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FILDEBRANDT: Kenney’s problem with the base, and the base’s problem with Kenney

“The base has had a growing problem with Jason Kenney for some time. Now Kenney has a problem with the base.”

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It’s been long known, but never said aloud by the man himself: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has a problem with his base.

During a tense caucus meeting Sunday, a UCP MLA questioned if the leader of the party should so publicly and derisively attack the attendees of the ‘End the Lockdown Rodeo’ in Bowden, Alberta, since these people were the party’s core base.

“If they are our base, I want a new base” said Kenney.

Three UCP MLAs confirmed that the premier said this to the Western Standard’s Dave Naylor.

It’s a frank and sobering admission from the man that fired up that party’s base when he led the effort to fuse together the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties.

The UCP base is dominantly former Wildrose voters, concentrated in rural Alberta and the suburban neighbourhoods of Calgary. They are largely populist, anti-Ottawa, sometimes sovereigntist, and overwhelmingly anti-lockdown.

Long before Kenney put Alberta back under a third lockdown, this base has been increasingly unhappy with their man.

The man who railed against the Laurentian elites on his way to the Premier’s Office, hired Laurentian elites by the busload to staff said office.

A poll last month showed an incredible 75% of Albertans disapprove of how Kenney has handled the COVID-19 pandemic, down from an 80% approval the year before. Those 75% disagreeing with him are made up of left-leaning voters who want to see ever-harsher lockdowns and restrictions, and even more-so of right-leaning voters who believe that he has been far too harsh.

In fact, a clear majority of UCP voters oppose the UCP’s lockdown policies. Those numbers do not include the roughly 10% of voters who have already decamped the big blue tent for the upstart Wildrose Independence Party.

Kenney has admitted that he has a problem with his base, but the base has increasingly had a problem with him, spurred on by, but preceding COVID-19.

The re-election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in October 2019 saw an outburst of support for independence in the province, which Mainstreet Research pegged at 35% in January of 2021. This 35% may not be a majority of Albertans, but it does make up the majority of the UCP voter base.

Kenney’s response to this movement amongst his base was to strike the ‘Fair Deal Panel’. He did talk tough and promise serious consideration of a series of firewall measures to keep Ottawa at bay, while remaining in confederation.

The traveling Fair Deal roadshow did much to work sovereignties up into a lather, but delivered relatively little in its final report.

This comes to the crux of Jason Kenney’s problem with his base.

For Kenney’s nearly 20 years in Ottawa, “the base” has mostly been made up of social conservatives. Canadian social conservatives are the democratic world’s most easy electorate to manage for a conservative party. With a few exceptions, most Canadian social conservatives do not demand action on their policy objectives in exchange for support; only respect and the right to be heard within the larger Conservative tent.

Learning at the feet of Stephen Harper, Kenney learned that by just listening to their frustrations, they would vote, donate, and volunteer in massive numbers, in exchange for relatively little.

This is “the base” that Jason Kenney believed he was coming to lead in Alberta. As he is learning now, it is not.

“The base” in Alberta provincial politics does contain social conservative elements, but overlaps in a Venn diagram with anti-Ottawa/sovereigntist, anti-establishment populists, agriculture and energy interests, libertarians, and landowners.

The former Wildrose Party was less a ‘party’, than a movement of largely independent-minded individuals who shared a common enemy: the Progressive Conservatives. This is why the Wildrose was always so difficult a task for Danielle Smith and Brian Jean to lead. It is not the low-maintenance monolith that Jason Kenney believed it to be.

Kenney is now appalled that “the base” in Alberta demands more than the lip service that normally did the trick in federal politics. They are not content with mere respect.

Now, even that respect appears to be gone. As the rogue rodeo in Bowden went forward despite his government’s best efforts, he blasted the attendees. The event itself was “disturbing”. The people there were “selfish”. The people there don’t care for the vulnerable.

Kenney’s declaration that he wants a “new base” – while not intended to ever be heard by the base – is an admission that he can no longer dance with the lady that brung’ em’. It is increasingly hostile to his policies and leadership.

