Love him or hate him, you’ve still got to give kudos to the victorious Jason Kenney.
Since entering the Alberta political arena more than two years ago, the leader of the United Conservative Party has been in perpetual, relentless campaign mode — and the effort has paid off.
From the PC leadership contest, to the conservative unification vote, the UCP leadership, and a byelection race, Kenney has put together a truly astonishing streak of political triumphs.
Tuesday night’s result in Alberta’s 30th general election, while not quite as overwhelming as his past victories, stands as his most important success to date, and comes after a physically and emotionally exhausting four-week slog on the campaign trail.
Now the real work begins.
As Albertans’ choice to steer the provincial government, Kenney heads to the premier’s office facing the weight of great expectations, a deeply divided province to mollify and a long list of promises to keep.
Of most crucial importance, voters are counting on the UCP to pull the province out of economic distress with Kenney’s chosen recipe of tax cuts, red tape relief and pushback of pipeline opponents.
While the UCP was carried to victory on its ability to resonate with Albertans’ economic fury, Kenney may find that anger suddenly shifts onto him if his party’s recovery efforts stall or backfire.
But the list of daunting tasks doesn’t stop there.
On an administrative level, the monster that was the UCP election platform will test Kenney and his team to fulfil all the promises they made within those 117 pages.
Fights with B.C., Ottawa and perhaps others loom on the horizon, and it remains to be seen how Kenney can employ an aggressive form of brinksmanship without bringing Alberta to a separation tipping point he has said he doesn’t want.
In his own backyard, Kenney will be challenged over the long term to keep his conservative “big tent” together, a balancing act requiring him to hold the socially conservative flank of his party at bay while making good on his vow to allow MLAs more free votes.
Most difficult of all, Albertans will look to see if Kenney can transcend his polarizing status and prove he can govern for all.
To do so, a rebuild of trust will be needed with those repulsed by his stance on gay-straight alliancesand unnerved by alleged improprieties that went on during the 2017 UCP leadership race. Ongoing investigations into alleged voter fraud and improper donations will make that challenge all the more daunting.
Edmontonians will also need to be won over.
Kenney made it a personal mission to achieve a UCP breakthrough in the capital, and the fact Edmonton voters largely rejected his party — preventing him from achieving a super majority — stands as his only real failure of the election.
As for those who supported the NDP government, I say this: Don’t be sad it’s over, be glad it happened at all.
Rachel Notley’s breakthrough victory four years ago was one for the ages, but the truth is her party was always going to be an underdog in its re-election hopes, right from the moment the results were announced in 2015.
The task became that much harder when the two main conservative parties successfully merged in 2017, not to mention a string of bad economic luck in the form of dismal oil prices, the Fort McMurray wildfire, and the court ruling against the Trans Mountain expansion.
Still, NDP supporters should take comfort from the fact the party retained a large volume of the support it achieved in 2015.
Despite the UCP’s hopes of crushing the orange wave into obscurity, Tuesday’s results demonstrate the NDP remains a legitimate political force in the province — at least in Edmonton — with the potential to form a most formidable opposition.
In this vein, it will be good to see Notley buck convention and stick around to lead that opposition. As her party’s best asset, Notley’s continuing presence in the legislature will be of major benefit to Albertans generally and gives the NDP its best hope of returning to political glory in 2023.
As for the Alberta Party, an election shutout is a major disappointment, yet a substantial increase in overall votes may give the party something to build on.
Alberta has just come through perhaps the ugliest election of our time, and now desperately demands sophisticated leadership to move forward.
Kenney has the opportunity to show that his intelligence, work ethic and political experience that carried him through all those campaign victories can be put to good use for Alberta’s economy, and allow him to become the premier we need him to be.