Jason Kenney says his Alberta PC leadership aspiration — which involves reuniting the province’s fractured right — comes with the support of his old boss Stephen Harper. “You know I have discussed this with him and he, I shouldn’t probably discuss our private conversations … he’s encouraged me to offer myself in either the provincial or federal leadership,” Kenney told CBC Calgary News at 6 on Friday.
“He believes, I think, it’s important to unite free enterprise Albertans to get this province back on the right track.”
Kenney announced Wednesday his intention to run for the leadership of the struggling Alberta Progressive Conservative party, prompting an outpouring of support and opposition.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation criticized Kenney’s decision not to take an unpaid leave of absence from his position as a federal MP, while trying to woo Alberta conservatives over the summer.
“It’s not appropriate for taxpayers to be paying for someone to campaign for a different job,” Aaron Wudrick, a director with the federation, said.
There is no requirement for Kenney to step down or take leave and there is recent precedent for a member of Parliament staying in office while campaigning for a provincial leadership. In 2014, former Conservative MP Patrick Brown announced he would seek the Ontario PC leadership. He didn’t resign his seat in the House of Commons until after he won the leadership.
Kenney, despite strong endorsements from many conservatives — both federal and provincial — faces opposition by some who say he is too far to the right on social issues.
Earlier this week NDP MLA Marie Renaud challenged Kenney to state his position on abortion.
“My position is consistent since I first ran for Parliament in 1997. I believe in the value of human life and I apply it to capital punishment and all bioethical questions, but in my 20 years in Parliament I haven’t given a speech about this, let alone proposed a motion or a bill,” Kenney told CBC News Thursday.
But in 2012, when he was the immigration minister, Kenney defied the wishes of then-prime minister Stephen Harper and supported a motion to set up a parliamentary committee to study when life begins.
Critics said the motion, defeated 203-91, was an excuse to reopen the debate on abortion in Canada and set limits on the procedure.
Another hurdle Kenney will face is the fact that not everyone agrees the right needs to be united or what that merger will look like. When asked if he would run as an MLA if his leadership ambitions didn’t pan out, he offered a qualified yes.
“I would certainly be open to that, but … here is a new beginning for the free enterprise political forces in Alberta. I am not sure that things are going to be locked into this division. I hope they won’t be,” he said.
“I am not interested in running for the leadership of one of the two current centre-right parties. I am interesting in bringing them together and other like-minded Albertans.”