Clearly, the controversies swirling around the UCP and activities of Jason Kenney’s campaign team during the 2017 leadership race are on Premier Rachel Notley’s mind.
That was evident in Monday’s throne speech.
Tucked into the document filled with shining praise for her government’s accomplishments is a section called “restoring trust in government.”
It itemizes how the NDP government has reigned in bloated executive salaries on agencies, boards and commissions and slashed its travel and hospitality expenses by “80 per cent.”
Over the next year, according to the throne speech, the NDP government intends to introduce new measures to “make sure democracy in Alberta belongs to all.”
When asked during a news conference earlier in the day, Rachel Notley was quick to link the need to restore democracy to the emerging UCP leadership controversies.
“There is a very significant scandal right now,” said Notley.
“At its very best, it amounts to very dark backroom politics focused on thwarting democracy,” Notley said.
The NDP is framing the imminent election campaign as a clear choice between Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney.
That’s how the NDP see it, that’s how they’ll play it, and that’s what their entire re-election hope hangs on.
A fighting chance
If the NDP had been feeling a little beaten up after trailing the upstart United Conservative Party since before the UCP was born, you’d never know it from the crowd reaction at the Sunday afternoon rally in Edmonton-Strathcona.
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Inside the St. Basil’s Cultural Centre auditorium, the spotlight was squarely focused on Notley, the only person with any chance of returning the NDP to office.
In the distant background were several NDP candidates, many of them cabinet ministers. But they were just faces in the crowd, and weren’t even introduced.
It was all about her: Rachel Notley.
Familiar themes were raised by Notley about policy differences between the NDP and UCP on education, and about needing a credit card to pay for healthcare.
And then, subtle digs and all-out attacks on Jason Kenney.
Following Kenney’s landslide win in the UCP leadership race, it’s alleged Kenney’s campaign worked alongside Jeff Callaway’s campaign to attack and undermine Brian Jean.
Both Kenney and Callaway have denied collaborating in a kamikaze campaign.
Kenney chalks up interaction during the leadership race with Callaway to normal communications of one camp looking for second ballot support.
Notley sees it differently, and so do her NDP supporters.
It’s a turn of events that has galvanized the NDP — at least for now.
Leaders the ‘centrepiece’ of party
Andy Knight from the University of Alberta says pinning all hopes on their leader, is a “very smart” approach by the NDP.
“I think the political leader of the party will be looked at very seriously,” said Knight who co-wrote a book on political leadership in 2009, The Ashgate Research Companion to Political Leadership.
The leaders, says Knight are the “centrepieces” for the vision and integrity of the party.
“At the end of the day, I think the leader still is going to be the one that’s most important for the people around the province who are voting.”
Knight characterizes Jason Kenney as a smart political operative, a “political animal,” who likely the best chance of winning the UCP leadership race from the get-go.
Kenney, who steamrolled his agenda to unite a fragmented political right in Alberta, was widely praised in political circles for finally bringing together various brands of conservatives under one party banner.
Kenney first won the PC leadership, then brokered a deal with the Wildrose and eventually became the first UCP leader in a landslide.
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During his speech to the UCP founding convention in Red Deer May 2018, Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer praised Kenney as someone who has “steered a movement of unity that made friends out of former enemies.”
But now, some former enemies in the Alberta conservative movement are uniting against Kenney.
As just one example: Brian Jean is once again talking to his former rival Derek Fildebrandt,who leads the upstart Freedom Conservative Party. Neither have anything good to say about Kenney these days.
To the NDP, looking for a rerun of their stunning 2015 election win, it’s conservative theatre they can’t get enough of.
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