Graham Thomson: Spoiler alert! Jason Kenney will win the Alberta PC leadership race. But what happens next?
Graham Thomson, Postmedia News | March 4, 2017 1:12 PM ET
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh ORG XMIT: CPT508Alberta Conservative MP Jason Kenney announces he will be seeking the leadership of Alberta's Progressive Conservative party in Calgary, Alta., July 6, 2016.
If you follow Alberta politics casually, you probably know that March 18 will be a pretty big deal. That’s when Progressive Conservatives will choose a new leader at their convention in Calgary.
However, if you follow Alberta politics closely, you’ll know that the big date is really March 19.
That’s because we already pretty much know what will happen on the 18th. Jason Kenney will win the leadership race. The big question is what happens the day after when he moves forward on his strategy to form a new conservative party by uniting the PCs with the Wildrose.
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I could be wrong about Kenney winning, of course. There’s a first for everything (feel free to take a moment to guffaw your coffee all over this column).
But nobody really thinks Kenney can lose. Oh, the anti-Kenney forces have various long-shot scenarios where he won’t win. Those storylines involve numerous complacent Kenney supporters staying home to rob him of a majority, remorseful supporters jumping ship at the last-minute to PC-stalwart candidate Richard Starke or, more likely, an asteroid hitting the Calgary convention centre.
The numbers all seem to be in Kenney’s favour.
Daniel Katz/ Crag & Canyon/ PostmediaJason Kenney, who is running for the leadership of Alberta's Progressive Conservatives, addresses the audience during a town hall at the Solara Resort and Spa in Canmore, Alta. on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017.
He’s happy to go over them with you, too, especially if you’re a skeptical columnist.
He and I met for breakfast Friday morning (I was dying for bacon and eggs, but he ordered oatmeal, which left me no choice but to do him one better by ordering granola).
Kenney is affable, articulate and smart. While a federal MP, he literally won awards for being the hardest-working politician in Ottawa.
As if to prove he’s also part calculator, he proceeded over breakfast to give me a detailed rundown of the memberships sold by the party over the past two years, the memberships sold by his campaign over the past eight months and a breakdown of the delegates selected for the convention.
GAVIN YOUNG/POSTMEDIA NETWORKJason Kenney speaks during the final PC leadership debate at the Royal Canadian Legion #1 on Tuesday evening February 7, 2017.
He figures he has 80 per cent of the delegates chosen at constituency meetings since the race began last October — plus up to three-quarters of “super delegates” including former MLAs.
That doesn’t mean he expects to win 75 to 80 per cent of the total vote — but it does sound like he easily has enough for a first-ballot victory.
“Nothing is decided until the votes are cast,” he said. “We’re going to stay humble and work hard. Our supporters have to show up, but we’re feeling confident.”
So, what happens the day after the convention?
“If I have the honour of getting a mandate on the 18th, I would meet with the PC board on the 19th and discuss the way forward,” he said.
Todd Korol for National Post/FileJason Kenney is seeking to unite Alberta's right.
That’s going to be an interesting meeting, to say the least, considering some members of the PC board of directors had wanted to hold an emergency meeting recently to discuss booting Kenney from the race. They’re understandably upset because his goal is to pull the plug on the party to make way for a merger with the Wildrose.
(Kenney makes it clear during our discussion that he take umbrage at people — including me — saying he wants to destroy the PC party. He says he is “reconstituting” the two halves of Alberta’s big-tent PC party that split a decade ago into “progressive” PCs and the Wildrose.)
There’s speculation anti-Kenney board members would try to trip him up March 19. But there’s also speculation they would simply resign.
Anyway, Kenney already has plans for the 20th — “I would hope to meet with Brian Jean early that week to discuss the process and framework for negotiations between the two parties leading to a draft unity agreement which could then be submitted to the membership for ratification.”
That will be an interesting meeting, too. Jean has said he’s in favour of uniting the right but, unlike Kenney, he wants to do it under the Wildrose umbrella (with a new name).
Jean will be asking his members to support that plan at their annual general meeting expected in late June.
So, it seems that even if Kenney wins the leadership March 18 and bulldozes the PC board March 19, he might have to wait until the summer to know if his particular plan to form a new conservative party can move ahead.That’s barring an asteroid strike in two weeks.