That little of this lore was supported by hard data was beyond the point (a Policy Options study said that its findings “do not support the hypothesis that the Conservative success in 2011 was a product of making headway with immigrants”). Kenney had proved he was creative, hard-working and a shameless self-promoter, and these are the things from which great political fortunes are made.
His subsequent parachute into the center of Albertan politics only inflated his legend. At a pace that seems dizzying in retrospect, in fewer than two years Kenney became head of the Alberta conservatives, instigated a merger with the competing Wildrose Party and has now decisively been elected head of Alberta’s first United Conservative administration. That Kenney’s ambition remains unsatisfied was obvious in his first speech as premier-elect, which focused largely on national issues, including overtures to Quebec — in French.
In the likely event that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is reelected in October, conservatives will heap blame on Tory leader Andrew Scheer, who seems barely tolerated as it is. Assuming Kenney proceeds to spend much of Trudeau’s second term casting his province as an island of conservative competence in contrast to the prime minister’s liberal misrule, by 2023 Kenney will be hyped as Scheer’s self-evident successor.
Is Kenney’s seemingly unstoppable rise animated by anything beyond marketing, strategy and opportunism? If he is indeed destined to be the indispensable conservative of his generation, then Kenneyism demands examination as the plausible ideology of Canada’s future.
Kenney possesses remarkable skill at convincing the many factions of the Canadian right that he’s “one of them.” Social conservatives fixate on his Catholicism and history in the pro-life movement; fiscal conservatives point to his background as head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He can be wonky to wonks, ideological to the ideologues and pragmatic to pragmatists. Even obscure factions of the base, including libertarians, monarchists and gay Tories, have been on the receiving end of Kenney’s outreach.
Unfortunately, when you purport to share everyone’s principles, you probably don’t share many. As his campaign for premier proved, Kenney remains a deeply conventional conservative of late-20th-century vintage, convinced that elections are won exclusively on economic policy while eschewing anything “divisive” that might rattle the secular middle class. This includes abortion, entitlement cuts, LGBT rights and anything in the proximity of race or gender. He has been happy to contrast himself with the “nasty, negative, irresponsible populism I think the Trump phenomenon represents.”
In his marquee speeches, Kenney speaks of government primarily as a conduit for economic growth and job creation — issues of considerable concern to residents of Alberta, where growth in the gross domestic product is the slowest in Canada and unemployment sits at 7 percent. His solutions are conservative orthodoxy: a mix of tax cuts and deregulation, plus fresh help for the province’s beleaguered oil and gas sector, which comprises a quarter of the provincial economy.
It’s on the latter file where his strongest passions seem to lie. At a time when Canada’s conservatives are under pressure to moderate and mollify, oil advocacy remains the last realm of permissible extremism.
Kenney has called for a public inquiry into the foreign source of funds behind the campaign to "landlock Alberta energy.” Here, he channels blogger Vivian Krause, a sort of right-wing folk hero who relentlessly says that Canadian anti-pipeline activism is a scam cooked up by wealthy American interests to prevent Albertan oil from reaching Asia — thereby forcing it to be sold cheaply to the United States. It’s a convenient conspiratorial charge that lets him shore up his nationalist bona fides while delegitimizing his progressive critics.
Yet the biggest obstacle to completing pipelines has never been environmentalists, or even Trudeau’s carbon tax (another common subject of Kenny’s ire), but rather a Canadian judiciary consistently ruling that indigenous nations hold right of veto over natural resource projects within their asserted territory. Zero Alberta-to-tidewater pipelines have been killed by eco-activists or taxes, but two of the highest-profile ones, Trans Mountain and Northern Gateway, were sent to purgatory after judicial rulings asserting that indigenous rights had not been respected.
If Kenney possesses a philosophy prescribing appropriate limits to aboriginal power, he has never shared it. Because it involves a racialized minority, the issue probably reads to him as one of those nasty, divisive matters that’s best avoided. The issue calls for principled conservative leadership, however. If Kenney can champion a coherent solution to the judiciary’s existential challenge to his province’s defining industry, his future ambitions will be well justified.