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The Conservative leadership candidates may learn a lesson or two from Kenney’s downfall

News

The story of the week for Canadian conservatives was Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s announcement Wednesday that he will resign, sparking an upcoming leadership race in the United Conservative Party.

That could mean that the Conservative Party will be choosing a new leader at the same time as the centre-right party in Canada’s most conservative province. The jury is still out on whether that’s a good thing for the Canadian right.

In this week’s Conservative leadership race roundup, we’ll analyze the lessons from Kenney’s downfall, take a look at how campaign squabbling is showing up in the party’s caucus on Parliament Hill, and dig into Pierre Poilievre’s interview with Jordan Peterson.

Lessons from Kenney’s downfall

Alberta has often been described as the spiritual home of Canadian conservatism and if this week’s events are any indication, the movement is suffering from spiritual disarray.

It’s clear from the results that conservatives are in an oppositional mood right now.

That could explain the massive crowds frontrunner Pierre Poilievre has attracted on the campaign trail, as voters look to vent their grievances about a litany of issues.

It may also be a sign that the energy created by opposition to the pandemic restrictions might outlast the pandemic itself, offering both opportunity and peril for Conservative politicians in Canada.

In his brief speech to supporters on Monday, Kenney admitted that he was surprised by the result of the leadership review, which saw him only pull in 51 percent of the vote. Kenney has a strong reputation for organizational prowess, so it’s a significant victory for his opponents

If it’s true that Kenney’s opponents were primarily fueled by opposition to pandemic restrictions and had significant overlap with “freedom convoy” protesters, as the premier has argued, then it could be a sign that this faction will have an outsized effect on Canadian politics.

Poilievre’s campaign, which has looked to capture some of this energy with a focus on freedom, has dealt with questions about how likely his supporters will be to actually cast a ballot for him when it comes time to vote. The lesson from Kenney’s leadership review could be that it is possible to harness this energy for political purposes.

Although many ex-politicians expressed dismay about Kenney’s downfall, none of the leadership candidates made any public statements of sympathy.

Caucus controversy

Leadership race bickering seeped onto Parliament Hill this week, costing a Conservative critic his place on the opposition front bench.

Asked by reporters about Pierre Poilievre’s vow to fire Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem, Conservative finance critic Ed Fast said it is costing the party credibility.

“I’m deeply troubled by suggestions by one of our leadership candidates, that that candidate would be prepared to interfere already at this stage in the independence of our central bank,” Fast said. “Central banks around the world have struggled with the same challenges that our central bank has struggled with.”

Fast, who is a campaign co-chair for Jean Charest, quickly resigned from his critic role after making the comments and interim party leader Candice Bergen confirmed to the press that he was stepping down. It’s a clear sign that the fractious leadership race is leaking into the party’s caucus, with Fast later accusing some of his colleagues of trying to silence him.Ed Fast says Poilievre supporters tried to ‘muzzle’ him on monetary policy https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/ed-fast-finance-critic-steps-down-1.6458679

Alberta MP Chris Warkentin, a campaign co-chair for Poilievre, disagreed with Fast’s characterization of events.

“What many of us in caucus really objected to was Ed re-enforcing Liberal talking points about inflation to defend his preferred candidate,” Warkentin told the CBC.

The Jordan Peterson interview

The Hub reported on a lengthy interview of Pierre Poilievre by Canadian author and YouTube personality Jordan Peterson, which is another indication that Poilievre plans to avoid mainstream media outlets during his leadership campaign.

Among the topics covered by Poilievre and Peterson were the Emergencies Act, which Poilievre says he will “reexamine,”“To prevent future impositions on civil liberties, Poilievre pledged to reexamine the Emergencies Act: ‘I’m consulting with legal scholars on how we can curtail the power and limit the use of the Emergencies Act in the future. I want to be very careful though in how I do it because this is an incredibly blunt instrument—in times of war or foreign attack or something like that you can understand why there might be an occasion where these powers might be needed—but I do think we need to craft changes to the Act that will prevent it from being abused for political purposes like this again.'” https://thehub.ca/2022-05-18/poilievre-says-vaccine-mandates-are-based-on-political-science-not-medical-science-in-conversation-with-jordan-peterson/ vaccine mandates, defunding the CBC, and the Canadian housing crisis.

The big story in the mainstream media? Poilievre’s use of the term “Anglo-Saxon words,” which CTV reports is a term that “has been used by those on the far-right to differentiate white people from immigrants and people of colour.”Poilievre faces backlash for comments on Jordan Peterson podcast https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/poilievre-faces-backlash-for-comments-on-jordan-peterson-podcast-1.5910090

Poilievre’s media strategy has prioritized non-traditional ways to reach voters, such as this March 29 video from Tahini Mediterranean Cuisine’s YouTube channel that featured Poilievre smoking shisha and discussing Bitcoin. Peterson’s YouTube page has nearly five million subscribers and his videos average over half a million views.

