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The Kenney factor: Why the Alberta premier is both a risk and a reward for Scheer’s Conservatives

The Toronto Star with Melanee Thomas 11 September 2019

 

As the federal election campaign kicks off, Alberta is preparing for Round 2 of the fight between conservatives and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

He may not have been a candidate in the province’s spring election, but Trudeau figured heavily in the campaign. Premier Jason Kenney spoke out against him almost as much as his actual opponent, NDP Leader Rachel Notley, sparing no opportunity to slam Trudeau for failing to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion built and pushing policy that Kenney said is hurting Alberta’s economy.

And Kenney hasn’t changed his tune since. When asked about his place in the federal election on Wednesday, Kenney was prepared with a long list of policies implemented under Trudeau that the premier said “almost seem to have been targeted to hurt this province and Albertans.”

Alberta is not a competitive hot spot for the federal parties, to say the least. Trudeau is deeply unpopular in the province, and experts say it isn’t out of the question for the federal Conservatives to pull off a complete sweep. Even after the Alberta NDP’s 2015 election victory left the Progressive Conservatives battered, the fall federal election that year saw Conservatives win in all but a handful of Edmonton and Calgary ridings.

It’s a different landscape than Ontario, where Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is wary of being linked to its unpopular Premier Doug Ford. But bringing Kenney on the campaign trail might pose political risks, too.

University of Calgary political scientist David Stewart said if Kenney were to campaign on behalf of Scheer, his message would likely resonate most in the Prairie provinces — where the Conservatives actually need the least help.

But in other parts of the country, Kenney might be seen as representing issues that Scheer’s party would rather avoid.

“The danger there is that’s going to play into the Liberal narrative that the Conservatives are based on austerity and spending cuts,” Stewart said. “Kenney would be asked question after question about that, particularly with last week’s MacKinnon report,” a government-commissioned report calling for $600 million in provincial budget cuts.

Melanee Thomas is a political science professor at the University of Calgary.