Try as they might, “the base” is unlikely to succeed in pushing Kenney out of the party’s leadership. He is just too strong a political operative to allow that to happen. A leadership review vote demanded by angry UCP members will – come hell or high water – in all probability fail to dislodge him. And a potential caucus effort to remove him directly from the premiership could be met by his wild threat to them of an early election.

In the end, Kenney isn’t likely going anywhere until he faces voters in 2023.

The base will have to make a decision: hold their noses and support their perceived lesser evil, or leave the party and join a new conservative civil war.

The base has had a growing problem with Jason Kenney for some time. Now Kenney has a problem with the base.

Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher of the Western Standard

Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher, President & CEO of Western Standard New Media Corp. He served from 2015-2019 as a Member of the Alberta Legislative Assembly in the Wildrose and Freedom Conservative Parties. From 2009-2012 he was the National Research Director and Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. dfildebrandt@westernstandardonline.com

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Claudette Leece

    May 7, 2021 at 7:44 am

    Not that we didn’t know Kenney lies but thank you to his secretary for proving to us, what we believed was true. Pick up Kenney traded his truck for a Cadillac and needs to take it and drive back to Ottawa, he’s a fish out of water in Alberta, his MLA better realize if the wait and support him, they will go down with his sinking ship

  2. David

    May 5, 2021 at 8:09 pm

    I moved away in 2017 for economic reasons, and I’m homesick every day. Thing is, today’s Alberta is so badly screwed up compared to just a few years ago. Back when Kenney rode in on a wave of revulsion for the NDP fiasco. When “Strong and Free” meant something. These days…

    … gotta be a better way. A Western Way. Coming home again soon, God willing.

  3. Baron Not Baron

    May 4, 2021 at 6:41 pm

    So.. Kenney was thinking that he’ll find champagne socialists in Alberta, like he was used to see in Ontario.. This imbecile must get the hell out of Alberta and ship his own ass back right where he came from and serves. Fast! This deceiver’s got blood on his hands and he’s got the audacity to keep screwing around with arrogance ?
    I have only one problem – he needs to be held accountable and punished for lying to the people who put him in his damn seat and for destroying Alberta, while showing us his ugly and full of fake grin. And only after he served the sentence he can go back east, and we don’t have to care further about this one.
    WILD ROSE INDEPENDENT PARTY is Alberta’s right choice!

  4. Steven Ruthven

    May 4, 2021 at 4:40 pm

    I second that motion. A leadership review in Oct 2021 for Jason Kenney.

  5. Jody Dahrouge

    May 4, 2021 at 2:51 pm

    If Jason wants a new base, then he should be willing to hold a leadership review sooner rather than later. Let’s see what the base has to say.

  6. originalkmiller

    May 4, 2021 at 2:49 pm

    This is excellent news for the Wildrose Independence Party. I hope we see a significant gain in membership over the next few weeks.

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Opinion

WAGNER: 20 years ago today, Kenney was Stockwell Day’s right hand man in purging caucus rebels

On May 15, 2001, Stockwell Day began expelling MPs wanting leadership change from his caucus with the help of Jason Kenney.

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A conservative party leader fails to address the concerns of his caucus. The neglected caucus members become disgruntled and openly revolt against the leader, leading to some being expelled from the caucus. 

It’s the UCP in 2021. It’s also the Canadian Alliance in 2001. 

In fact, the Canadian Alliance caucus suspensions began on May 15, 2001, twenty years ago today. It was at that time that eight Alliance MPs publicly called for party leader Stockwell Day to resign, provoking a crackdown.

There are clear parallels between these two conservative parties experiencing similar difficulties in the middle of May. But perhaps the strangest common factor of all is Jason Kenney. In 2001, Kenney was an Alliance MP and a key Day loyalist who supported the expulsion of the dissidents. That is to say, this is not his first caucus rodeo. 

The Canadian Alliance was the successor of the Reform Party of Canada, formed in 2000 as an unsuccessful attempt to “unite the right” at the federal level. Former Alberta Finance Minister Stockwell Day won the leadership of the new party and led it into the November 2000 federal election. However, the new party did not achieve its much hoped-for electoral breakthrough in Ontario, and Day was blamed for the poor result.

