Pending Keystone XL cancellation adds new obstacle to Kenney's political fortunes
CALGARY -- The looming cancellation of the Keystone XL expansion is yet another blow to embattled Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
“There is a certain irony that the Trans Mountain pipeline, which was purchased by (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau, is going to be built and the Keystone pipeline bought by Kenney, will not be built.” said Mount Royal university political scientist Duane Bratt.
“I can think the NDP is going to bring that up, because I don't think Trudeau would have bought the pipeline without pressure from from Rachel Notley, and critics of the UCP government are going to raise it at every possible time”
Keystone is just the latest setback for Kenney. By almost any account it has been a politically damaging year for Alberta’s premier.
“Coal mining , which is (just now)cropping up, and the fight with doctors ... the Allan inquiry, and the war room, it's just it was a long litany of government that is already not doing well, in public opinion,” said Bratt.
Alberta’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has also proved a huge blow to the premier’s popularity. A Leger and Associates poll released on Dec. 29, 2020 showed only 30 per cent of Albertans approved of Jason Kenney’s handling of the pandemic.
Three days later Kenney ignited a firestorm of anger when he said he took responsibility for UCP staff and MLAs traveling out of the country, and said he would not punish them.
“And then that led to massive public outrage. And then that led to him reversing himself three days later,” said Bratt. “But it's just been one step after another."
With over two years before the next provincial election, the question remains — will the stain of 2020 be one Jason Kenney carries into the next campaign, or is there time to cleanse his image in the minds of voters?
“There is a methodology to survive almost anything. You can get through things if you listen to the people, and you give them what they want," said political strategist Stephen Carter.
"We saw that a little bit when Jason Kenney gave us the heads of his cabinet minister and his chief of staff. He listened to us and he gave us what we were demanding. The next demand, though, it might be too tough for him to give, because our next demand might be his head.”
Carter thinks Kenney’s biggest challenge won’t be facing voters, it will be facing his own UCP caucus.
“The Conservative Party has a grand history of rooting out their own leadership and forcing them to resign,” said Carter, who was chief of staff to former premier Alison Redford before she was forced out by the PC caucus.
"They are more likely to be taken out by our own members and our own MLAs than to be taken out by the general population in an election. I think that Jason Kenney must know that, and he must be trying to stop that right now. That's his primary objective. His own party are the ones coming after him.”
Bratt says it’s difficult to compare Kenney to previous conservative leaders in Alberta.
“This is different than Redford, this is different from Stelmach, because this is Jason Kenny's party, he built this party, there would have been no United Conservative Party without the work that Jason Kenney did and merging the old Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose," said Bratt.
“But to say he's got problems in his caucus ... he's got problems everywhere he turns around.”
Marc Henry, president of ThinkHQ, says it is possible to repair the damage done to Kenney’s personal image but it is something that will require discipline, and for Kenney to stop digging the hole he’s already in.
“When you look at the challenges that he's facing, yes, he can't control the economy. Yes, he couldn't control COVID. But a lot of these issues were problems of their own making," said Henry.
“The first step is to stop doing that and be a more disciplined government that’s really focused, you can't make any more mistakes and you really have to focus on the issues that matter to people,” said Henry.
With all of the issues facing Kenney in or out of his control, it will be a bumpy road to attempt to reshape his image among Albertans.
“We're probably looking at Q4 of this year, maybe not 2022 until Albertans are starting to feel less pensive and less concerned about where the future is going, and then you're only a year away,” Henry said.
With files from Ty Rothermal