Braid: While PC Party examines navel, Kenney edges toward victory

It’s political identity theft.

Jason Kenney is becoming the face of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party, simply by being out there by himself, fighting for the leadership.

This is bad news for party survivalists. Kenney has never been a centrist Alberta PC. His whole political life has been devoted to the right and the rise of the national Conservatives.

Now, his provincial goal is identical.

The Calgary MP wants to bundle the PCs with Wildrose to form a new conservative party, which he would lead, to win the government, which he would then run as premier.

You’d expect some kind of reaction from the party that won 12 straight elections and ran Alberta for 43 years.

But, no, there’s nothing at all — not even a hint of annoyance from a PC party board that is probably the most progressive since Peter Lougheed’s day.

Does this party have anything left in the tank, just a hint of fighting spirit?

If anything’s there, the PCs don’t have a lot of time to show it.

The board will finalize some leadership rules this weekend. It’s been a complicated job, because this will be a delegate convention to be held next March 18, not a general vote of party members. The PCs haven’t done it that way since 1985.

The formal race will begin Oct. 1. If nobody else declares before then, Kenney will have another five weeks all to himself.

This gives him enormous advantages. He’s left with a clear field to scoop up scarce political donations through his budding SuperPAC, Unite Alberta.

It’s a smart, disruptive strategy reminiscent of Jim Prentice’s takeover of the PC leadership in 2014.

First came the planted rumours, then the early entry and then Prentice’s easy run to the premier’s office.

It was more like Caesar’s march on Rome than a real leadership contest. One reason was that Prentice got that early lock on organizers, volunteers and donations.

The Wildrose reaction to Kenney has been to rally quietly behind Leader Brian Jean, while smiling publicly at the unity idea.

Many Wildrosers would support a merger, of course. But there’s also a hint of the anger Prentice provoked when he stole all those Wildrose MLAs in 2014.

Jean’s party could end up more united, not less. The PCs, with much more at stake, seem almost paralyzed.

The first job is to get a good candidate out there early. There’s a lot of talk about Doug Schweitzer, a young Calgary lawyer who’s little known to the public but has a long political pedigree.

He ran the Manitoba PC party, helped Doug Black’s senatorial campaign and had a key role in the Prentice leadership drive.

The thing that excites some veteran PCs about Schweitzer is that he’s apparently a mesmerizing public speaker, with inspirational qualities to rival those of Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

That may or may not be true. I’ve haven’t heard a word from the guy. He’s not ready to talk yet.

Neither are several others who are reported to be kicking tires. While they’re at it, Kenney might steal the vehicle.

He has some problems of his own, however.

Kenney’s use of Unite Alberta to raise money is increasingly controversial. He said it would be a non-profit organization but, technically, it turns out to be a corporation.

Kenney says he won’t use any money raised by Unite Alberta in the formal leadership race after Oct. 1. That’s the law and he’ll surely follow it. Nor is there any intent to make a profit.

But the larger question is whether Unite Alberta later slides over the line and becomes a genuine SuperPac, raising and spending money without limits outside a general election campaign.

Kenney has also annoyed many PCs by saying he won’t leave his federal seat until the Oct. 1 PC kickoff. Quitting one elected job to run for another is always risky, especially when the ambitious politician moves between governments.

But those are niggles. Kenney is already way out in front. He’ll stay there unless the PCs emerge from sleepy hollow.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

[email protected]