Shortly thereafter, Day was involved in a series of missteps and controversies – such as falsely accusing a judge of being in a conflict of interest, and denying he met with an undercover agent after first affirming that he had met with him – that were embarrassing to the party and undermined his credibility as leader. 

By April 2001, the Alliance was polling at 13% nationally, behind Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives at 15%, and well behind Jean Chretien’s Liberals. This was embarrassing and clearly undermined the effort to unite-the-right behind the Alliance. 

Nevertheless, Day demanded strict loyalty from his MPs. As Preston Manning recounts in his book Think Big, “On several occasions – at internal meetings in February and March 2001 – when requesting personal loyalty from his caucus officers and key staff, Stockwell had emphasized the point by saying: ‘If I kill my grandmother with an axe, I want you to stand up and say she had it coming.’” 

By May, however, much of the Alliance caucus had lost confidence in Day, and MP Art Hanger publicly called for Day to resign as leader. He was suspended from the caucus, followed shortly by MP Gary Lunn, who agreed with Hanger.

Then, on May 15, eight MPs issued a joint statement calling on Day to resign and were then suspended from caucus. Deborah Grey, the first-ever elected Reform Party MP wrote of that group in her book Never Retreat, Never Explain, Never Apologize: “They were an impressive bunch. Among them were several members of the [Reform Party] Class of 1993. One was Jay Hill (Peace River-Prince George), who had run in the 1988 election and was as faithful to the Reform cause as anyone I have ever met.” That is the same Jay Hill who currently leads the Maverick Party.

These “dissidents” would later be joined by other disgruntled Alliance MPs, and form the Democratic Representative Caucus (DRC). 

Day eventually resigned and then lost the subsequent leadership campaign to Stephen Harper in March 2002. By that time, support for the Alliance was down to 7% in a Gallup poll. The leadership controversy had led to a total meltdown for the party.

During this period of leadership crisis in the Alliance, Jason Kenney was a chief lieutenant to Stockwell Day and supported ousting the dissident MPs. He wasn’t watching from the sidelines. Now, exactly twenty years later, Kenney is once again at the centre of a full-scale caucus revolt. Did he not learn from that initial experience the best practices for caucus management? Apparently not.

As mentioned, the first Alliance MPs suspended from caucus were soon followed by others. In comments to the Calgary Herald, recently expelled MLA Drew Barnes mentioned that some discontented MLAs remain within the UCP caucus and said, “I think as long as the premier doesn’t accept responsibly for how low the UCP has become in the polls, how low his popularity is, that that may embolden some people to speak up.” That is, the caucus revolt may not be over yet. 

Will the UCP undergo a continual erosion of support for its leader, like the Canadian Alliance experienced twenty years ago? Is there another Stephen Harper on the horizon who could take the reigns and restore the party to health in time for the next provincial election? Who in the UCP caucus is playing 2001 Jason Kenney to Stockwell Day for 2021 Jason Kenney?

The beneficiaries of the current internal discord in the UCP are the Wildrose Independence Party and Rachel Notley’s NDP. Many of those disappointed with the UCP are likely to move towards Wildrose, building on its current growth. The party might even pick up one or more former UCP MLAs, giving it a presence in the legislature and a more prominent provincial voice. 

On the down side, the NDP is leading in the polls. Could the unthinkable occur? A second NDP government? For many Albertans, their blood runs cold at the thought. As these possibilities reveal, the current turmoil in the UCP is not just about the future of one party and its leader, but about the future of the province itself.

Michael Wagner is a Columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

TULK: Canada’s leaders hid behind bureaucrats when they should have led

“The erosion in trust continued and continues with ever changing restrictions many with dubious and everchanging benchmarks.”

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As the Battle of France opened and Winston Churchill was sworn in as prime minister, he told the House of Commons and the people of the British Empire, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.” 

He did not then turn the lectern over to the deputy minister of war. 

The struggle of the Second World War was a very different conflict, but it bears resemblance in a few respects: it’s global scale and its economic devastation. But it is strikingly different in others, particularly how the politicians managed and worked with their government bureaucracies.

