MRU professor says belief in Kenney’s platform had voters accepting candidates with question marks
A professor of journalism at Mount Royal University says the United Conservative Party’s victories in ridings where candidates were under investigation or embroiled in controversy were a surprise but speak to the priorities of voters.
“There was an incredible emotion in the province and one thing that Kenney did was he fought his election,” said David Taras. “His strategy was on jobs on the economy, on the pipelines, on anger with Ottawa, on taxes. They were issues that were basically personal with people in terms of their future, the future of their children, whether there would be food on the table.”
“The decisive point, the tilting point, in this election was when Kenney linked Notley to Trudeau and linked Notley to a faltering economy.”
During Kenney’s appearance in Edmonton on Wednesday, the Premier-designate was asked to comment on the victory by the UCP’s Peter Singh in Calgary-East, a candidate whose business was searched by RCMP members days earlier.
“It means he won his seat,” said Kenney. “I’m not aware of any accusations against Peter. This is a gentleman who was elected to the legislature last night.”
The UCP's Mark Smith was re-elected in Drayton Valley-Devon despite the fact an audio recording of one of his sermons from 2013 surfaced that included controversial comments on homosexuality. Jason Nixon was successful in his effort for re-election in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre after his prior run-ins with the law emerged during the campaign.
Kenney himself was not immune to controversy as allegations surfaced of voter fraud in the UCP leadership race and an alleged 'kamikaze campaign' designed to target his closest rival in the leadership bid.
Taras says when controversies involving a UCP candidate surfaced during the campaign, Kenney successfully diverted the conversation back to his talking points.
“For many people it is shocking that candidates who have off the grid views got elected but I think many voters were saying ‘We care about jobs, we trust Kenney and he'll take care of this later. He'll handle this, he’ll sort it out, he'll do it later.”
“Obviously character and values and the things you stand for are very, very important to people but, at the end of the day, as much as people cared and were worried, and I think uneasy, they were more uneasy about jobs. They were more worried by the economy, they were worried about food on the table, that’s what counted most.”
The Alberta New Democratic Party’s decision to not engage in a fight with the UCP on the issue of the economy was, according to Taras, ‘Notley’s classic mistake’.
“She ceded that ground to Kenney and she ceded those arguments to Kenney,” said Taras. “I think it was very bad advice for her to be fighting that negative campaign. I think people were looking, amid all the turmoil of the economy and everything people have gone through, people were looking for a positive message. Kenney’s message was more positive than hers.”
Taras says he would be very surprised if any of the UCP members who are currently under investigation or are considered to have ‘off the grid’ views were appointed to cabinet.
“I think there's worry it’s not just these candidates, that there are more,” said Taras. “That it’s a party that has people with very strong and, in many cases, off the grid views.
“How Kenney handles this will be really important for voters to see ‘Can we trust him, can we trust him on this and can we trust him to do other things?’.”
With files from CTV’s Brenna Rose