Jason Kenney’s fight is over. Let the fight begin.
The 50-year-old United Conservative Party leader, known for saying he can’t help but march to the sound of rhetorical gunfire, soundly defeated Rachel Notley’s NDP with a majority in Tuesday’s Alberta election.
The former federal cabinet minister now takes his fight to Ottawa as Alberta’s 18th premier. He has promised to challenge the federal government on everything from the carbon tax to proposed energy regulations and equalization payments.
It’s a new to-do list for Kenney after checking off the final box on a plan he announced three years ago to unite Alberta’s warring right-of-centre Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose Party and take them to the summit.
“I had zero inkling to do it,” Kenney said in a pre-campaign interview.
“But as I got further into the spring and then summer of 2016, I just realized that somebody with the relevant profile, network and experience had to step forward with a plan.”
Kenney was born in Oakville, Ont., raised in Saskatchewan, and spent his adult years based in Alberta.
He said he was just 10 years old, sitting on a couch and minding his own business at a Saskatchewan school fundraiser, when politics first found him.
John Diefenbaker, well over a decade removed from being prime minister, came up to young Kenney, asked him his name, and struck up a conversation: Do you know the mythical story of Jason and the Argonauts? What’s your favourite subject at school? What are your future plans?
“That 10-minute conversation made an indelible impression on me,” remembered Kenney.
“That a former prime minister would spend 10 minutes talking to a 10-year-old boy was remarkable to me. I never forgot the kindness that he showed. And that maybe gave me sort of my initial interest in politics and public service.”
He has lived much in the public eye as he has fought for conservative principles and the concept of ordered liberty, first as an anti-tax crusader and later as a key lieutenant in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet in portfolios that included immigration, employment and defence.
He is not married and happily recounts a life committed to public service. A day’s politicking is followed by late-night reading from a stack of philosophy books at the bedside. He is partial to Aristotle and Edmund Burke.
He is schooled in the ground game of politics and had legendary campaign war chests as a Calgary MP.
Some credit him with moving Harper’s government into majority territory by reaching out to ethnic newcomers, breaking the shibboleth that they vote Liberal, so much so he gained the nickname “minister for curry in a hurry.”
He is a Catholic and has spoken out against gay marriage and abortion in the past, but promises not to act on those issues if he becomes premier.
Critics say he can’t be trusted. They note he has promised, as premier, to roll back some protections for students in gay-straight alliances in schools.
He won the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives, then the new United Conservatives and finally the provincial election, illuminating his drive, populist instincts, and nose for the political jugular.
In a province where the unemployment rate is above seven per cent in Edmonton and Calgary, he campaigned against Notley on “jobs, jobs, jobs,” tapping into latent discontent over the federal government’s failure to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project underway.
To win the UCP leadership, he drove back and forth across Alberta in a blue pickup truck to meet and greet thousands of supporters and fence-sitters. Then, in less than two years, he got 87 constituency associations and candidates running.
It was also about doing whatever it takes. When Kenney ran for the PC leadership, he was fined by the party for setting up a hospitality booth beside a voting station.
Last month, campaign documents and emails revealed that his UCP leadership team worked in lockstep with another candidate to have him attack Kenney’s chief rival while Kenney stayed above the fray.
Mounties are investigating the UCP leadership race for possible fraud.
Kenney has said his next step is to get back on the campaign trail, this time to get the federal Liberals defeated in the fall.
“It is in the vital economic interests of Alberta that the Trudeau government be replaced this October,” he said earlier this week.
For Kenney, one campaign is over. Let another campaign begin.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press
Trudeau to push trade pact in EU leaders’ summit as France moves ahead on CETA
MONTREAL — Lawmakers in France begin their ratification of the comprehensive trade agreement between the European Union and Canada as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomes the leaders of the 28-country bloc to Montreal today.
Trudeau has been pushing hard for a win on trade and foreign policy after two difficult years marked by a rough renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the Trump administration and the deterioration of political and trade relations with China.
Trudeau will talk up the merits of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in a series of events in Montreal over the next two days.
But Wednesday’s legal development when the French National Assembly begins its consideration of France’s ratification bill is also a prime focus for Canada’s Liberal prime minister, who will be fighting a federal election this fall.
Sources in France and Canada, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the talks, say Trudeau lobbied French President Emmanuel Macron for more than a year to introduce the bill, and that those efforts finally paid off last month in Paris during their most recent face-to-face meeting.
Almost all of CETA — in excess of 90 per cent — went into force in September 2017 under what is known as provisional application, but individual ratifications by EU member countries will bring it fully into effect.
That would mean a win for the international trading order that has been under assault by U.S. President Donald Trump.
“It’s an essential step. We’re very pleased with our co-operation with the French government,” International Trade Minister Jim Carr said in an interview.
