Jason Kenney became the first leader of Alberta’s new United Conservative Party (UCP) Saturday night.
Kenney easily won the contest with 61.1 percent of the vote, compared to 31.6 percent for runner-up Brian Jean. One of the most conservative politicians in Canada is now within striking distance of being premier of the oil-rich, western Canadian province.
It was a long road to the leadership as Kenney left federal politics, joined the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party to become its leader and then fuse the that party with its conservative-leaning rival, the Wildrose Party.
Kenney was a powerful cabinet minister in the former federal Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, heading-up a number of large departments, including national defense. A staunch social conservative, Kenney remains one of the few prominent pro-life politicians in Canadian public life.
Speaking to thousands at the BMO Center on the Calgary Stampede grounds, Kenney looked anxious for his next fight: unseating the increasingly unpopular New Democratic government of Premier Rachel Notley, whose left-leaning party won the last provincial election largely due to a divided Conservative vote.
“We have united, we have chosen a leader and if we work hard, stay humble and earn every vote, we will ensure that this deceptive, divisive, debt-quadrupling, tax-hiking, job-killing, accidental socialist government is one-and-done,” Kenney declared to an enthusiastic throng.
The Notley government is already suggesting that Kenney is out of step with Albertans.
Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman offered her congratulations to Kenney Saturday night, but she didn’t hesitate to suggest that the new UCP leader offered a “very clear contrast” to the current government.
“He wants to recycle old debates of the past,” said Hoffman, in reference to Kenney’s social conservative positions on abortion and same-sex marriage.