Can an outsider revive the fortunes of a political party that were buried by a previous outsider before him?
That could be a good question for hopefuls of uniting the right wing political forces in Alberta.
Apparently, Jason Kenney, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s close confidante, right-hand-man and trusted ally, has already found a positive response to that question because last week’s most talked about political development before the Brexit vote was the news that Kenney had decided to leave federal politics to head for provincial politics in Alberta.
Now we all remember how Jim Prentice’s dash to PC leadership looked so promising but proved so disappointing in last year’s elections.
PC leadership was so concerned after the clumsy Alison Redford brought the party’s support among the electorate almost to the bottom that they sought a figure who could restore the authority of the four-decade old PC dynasty and render another election victory for the old party.
It didn’t work because Prentice had very little clue on how provincial politics are conducted.
Now, will Jason Kenney fall into the same trap?
It is highly plausible that this time the game is to be played at another level.
Both Harper and Kenney have their political power bases in Calgary, the city where big oil pulls the strings and plays the tunes. Given that big oil has acquired considerable clout in Ottawa during Harper’s 10 year in power, it seems like the same big oil is betting on a horse that they believe has the potential not only to revive their fortunes in the province, but also help them maintain their influence in the national capital’s power corridors through someone who knows how to navigate those corridors.
Can this plan work?
First of all, if his intention to lead PCs of Alberta is officially confirmed, Kenney will have to first take on the task of uniting the right in the province, a very challenging assignment given the current position of the Wildrose Party and its leader Brian Jean.
As an ambitious politician, Jean has already made clear through ad hoc statements that he would welcome any effort to unite the right only if it comes under his umbrella. However, we don’t know his real electioneering skills (because he found the leadership of the Wildrose Party on his lap just a few months before last year’s vote), nor do we know how much real support he commands among the electorate (we have to recognize that 2015 election was primarily lost by the PCs while what put Wildrose in the position of the official opposition was only the protest vote).
Without a full-fledged election campaign, run against both NDP and a revived PC, we have little real opportunity to test Jean’s and his party’s popularity.
But even if we assume that Kenney proves to be charismatic enough to steal Wildrose’s current charm among the mainly rural and conservative voter base in the province, there is a more monumental challenge he has to conquer: The changing times.
The May 2015 election has put the province’s urban, youthful, blue-collar workforce on the political map for the first time. Yes, NDP leaders have made many mistakes and antagonized some sections of the electorate since forming the government, but that part of the voter base who feel themselves having gained a voice will not easily agree to surrender their newlyfound power back to the old guard without a fight.
Similarly, the October 2015 national vote has also shifted the sands in such a way that big oil will no longer be assured of a winning hand every time the cards are dealt.
In short, at both provincial and national levels, perceptions, trends and tendencies on the part of the population seem to have undergone a major overhaul.
Be it Jason Kenney or Brian Jean or any other hopeful who may wish to step up to lead the charge to unite the right and restore the power of conservative old guard in the province or in the country, that leader will have to adjust to the new circumstances to succeed.
Restoration of the powerful position of right wing politics in the province or in the country is not impossible, however, if and when it is restored, it will have to be a new right.