Jason Kenney pledges to resign as premier, exposing a growing rift in Canada’s conservative coalition

News

CALGARY — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney abruptly pledged to resign Wednesday evening after a narrow victory in a leadership review wasn’t enough to convince him he had the support of the United Conservative Party membership.

The result leaves the party to choose a new leader and premier of the province, in what is the culmination of a long and fractious resistance to Kenney’s leadership from the right sparked by his government’s measures to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The result is not what I hoped for or, frankly, what I expected,” said Kenney, to a room full of supporters. “I truly believe that we need to move forward united. We need to put the past behind us. A large number of our members have asked for the opportunity to clear the air through a leadership election.”

The party faithful had gathered at a sports facility south of Calgary to hear the results of the leadership review, which came out to 51.4 percent in favour of his leadership, and Kenney’s decision caused audible gasps from some members and left others in tears.

The UCP caucus will meet Thursday morning before the party launches a leadership election to elect Kenney’s successor as permanent leader and premier.

In a short speech announcing his intention to resign, Kenney urged party members to put the divisive pandemic politics behind them and focus on unifying the party.

“Friends, it’s clear that the past two years were deeply divisive for our province, our party, and our caucus. But it is my fervent hope that in the months to come, we all move past the division of COVID,” said Kenney.

Kenney placed all the blame for the party’s strife on the pandemic measures and said the UCP had “reunited the free enterprise movement in Alberta,” balancing the budget, winning a massive electoral mandate in 2019, and leading Canada in economic and job growth.

Many of Kenney’s public comments in the lead-up to the vote expressed frustration that the two-year COVID-19 health crisis and the anger at the subsequent restrictions were overshadowing his government’s record on fulfilling its election promises.Jason Kenney’s critics are wrong. Alberta is the only place conservatism is winning https://nationalpost.com/opinion/sean-speer-jason-kenneys-critics-are-wrong-alberta-is-the-only-place-conservatism-is-winning

The vote was the culmination of an extraordinary leadership review that exposed major rifts in the conservative coalition in Alberta and across the country.

The backlash to pandemic restrictions has been boiling in Alberta since the province first brought in widespread restrictions, but the issue erupted nationally earlier this year when Freedom Convoy protests seized the national political conversation for weeks.

Kenney drew a direct line from the trucker protests to his leadership review at a news conference in February.

“There will be an effort, obviously by many of the folks involved in these protests, who have perhaps never belonged to a party before, to show up at that special general meeting and to use it as a platform for their anger about COVID measures over the past two years,” Kenney told reporters.

The political energy fueled by pandemic fury bubbled up intermittently across the country.

The trucker protests that gridlocked Ottawa and blocked major border crossings between Canada and the U.S. caused a rift in the Conservative Party, in part leading to the downfall of Erin O’Toole.Where does Canadian conservatism go from here? https://thehub.ca/2022-02-04/where-does-canadian-conservatism-go-from-here/ Pierre Poilievre, the frontrunner in the subsequent leadership race, has centred his campaign around the idea of “freedom,” and has defended the trucker protests from criticism.Poilievre says vaccine mandates are based on ‘political science’ not medical science in conversation with Jordan Peterson https://thehub.ca/2022-05-18/poilievre-says-vaccine-mandates-are-based-on-political-science-not-medical-science-in-conversation-with-jordan-peterson/

Last year’s federal election saw the Liberal Party embrace vaccine mandates as a wedge issue against the Conservative Party and the campaign saw rowdy protests in response. The People’s Party of Canada focused on pandemic restrictions, drawing major rallies and its highest ever vote share.

The Ontario election has seen a new party emerge on the right flank of the Progressive Conservative Party, pushing opposition to pandemic restrictions and accusing Doug Ford of leading a “left wing” party.A new party sees an opening on Doug Ford’s right flank https://thehub.ca/2022-05-16/a-new-party-sees-an-opening-on-doug-fords-right-flank/

Nowhere has it been more furious than in Alberta. Along with a two-week blockade of the U.S. border near Coutts, the province has seen sporadic protests and simmering discontent in its rural areas.

For Kenney, the end of a long battle marks the beginning of a new trial for his party that may be even more daunting. With a general election scheduled for May 29, 2023, the future leader of the UCP will face a fierce NDP opposition led by a former premier and will be tasked with calming an unruly populist faction of the party.

Kenney’s speech focused on those divisions but wrapped up with an optimistic tone reminiscent of his early days in provincial politics, when he spent years campaigning to unite the right and wrestle power from an NDP government.

“While we have our internal differences, we must remember the shared values that unite us as conservatives,” said Kenney. “And we must always remember the promise of Alberta, this great land of opportunity, where dreams come true.”