How will Kenney unite the right?

There was no way more fitting for Jason Kenney to officially announce the launch of his provincial tour than driving into a press conference in a Ram 1500 pick-up truck.

The pick-up truck in many ways perfectly encapsulates Alberta; it’s resilient, does well in tough conditions and can haul more than its fair share of weight. Kenney said he figured the vehicle would do better on Alberta roads than a Toyota Prius (perhaps a subtle shot at the NDP’s emphasis on green energy – the Prius is a hybrid and is ranked one of the cleanest vehicles in North America when it comes to emissions).

Kenney’s campaign has been branded “Unite Alberta”, with the idea being that the Progressive Conservative (PC) and Wildrose parties need to come together (with Kenney at the helm) to prevent the NDP from winning again.

The “Unite” theme makes me think back to 2002 when Stephen Harper, then leader of the Canadian Alliance, helped merge his party with the Progressive Conservative Party to form the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC). Kenney also played a significant role in this transition.

At the time, Harper said Canadians didn’t have much, if any appetite for legislative change on divisive social issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and physician-assisted dying. In contrast, he said it made more sense to focus on legislation that protects children, such as raising the age of sexual consent. 

Indeed, I believe one of the reasons the CPC was successful in winning three elections and securing a majority in the third was due to their focus on economic issues.

So it will be interesting to see if Kenney takes a similar approach.

Ostensibly, the main issue on the minds of Albertans these days is the province’s economy. But some of the Alberta NDP’s legislation on social issues, such as their guidelines for school boards on how to accommodate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) students, have also been very contentious. The requirement that students be allowed to use the washroom of whatever gender they identify with has been a particularly thorny issue for some social conservatives.

This is one piece of legislation I could see Kenney taking aim at, since it involves the government regulating a law that directly affects children. While I support the need to accommodate LGBT students, I can also understand why some parents would have concerns about their child sharing a washroom with another child who identifies as the same gender, but has different sexual organs.

Alberta has generally been painted as a mostly conservative province, but I believe this is changing, as evidenced by the election of the NDP. One of the reasons for this change is the massive influx over the years of university students and young workers from British Columbia and Ontario, who tend to have more socially-liberal views.

Kenney has stated he plans to focus on fiscal matters, but has also opined on the LGBT legislation for school boards, saying it was a “non-issue” with Albertans he has spoken to, despite the fact that the PC’s implementation of related Bill 10 led to massive protests at the legislature and may have helped lead to their downfall.

Kenney will have a delicate balancing act on his plate as he plows forward in his pick-up truck. We’ll have to see what baggage he brings along on his hitch.


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