Jason Kenney predicted “challenging years” ahead as he and his government prepare to be sworn in next week, telling members of the incoming United Conservative Party caucus that voters will judge them by whether they succeed in turning around the province’s economy.
Mr. Kenney, whose party handily won last week’s election and defeated the one-term NDP government, told the members of his caucus at a meeting on Friday they should never forget that the party won in large part because of the province’s persistent economic problems. He said that should inform every decision the new government makes.
“You know that Albertans gave us this mandate in part because our province has been going through a period of sustained economic decline and stagnation,” Mr. Kenney said. “And we all know you encountered, every day at the doors, people who personified the human cost.”
The province has suffered from an economic downturn that began five years ago, and for many Albertans, has shown little sign of recovery. High unemployment rates in Alberta have driven up employment insurance claims and bankruptcies, and dragged down the housing market.
Mr. Kenney will be sworn in as premier next Tuesday, when he will name a new cabinet. He intends to call the legislature back within weeks, and has previously promised a “summer of repeal” to reverse NDP policies.
Mr. Kenney’s election campaign message focused on “jobs, the economy and pipelines,” while also promising to fight opponents of the province’s oil industry.
When his cabinet meets, one of the first orders of business will be to proclaim a law, which the legislature had already passed, that would give the province the power to cut off oil supplies to British Columbia in retaliation for its opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
After that, his government’s first bill in the legislature will be to repeal the province’s carbon tax, which will set up a legal and political fight over the federal levy that would replace it.
Mr. Kenney also plans to target what he has described as “foreign-funded environmentalists,” and later, if there is no progress on getting the Trans Mountain project completed, hold a referendum on whether federal equalization payments should be abolished.
Premier Rachel Notley, who will return to her role as opposition leader next week, also spent Friday with her caucus, the size of which has been significantly reduced.
Ms. Notley worked her way around the room, hugging and chatting with her MLAs before making a speech and taking questions from reporters.
“Obviously, no one likes losing, and I wish that we had not,” Ms. Notley said. “But we also know, and I think all of us know, that it’s really about how you move forward that matters. And every one of us here is looking forward.”
Ms. Notley said she will assign critic roles once she sees Mr. Kenney’s cabinet.
Mr. Kenney described the election victory in historic terms, noting that the UCP received more votes than any party in the province’s history, and a larger share of support than the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties did in 2015, before they merged.
While initial estimates put the turnout higher than 70 per cent, Elections Alberta confirmed on Friday that 64 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots – still the highest since 1982.
With a report from The Canadian Press