Once the war truly became global with the Battle of France and in north Africa, the political leaders came to the fore and the bureaucrats stayed in the background. Churchill consulted with industrialists like Beaverbrooke on the mobilization of the British economy; Roosevelt looked to the likes of Ford and Westinghouse to build the military horn of plenty that created such decisive devices as the Higgins boat and the atomic bomb. The response of the private sector and the people in it borders on the miraculous. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the overwhelming majority of politicians have pushed the health bureaucrats to the fore. They let the infectious diseases specialists not only command the podium, but to have a monopoly on decision making. Seldom did one see a bureaucrat whose expertise was mental illness — or bankruptcy or education — speak of the ancillary impacts of the government’s response to the coronavirus. 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw never campaigned for office. She never received a vote from a single Albertan. Nor has she ever voted on a bill in the legislature. It’s one thing to listen to the bureaucrats during a crisis; it’s another to hide behind them and surrender decision making to them. 

Consider the outcomes in this crisis. 

Where the bureaucracy has been given the job, it has generally failed miserably – from communicating the situation, to securing the border, to tracking those infected, to procuring enough vaccines. This should hardly be surprising. Bureaucracy is designed to administer, not to innovate. It is designed to follow orders, not to lead. 

Bureaucracy is fundamentally not accountable in any substantive way; they will have jobs for years to come, while many citizens will have lost their livelihoods, and many politicians their careers due, at least in part, to bureaucrats failing. 

Where the private sector has dominion, combating COVID-19 has been significantly more successful. Fittingly, just saying some of the brand names suffices as proof: Zoom, Amazon, Pfizer, Moderna, Skip-the-Dishes. They, and many others, achieved heroic, hugely beneficial, world-changing feats; all in the name of the despised profit motive. 

Just imagine if Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and the UCP had contracted a logistics companies to increase our hospital and ICU bed capacities, rather than leave it to the bureaucrats. 

And it isn’t just sloth and confusion the government bureaucracies excelled at – it showed what an isolated and smug elite much of it is. 

It did this by showing in the light of day that they had no trust in Albertans to behave like responsible citizens. Most of its dictates have all involved limited basic human freedoms. 

It lied to us, or at the very least, spread misinformation with little effort to correct the record. When those in the health bureaucracy knew well COVID-19 spread almost exclusively via airborne transmission – that masks may be effective – they told citizens they did no good whatsoever. They did not trust us to not run out and hoard the masks that were in stock. 

Had the health bureaucrats respected the people and been upfront with the need to not hoard – to leave the N19 quality masks for the healthcare workers – the vast majority would have complied and found other ways to mask.

Only once the shortage of personal protective equipment passed did Dr. Theresa Tam flip-flop and advice people wear a mask. 

Once this – let’s call it a falsehood – was exposed, their lack of trust in the people was reciprocated in manifold ways – most conspicuously in unlawful gatherings, but also in possibly the far more serious form of resistance and flat-out refusal to get vaccinated. 

Still, the erosion in trust continued and continues with ever changing restrictions many with dubious and ever changing benchmarks. 

Just as the success of Zoom and its clones and other private creations will have long lasting benefits, the damage to the trust in government — both the bureaucracy and the politicians who abandoned their command of it — will possibly last for generations. Certainly, long enough to greatly complicate things when the next crisis hits.

Gord Tulk is a Columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

SLOBODIAN: No call yet from drive-by activist Fonda after pipeline protest

Drive-by activists tend to perform before the cameras, then scurry away, ignoring their impact on the lives and livelihoods they sanctimoniously mess with.

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Hanoi Jane is missing in action.

Weeks have passed since Stephen Buffalo, president and CEO of the Indian Resource Council (IRC), invited actress/activist Jane Fonda to partake in a “respectful discussion” about Alberta’s oil sands industry.

Fonda, contemptuously dubbed Hanoi Jane due to her loathsome activism during the Vietnam war, still hasn’t called back.

Not surprising. Drive-by activists tend to perform before the cameras, then scurry away, ignoring their impact on the lives and livelihoods they sanctimoniously mess with.

