Jason Kenney will be sworn in as premier on Tuesday as his United Conservative Party government prepares to quickly enact a suite of policies that will put the province in immediate conflict with Ottawa.
Mr. Kenney, a former federal cabinet minister under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, will become Alberta’s 18th premier after winning on a campaign that promised to reinvigorate the province’s economy and play offence against perceived opponents of the oil industry.
He will also reveal who among his 63 MLAs, many first-time legislators and only one with any cabinet experience, will oversee the province’s ministries – and exactly what those ministries will be. The ceremony will be a low-key affair that offers a contrast to the festival-style event on the legislature lawn that ushered in Rachel Notley’s NDP government in 2015.
Mr. Kenney’s first day on the job will provide an early hint at the fights that await him in the premier’s office.
He will hold his first cabinet meeting immediately after the swearing-in, where he has already promised to proclaim legislation that would allow the province to cut off oil shipments to B.C. as punishment for opposing the Trans Mountain pipeline.
In the afternoon, he will testify before a Senate committee that is in Edmonton examining a proposed tanker ban off British Columbia’s northern coast, one of several federal policies Mr. Kenney views as a direct attack on Alberta’s oil sands.
The legislature will meet several weeks later, with a bill eliminating the province’s carbon tax first on the agenda. That will prompt the federal government to impose its own carbon tax on Albertans, which Mr. Kenney plans to challenge in court.
Those policies are all part of Mr. Kenney’s aggressive approach to protecting the oil industry, which also includes a referendum on equalization, an energy “war room” to push back against anti-oil activists, and a public inquiry to investigate foreign funding of environmentalists.
Lori Williams, who teaches political science at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said Mr. Kenney’s focus on the economy and the oil sector presents political risks if he can’t deliver, particularly for pipeline projects that are largely out of his control. But he has four years to show signs of improvement, giving him a long runway.
“When the pipeline gets approved and construction resumes, assuming there are no more delays or issues with it, he can claim and will claim credit for it,” Prof. Williams said. “But it’s out of his hands.”
She said a more immediate issue, beginning with his choice of cabinet ministers, will be showing that the new government is serious about balancing the environment and the energy industry. Critics have warned that rolling back policies such as a cap on oil sands emissions could backfire by inviting more federal regulation.
Prof. Williams said Mr. Kenney will be under pressure to create his own “made in Alberta” approach to the environment and climate. And if Mr. Kenney’s challenge of the federal tax fails, that could include putting a price on carbon.
"It represents a challenge but also an opportunity to put something together that will enable him to challenge Justin Trudeau's policy,” she said.
Sarah Hoffman, the outgoing NDP Health Minister, said she’ll be scrutinizing the beliefs of the people around Mr. Kenney’s cabinet table on issues such as climate change, regardless of their individual portfolios.
“That’s what I’ll be watching for, who’s in those specific roles, but also what folks around the table have said about things that are important to our province, our industry and our future," she said.
Ms. Notley has said she will announce critic roles for her significantly reduced caucus after seeing who Mr. Kenney puts in cabinet.
Ms. Hoffman said the NDP caucus will be spending the next several weeks deciding what issues to push in the legislature in the form of private member’s bills.