and was seen in many quarters as his heir apparent. When he went back to Alberta, his engineering of the “merger” of the PC’s and Wildrose parties was hallmark Kenney; it was brutal, blunt, pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable (or allegedly further) and brash. Kenney tried to paint himself as this populist ideologue, running around Alberta in his blue pickup and you know what? It worked. Like so many things that Kenney did, it worked.
So having created his new party and returning Conservatives to power in Alberta, there was no surprise when his government made many extremely unpopular cuts and moves. That was his MO so that didn’t come as a surprise. What did come as a surprise was his increasingly apparent inabilities when it comes to actually running a government or managing a caucus. For a guy with such legendary organizational chops and a decade of experience in government, you’d think that this wouldn’t be his problem. Yet time and again, he’s ran his government with such a “I don’t give a f*ck” attitude that the basics of government fell apart quickly (or were never really put together).
It’s the kind of arrogance that you might expect to see after a few terms in office, not after two years. Yet that entitled approach was there from the start and as many have noted, this is a government that never mental moved from Opposition to Government. They act like an opposition all the time, and that’s a mindset that’s failed and led to the place where Kenney finds himself now, with a growing cohort of his own MLAs attacking his governments COVID measures. That scene from yesterday was bad and a terrible sign for the stability of Kenney’s leadership. It was crazy, yet somehow more news came out last night that took the crazy knob, broke it off and threw it in the Bow River:
Wow folks, that is insane. The Western Standard is reporting that Kenney went into a caucus meeting on Thursday and basically threatened the rebel quarter of his caucus with going to an election if they don’t fall in line. A snap election, in the middle of the third wave of a pandemic, is as empty a threat as it is an irresponsible idea. The idea of forcing Albertans to the polls for a completely unnecessary election because you can’t manage your own bloody caucus would be the cherry on this crap sundae.
What makes it even worse is the clear emptiness of Kenney’s threat. If his party when to an election today (and he managed to hold his party together), they would lose it and you’d see a Notley NDP majority. The mostly likely UCP MLAs to survive the loss would be those rebel MLAs, because their ridings are so staunchly conservative. So if Kenney somehow managed to survive the fallout of that campaign, he would be in Opposition with a caucus with a much higher percentage of MLAs who don’t support him.
But that of course assumes one major thing that you can’t count on: that the UCP actually held together. Seriously, how do you even run a campaign with a single, coherent platform when you’ve got a quarter of your caucus publicly and fiercely opposed to a major part of it, which you would assume would be dealing with the pandemic? The answer to that question is very simple: You can’t. If those MLAs were already so emboldened to speak out publicly against their own government like this and skewer Kenney like this, why in the Hell would they turn face now and line up behind him when their very re-election is on the line? Those MLAs were already making a bet that they were better off speaking out against Kenney to try to save their political hides, so why in the Hell would the storm into an actual election with Kenney leading them?
That makes zero sense, which makes Kenney’s threat even more empty. The fact is that these MLAs have Kenney completely over a barrel and this group clearly doesn’t give a tinker’s cuss about being in government. They are happy being the loud opposition, yelling dangerous and unhelpful things in the middle of a pandemic just so they don’t have to compromise a bloody thing to save lives. Kenney doesn’t have any threats or any levers that he can use that can put that crazy back in the bottle. The fact is that those MLAs have all the incentive in the world to either try to force Kenney out of the Premier’s chair or simple go and form another party. Maybe they could use another variation on “Wild Rose” while there at it to just repeat history all the better.
Either way, in the past week Jason Kenney has found himself going from that invincible force to the vulnerable person, helplessly stuck with no good way out. In doing so, Kenney is in big trouble along with so many who have attached themselves to his star. This is the kind of event that could have serious ripple effects if it all falls apart. The big one that comes to mind for me is Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who owes a big part of the credit for his own leadership to Kenney’s backing of him. By getting onside with him, Kenney made O’Toole a front runner and likely put him over the top. Given the grumblings around O’Toole’s leadership already, I can just imagine that association with Kenney won’t help him. That’s especially true when he’ll be trying to fight against Maverick Party candidates in Alberta in the next election, a party that would be a more than natural fit for disgruntled UCPers who don’t care about governing and just want to oppose like mad. That will give us something to watch for.
In the meantime, we’ll also keep watching what’s happening in Alberta and see if Jason Kenney continues to see his government implode. But regardless of what happens going forward, the image of Kenney as a political mastermind has been undone forever. So even if this episode doesn’t do him in, he’s been brought back down to political earth. He’s in a much easier position in the longer term to be defeated, either in an ill-timed snap election now or the scheduled election in 2023.