Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has a new bounce in his step.
It was evident in the way he strutted into the legislature this week, and in the effusive manner in which he now posts on social media. His Twitter feed is a steady drip of optimistic updates and declarations that “Alberta is back,” followed by muscle-flexing emojis.
It’s doubtful this is simply a façade – a smokescreen to hide the angst of someone who believes he’ll soon be out of a job. On the contrary, Mr. Kenney emerged from last weekend’s gathering of the United Conservative Party seemingly more confident than ever of his future prospects.
The great showdown between the Premier and his dissenters never materialized. The anonymous voices filling newspaper columns in recent weeks with words of condemnation for Mr. Kenney and predictions of his imminent demise never found the courage to take their campaign public. Conscience makes cowards of us all.
The Premier’s hold on the party remains as firm as ever.
This is not to say that, in the Alberta that exists beyond convention halls, Mr. Kenney is riding high in the saddle. Far from it. Polls indicate that he is the most unpopular premier in the country, with an approval rating of 22 per cent. There are many in the province who remain furious with him over his government’s dreadful handling of the fourth wave of the pandemic. Many won’t forgive him. But many others will.
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While I acknowledge this is a minority view, I believe Jason Kenney has the chance to author a stunning political resurrection. The next election in the province isn’t until the spring of 2023 – and a lot can happen between now and then. In some respects, lots already is.
It can be found in the Premier’s enthusiastic tweets heralding positive economic news – rosy forecasts being received in the province like nectar from the gods.
The Royal Bank of Canada predicts the Alberta economy to grow at a rate of 5.9 per cent this year – the highest in Canada. Next year, RBC projects a growth rate of 4.9 per cent for the province. The Conference Board of Canada is also bullish on Alberta, predicting a growth of 7.2 per cent this year and another 5.6 per cent in 2022. A large part of that confidence stems, of course, from a resurgence in the oil and gas sector. Oil prices have crossed US$80 a barrel. The province’s jobless rate, at 7.6 per cent, is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels, and seems to be getting better every day.
Mr. Kenney could also use a few more gifts such as the one he recently received from David Suzuki. Speaking at a protest on Vancouver Island on the weekend, the controversial environmentalist predicted that we were going to witness “pipelines blown up” if people didn’t see political leaders taking swift action on climate change.
Condemnation of the remark was swift. Mr. Kenney’s government tabled a motion in the legislative assembly censuring Mr. Suzuki’s comments for inciting “violence and eco-terrorism.”
It also gave Mr. Kenney an opportunity to lump Opposition Leader Rachel Notley and the NDP in with Mr. Suzuki and the eco-activists he believes are out to destroy the Alberta economy. When things were going right for Mr. Kenney, linking Ms. Notley and her left-wing party with attempts to kill the goose that laid the golden egg – oil and gas – was a sure-fire winner with great swaths of the Alberta public.
Yes, Mr. Suzuki’s comments are a tempest that will blow over. After all, on Thursday, he already apologized for making them. But the controversy has put wind in the sails of a government that has been lost at sea – spinning in circles, waiting for something good to happen.
I’m under no misapprehension of how long and difficult a climb Mr. Kenney has. His approval numbers are at levels generally considered impossible from which to come back. But with an economy that is heating up, Mr. Kenney may just have the fuel he needs to emerge from the paralyzing grip of unpopularity that has ensnared him and his government.
Major caveat: A fifth wave. Nothing has hurt Mr. Kenney and his government more than COVID-19. They are associated with dreadful decisions (in particular, reopening the province far too early in the summer) that led to a deadly spike in the disease and overwhelmed hospital intensive care units. If this happens again, then Mr. Kenney is certainly toast and will be forced to step down before the next election to give his party any chance of winning.
But if it doesn’t happen, well, then Mr. Kenney is capable of pulling off one of the greatest political comebacks in Canadian history. His trajectory in the coming months will be fascinating to watch.
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