Carr will be meeting his EU counterpart Cecilia Malmstrom in Montreal. He said the French move towards ratification is a significant step in Canada’s broader goal of diversifying Canada’s export markets.
Trudeau was in Paris in early June after attending the 75th anniversary commemorations of D-Day in France and Britain, and he and Macron emerged with news that France would move forward with CETA’s ratification. The introduction of the bill in the National Assembly is a first step in a process that the French government hopes will lead to full ratification by the end of 2019.
Macron and Trudeau have talked about the agreement repeatedly — in Paris in April 2018, in a telephone conversation a year later, and other face-to-face meetings. Macron is a staunch Europhile and open supporter of CETA, but he has had to tread cautiously because of populist opposition to trade deals in France and across Europe.
Canada has lobbied French lawmakers, businesspeople and farmers, an effort that included more than two dozen visits to various regions of France by Isabelle Hudon, the Canadian ambassador.
Trudeau also made a direct appeal to French lawmakers in an April 2018 speech to the National Assembly, the first time a Canadian prime minister addressed that body.
“Let us ask ourselves this question: If France cannot ratify a free-trade agreement with Canada, what country can you imagine doing it with?” Trudeau asked.
CETA gives Canadian businesses preferred access to 500 million European consumers, and a $24 trillion market. In 2018, Canada’s exports to the EU increased by seven per cent to more than $44 billion.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Uncompetitive nomination races weaken parties and Canadian democracy, study warns
OTTAWA — Nominations for federal elections are strikingly uncompetitive and opaque, according to a new study, which says that has profound consequences for Canadian democracy.
New research by the Toronto-based Samara Centre for Democracy shows only 17 per cent of more than 6,600 federal candidates from 2003 to 2015 faced competitive nomination races, while 2,700 candidates were directly appointed by parties.
“If you see the nomination as a moment in a chain of democratic moments” leading to the election of a member of Parliament, said Michael Morden, the director of research at Samara, “I think it’s notable that, in an overwhelming majority of cases, there’s no real decision being made by local people.”
Morden said through exit interviews with MPs Samara has found there is “broad, quiet understanding” in political circles of the deficiencies of the nomination process.
But he said most Canadians have little access to or ability to scrutinize the “black box” of party nominations, despite the stake they have in how parties run their internal elections.
Political parties are private organizations, the Samara study says, but they’re also “public utilities” that have a profound effect on Canadian democracy.
And a lack of competition might signal a worrying disconnect with the Canadian public, the study suggests.
There are several reasons the study proposes for why races are so often uncompetitive. Snap elections account for some of it, while rules that benefit incumbents are also a factor. Then’s there’s the reality that many local party associations are just too disorganized or small to attract multiple candidates.
But the trend extends even to larger parties that are competitive across the country, Morden said.
“In our mind, that is still a stunning lack of competition,” he said.
Beyond the lack of competition, the study also found nominations rules also have significant effects on the diversity of nomination candidates and, consequently, the diversity of members elected to the House of Commons.
Morden noted parties occasionally justify appointing candidates on the basis of diversity, but this was not borne out in the data.
In particular, the study suggests appointed candidates were less likely to be from visible-minority or Indigenous backgrounds.
The issue of female representation in the nomination processes was even more stark.
In line with findings that women win elections at around the same rate as men, the study suggests female nomination candidates are just as likely to win internal races as men are.
But just 28 per cent of nomination contestants covered by the study were women.
“That shifts the focus right back to recruiting, to the general openness of the process, to the intangible factors that cause some people to find their way in and others to self-select out or to never have the option,” Morden said.
The study found that longer nomination races and races that didn’t require monetary investment were correlated with higher female participation.
Morden said parties essentially close themselves off from a majority of Canadians through rules that make it more difficult to participate in nomination processes: short races, monetary costs, lack of information and protections for incumbents.
The study recommends corresponding changes in party policies: standard opening and closing dates for races, the obligation to report the number of votes candidates receive, and holding contests even where there are incumbent MPs.
These changes are in the best interests of parties that want to stay internally strong and remain connected with the Canadian public, Morden argued.
The study also considers a potentially expanded role for Elections Canada in administering or regulating the races, something Morden acknowledges is not popular among the parties.
Parties can also be reticent to even provide information about their nomination processes, Morden said. For example, only the Green party provided information about how many candidates it screened out of its nominations in 2015.
“There’s just not a culture of openness,” Morden said. “The nomination process is still seen as a very internal one, rather than a vehicle for mass political engagement.”
The first step in a reform process is convincing Canadians to care, Morden said, because otherwise “you’re not going to convince parties to do much.
“It’s hard to regulate parties, because parties make the law.”
Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press
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