With the possibility of a provincial election in just over 12 months, Jason Kenney is taking every opportunity to rally the troops and get them ready for the fight of the fledgling party’s life.
Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party (UCP), was the featured speaker at the Lacombe-Ponoka constituency fundraising dinner held at the Ponoka Legion on April 12. The event drew more than 200 people, including several current and former federal and provincial conservative politicians as well as many municipal leaders from the area.
Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr introduced Kenney to thunderous applause, after which Kenney spoke for about 40 minutes on a range of issues and topics then answered a number of audience-generated questions. However, the bulk of his focus was on two subjects — the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline and attacking the NDP government.
Kenney kicked off what he later admitted was a ‘pump up the troops’ speech, by calling out the NDP for stating the worst is over and Alberta is turning things around.
“You know that’s not true. There are 175,000 Albertans still out of work, 40,000 others have given up and over the last two years more people have left Alberta than moved in. This used to be the brain-gain province and the NDP turned it into brain-drain province,” he told the audience.
In addition, Kenney noted Alberta used to have the lowest unemployment rate in the country, but that has risen dramatically the last three years. He then targeted the assertion that low oil prices are to blame for the economic shift.
“They would have us believe that we are just the hapless victim of oil prices. I’m sorry, but that is just rubbish. The present price is higher than in most of our present history. Back in the 1990s, the government then balanced the budget, eliminated the debt, brought in the flat tax and had the strongest economy in Canada at $20 oil. It’s not about oil prices, it’s about bad choices,” he said, earning a round of applause.
Kenney went after the NDP government about losses in energy investments that have resulted from the lack of a pipeline and the affect of having “committed socialists” rewriting the Alberta school curriculum in secret.
He then turned his attention to the last lifeline left for exporting oil — Trans Mountain, which was announced as having suspended non-essential spending earlier this month.
“I have been predicting this for months,” Kenney said, adding this is the result of largely foreign special interest groups interjecting their organized campaign to bottleneck Alberta oil.
“I think the project will pay for itself in the long run, but the private Kinder Morgan shareholders are super nervous that this will never be built.”
That’s why Kenney is also advocating possible government investment — his suggestion is through loan guarantees or other forms of financial help by both the provincial and federal governments — if it looks like Alberta will be left high and dry.
“I’ve said we may have no choice. It’s possible the company is going to pull out. If that happens, we are going to lose hundreds of billions of dollars,” he explained.
“The risk of the pipeline going down is greater than the risk of some kind financial participation in the project. If governments have some skin in the game, they will do more to ensure that it does get built.”
He added that with increasing oil production — from 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) to three million in the future — is also displacing grain on railways and that is another reason that Alberta needs pipelines.
Lastly, Kenney acknowledged the next election — which is likely about a year away — is going to be a fight for the life of the UCP. Although, more importantly he noted, a vote for who is going to be the most capable of standing up for the province against the federal Liberal government.
“This is a grassroots movement. We have to keep building and solidifying the foundation of this brand new party,” he said.
“We have our founding convention and taking our members policy direction then turning that into a platform, which will be a blue print for governing. That’s a lot of work to do.”