Jason Kenney rallied Alberta conservative voters at a weekend policy convention with a call to more fiercely protect the oil industry, and to target its opponents.
In a fiery Saturday night speech – Mr. Kenney’s first major address since his United Conservative Party was formed by merger of two other parties last summer – he also laid out his ambitions for building a coalition with other-liked-minded political leaders across the country.
“Potential Ontario premier Doug Ford has told me that he is a complete ally of our resource industries, and will enthusiastically join our fight against the Trudeau carbon tax,” he said.
At the UCP’s first policy convention, Mr. Kenney’s long, energetic speech targeted everything from the energy policies of the federal Liberals to NDP “social engineering” in schools. But he focused most of his attention on Alberta’s position as a land-locked province with lots of oil, and the inability to get full access to global crude markets – and the pan-Canadian carbon price that Alberta’s current NDP government supports. Mr. Kenney promised that he will fight Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, British Columbia Premier John Horgan, “the David Suzukis and Elizabeth Mays,” and “foreign-funded special interests” through the courts, and use every political tool to protect the province’s economy and resources.
“I am putting Justin Trudeau on notice: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” Mr. Kenney said to one of a number of standing ovations from a crowd organizers said numbered about 3,000.
Mr. Kenney said if his party passes a resolution on repealing the carbon tax on Sunday, he will be on a flight to Ottawa hours later to speak at a House of Commons Finance Committee to tell MPs the first thing he would do as premier is scrap Alberta’s $30 per tonne carbon levy.
Mr. Kenney said he believes that others across the country will be looking at what goes down at the weekend meeting at a cavernous convention hall in Red Deer, Alta., that also included an opening speech from former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall.
“We’re getting our act together here as a movement here in Alberta. And I think the ideas that we articulate this weekend in our platform, and hopefully in government, will inform like-minded free-enterprise parties right across the country – that’s part of my goal,” Mr. Kenney told reporters on Friday.
He has long discussed scrapping the carbon tax, and fighting Ottawa on the current equalization formula, but Mr. Kenney floated new ideas Saturday evening, as well.
About one year before a likely Alberta election that he hopes to win, he also promised to launch a special legislature investigation into “the sources of foreign funds behind the anti-Alberta special interests.”
He also said if he wins government he will try to initiate legal action to stripe charitable status from “bogus charities like Tides Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation.” They are both organizations which many Alberta conservatives view as unfairly targeting the province’s oil production over other global sources of crude. He also said he would he pass a law banning foreign money from being spent by “special interests” during Alberta elections, and spent money on advertising targeted at the rest of Canada about how the whole country benefits from being the most “environmentally responsible oil and gas industry on earth.”
Speaking exactly three years after Alberta voters elected a majority NDP government led by Premier Rachel Notley, Mr. Kenney said he will focus on two of his biggest weak spots: Voters in Alberta’s capital of Edmonton, who are now totally represented by New Democrat MLAs, and trying to recruit women to seek UCP nominations. His current caucus includes only two women.
CBC News polls released this week found that Ms. Notley is more popular than the NDP, while Mr. Kenney is not as popular as the party he helped to created out of two ‘legacy’ parties – the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose. But Mr. Kenney is still the most popular party leader in the province, and his party leads polls, especially on issues that voters say are the most important: The economy and the building of pipelines – such as Alberta’s fight to get the Trans Mountain expansion to the West Coast built.
Where Albertans have concerns is in regards to the UCP’s stance on contentious social issues, some of which will be debated during policy resolution sessions on Sunday. The CBC poll found that there are only two issues Albertans said would be best handled by New Democrats: Protecting the environment and issues facing LGBTQ individuals. Mr. Kenney has said he is building a “big-tent coalition here. And you don’t build a big tent coalition by telling some people that their input is not welcome.”
Mr. Kenney has said the more people that are engaged, the more likely it is that the debate over resolutions will reflect mainstream Alberta values. The UCP leader also made a point Saturday of saying he would stand with Ms. Notley against hateful messages on social media, and even numerous death threats levelled against her – saying anyone engaging in such behavior would not be welcomed in his party.