Buffalo’s invitation came on the heels of another one of Fonda’s one-star rating activism performances. She was in Minnesota on March 15 to protest the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement.

“We were driving down the highway and we saw this, we saw the pipeline that they want to lay under the headwaters of the Mississippi,” said Fonda referring to an Enbridge Energy sign, in a video posted to Twitter.

Actress Jane Fonda at pipeline protest

“That company Enbridge, it’s a foreign company. It’s bringing oil from Canada, tar sands oil, the worst,” said Fonda, heroically vowing to “try to stop it.”

It was a bit confusing. She was driving by and stumbled onto her favourite thing to protest? That would be the oil and gas industry.

Why was she even in the neighbourhood? Her mansions are in California, New Mexico and Georgia.

And wouldn’t a high-profile activist insist on a mandatory hefty fee before leaping out of a vehicle to get her boots dirty on a remote road in a faraway state?

Fortunately, Fonda cleared up the confusion on Instagram, stating “friends” with the Ojibwe Water Protectors invited her to “join them in the fight to stop Line 3.”

Her “friends” have the right to do that. Fonda doesn’t the right to disrespectfully ignore Buffalo, who represents so many First Nations in Canada.

Line 3, which runs from Alberta through Minnesota to Wisconsin, is being protested by American indigenous and climate groups claiming it harms the environment. Supporters say it’s environmentally safe and good for the economy.

Fonda apparently doesn’t want to bother with hearing both sides.

This column isn’t about determining whether the pipeline’s good or bad. It’s about Fonda poking her nose where it doesn’t belong. Again.

It’s impossible to look at that woman without remembering her perched on an antiaircraft gun – used to shoot down American helicopters – while surrounded by Viet Cong soldiers when she visited Hanoi in 1972 to protest the Vietnam war.

More than 58,000 U.S. and hundreds of Canadian soldiers were killed in North Vietnam. Those who returned, many without limbs, many surviving brutal torture by the Viet Cong, were spat on and discriminated by an American public that activists like Fonda worked into a hateful frenzy.

Fonda told America the Viet Cong were the victims and didn’t use torture tactics, that U.S. soldiers and government were liars.

But if the Viet Cong did resort to torture, she reasoned, it was justified.

“These men were bombing and staffing and Napalming the country,” she said of her fellow Americans.

“If a prisoner tried to escape, it’s quite understandable that he would probably be beaten and tortured,” she said, according to a 1973 Associated Press story.

Decades later Vietnam vets remain tormented by the invisible wounds of PTSD, because of the hellish war many were drafted to fight in and the hatred, fueled by Fonda, unleashed on them at home.

And who can forget Fonda’s helicopter landing in Fort McMurray in 2017? She emerged to lecture people – still reeling from their homes and businesses being destroyed by wildfires – about massive open-pit bitumen mines.

Fonda has zero credibility.

Nonetheless, Buffalo, who is based on the Tsuut’ina Nation near Calgary, was remarkably cordial and restrained when he invited her to chat.

Fonda may not care about some of the lives she impacts.

But Buffalo does.

The IRC advocates on behalf of 147 oil and gas producing Canadian First Nations.

“I see you are in Minnesota on Line 3 calling our oil sands the worst,” said Buffalo in a message to Fonda. “I’d like to invite you to join my colleagues and I on a Zoom call to give you the real story about great things happening in Northern Alberta.”

Buffalo noted that the energy sector is critical to First Nations economic and social development.

“As people closest to the land we have an input into the environmental stewardship which we are very proud of. Our communities have had concerns in the past. But we’re working with industry to develop solutions to protect the environment while growing our economy,” he said.

“I hope you’ll join me in respectful discussions to answer any questions you might have. Let’s have a conversation based on facts, not stereotypes based on dogmas and ideology.”

To be fair, maybe Hanoi Jane’s so anxious to hear Buffalo’s side she planned to visit rather than call. Maybe that big jet that carts her around needs to fuel up. Maybe she’s stuck in some long lineup caused by the severe gas shortages in the U.S. because of the ransomware attack on Colonial pipeline.

Yeah, pipelines – who needs them!

Linda Slobodian is the Manitoba Political Columnist for the Western Standard

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