It doesn’t get better than this for United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenny who topped his 17-month journey to the legislature with a commanding byelection victory in Calgary-Lougheed on Thursday.
The UCP merger – the unification of the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties – is working.
Kenney received 71.5 per cent of the vote in the byelection, more than the 63 per cent combined total of the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose parties in Calgary-Lougheed in the general election in 2015.
NDP candidate physician Phillip van der Merwe finished a very distance second with 16.8 per cent of the popular vote – just half of the 32 per cent the party garnered in the riding in 2015.
Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan, a lawyer, finished in third place with 9.3 per cent, increasing the liberal vote from 2015 when it was 4.8 per cent. However, the difference is only 192 ballots – 1,009 votes versus 817.
Khan’s inner circle knows the party must improve its results for the Liberals to blossom as the third option to the polarized choice between NDP and UCP.
However, the headline is that the newly-minted leader of the newly-minted United Conservative Party is now an elected member of the Alberta legislature.
The caveat is that the total number of voters Thursday in Calgary-Lougheed was 10,852 compared to 16,974 in 2015, a decline of 6,122 votes. Why did so many voters stay at home?
Kenny’s victory completes a political “quatre ‡ la suite,” roughly translated as “a four-in-a-row,” winning the Progressive Conservative leadership, orchestrating the PC merger with the Wildrose Party, securing the leadership of the United Conservative Party and being elected an MLA.
During the 17 months he has been on this winning streak, he has built a talented, relentless and ruthless organization and spent a sum of between one and two million dollars to finance the political enterprise. The exact amount is hidden behind the opaque cover of his political action committees, which do not have to disclose their financial records.
The NDP had written off the riding. Premier Rachel Notley said as much in the final week of the campaign. The governing party’s only consolation is that Calgary-Lougheed is, in statistical terms, the second safest conservative seat in Alberta, next only to the next-door Fish Creek constituency.
But the NDP have lost three byelections in Calgary (Lougheed, Greenway and Foothills). How much can she default to Kenny in Calgary and still retain government?
Notley’s path to success in the general election crosses other cities – Edmonton, Red Deer, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, and Calgary constituencies north of the Bow River.
Kenny’s challenge in the next year and a half is to get Albertans to warm up to him.
He has played by tough rules and developed a reputation as a ruthless political leader.
The biggest weakness of his organization is hubris and overconfidence.
He has made enemies and will continue to alienate those who do not accept his ideology – two things that Peter Lougheed never did.
Kenny claims Lougheed as his role model and he would do well in less safe ridings than Calgary-Lougheed to emulate Lougheed’s graciousness.
– Frank Dabbs is a veteran political and business journalist, author of four books, editor of several more and is working on the history of Trimac Transportation and the McCaig family of Calgary.