Jason Kenney did not step down as a member of Parliament when he officially launched his bid to lead Alberta's Progressive Conservatives – a decision fiscal hawks say is an inappropriate use of taxpayers' money.
Mr. Kenney on Wednesday told supporters he is running for the provincial leadership with the intention of uniting the PCs with the Wildrose Party, which is further to the right. The Conservative MP represents Calgary Midnapore and did not address whether he would continue to receive his House of Commons salary as he stumps across Alberta. The former cabinet minister's federally funded website, as of Wednesday evening, linked to his provincial campaign site, further angering fiscal watchdogs.
Hundreds of supporters with ties to the PC and Wildrose parties gathered in a small hotel conference room in Calgary for Mr. Kenney's first campaign speech. He slammed the ruling provincial New Democratic Party's carbon levies, minimum-wage increase, support for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's payroll tax policy, and unspecified new regulations. Only a united right, he said, could prevent the NDP from maintaining power in the next election.
"We must fight the ideological agenda of this accidental NDP government to limit the damage that they do to our province now and we must do everything within our power to eliminate the risk of a second NDP term which would be catastrophic to the long-term future of Alberta," he said as the crowd responded with applause and cheers. "We must come together to form a single free-enterprise party and we must do so before the next election." That, Mr. Kenney said, is why he is "seeking an explicit mandate to unite with the Wildrose Party and all like-minded Albertans so we can defeat the NDP."
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which frequently criticizes NDP policies, said Wednesday that Mr. Kenney should not neglect his duties in Ottawa in favour of his Alberta aspirations so long as he is on the federal payroll. "He should definitely be taking a leave of absence that is unpaid," Aaron Wudrick, the federal director for the organization, said. "There is a problem when a member of Parliament is being paid by taxpayers and seeking office elsewhere."
Mr. Wudrick also said it is "inappropriate" for Mr. Kenney's non-partisan federal website to link to the politician's campaign page. Thomas Lukaszuk, a former deputy premier of Alberta under the PCs, agreed. "It is wrong on so many levels," he said. "A big no-no. Major misappropriation of taxpayers' funds."
Mr. Kenney, who spoke briefly in French at the announcement, did not take questions from reporters. He followed his Calgary speech with a campaign stop in Grande Prairie and will speak to supporters in Edmonton on Thursday. He is the first politician to declare his intentions to run for the PC leadership – a race that will be decided in March, 2017.
The MP's campaign team, in response to questions from The Globe and Mail, said it is working with staff at the House of Commons to remove the controversial link on Mr. Kenney's website.
"We have contacted the House of Commons staff responsible for updating Mr. Kenney's parliamentary website page and have asked that they remove the [link] from their webpage," Blaise Boehmer, a spokesman for Mr. Kenney, wrote in an e-mail. He did not immediately know who had redirected the page. Government officials did not immediately respond to questions. The MP's team also did not respond to questions about Mr. Kenney's decision hold on to his seat in the House of Commons.
The Alberta politician held multiple cabinet posts under former prime minister Stephen Harper and held on to his seat in the House of Commons in last year's election. He was first elected in 1997.
There is a precedent for MPs to hold on to their seats in Ottawa even as they chase provincial leadership roles. Patrick Brown won the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario's leadership contest on May 9, 2015. However, he served as a Conservative MP until May 14, 2015, according to Canada's parliamentary website.
Mr. Kenney argued that if the federal Conservative Party could fold in members who previously aligned themselves with the now-defunct Reform Party, Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative Party, uniting right-thinking voters in Alberta will be a breeze.
"If we could do that nationally, it will be a walk in the park to do it here in Alberta," Mr. Kenney said.