How to say goodbye to a political leader like Jason Kenney. He may not be going, but I thought I should at least be ready with my song of praise. Journalists do this: speak well of departing politicians, regardless.
Mr. Kenney has taught me more about politics than any other politician. Many of his teachings are about delegation. Before Kenney, Alberta governments operated by the old notion that a member of the legislature had a list of duties, some of which were handed to assistants. Mr. Kenney took this idea and revolutionized it. Why settle for taking messages and answering a few questions when assistants could be rebranded as communicators who answered all questions? The communicator then becomes a layer, a buffer, even a wall between MLAs and the citizenry.
Soon, the UCP communicators were on board. Depending on personal style, they might describe a citizen’s concern as naïve, a product of ignorance, a sign of NDP influence. Citizens were dismissed, lectured, mocked. Albertans soon tired of the abuse and took their concerns to the internet. But the UCP communicators were there waiting. The more determined citizens, especially ones who likewise got nasty, were blocked. Since communicators handled all communications, being blocked by them was a shunning—you were a non-citizen, except for the paying of taxes.
The Sky Palace became a popular place for freed MLAs to gather and strategize over a jar or two of the Irish curse.
Mr. Kenney’s subtle magic was that many citizens blocked the government back, giving up on trying to speak to them. Communicating for the UCP, never onerous, became a cushy number. As for MLAs and cabinet, they too were liberated. Edmonton’s Sky Palace became a popular place for the freed to gather and strategize over a jar or two of the Irish curse. They were sky-high, you might say; far above the scuffling mass.
Another remarkable feat of Mr. Kenney is how he reduced the amount of money earned, held and spent by Alberta’s government. Almost instantly upon election in 2019, he reduced Alberta’s corporate tax by 2 per cent, thus shrinking government revenue by $4.5-billion. A further 2 per cent reduction doubled the amount of money no longer passing through. Still not satisfied, he pushed a few billion into advancing the Keystone XL pipeline. Some called it “the pipeline to nowhere,” but the bottom line, again, was far less money in the Alberta treasury.
A more controversial venture was Mr. Kenney’s war on doctors. He took the government’s contract with doctors and shredded it. Because of this and other causes, so many doctors left Alberta that rural clinics faltered and closed. Then Kenney focused on nurses, reducing their incomes as their hours increased due to the multiple waves of COVID. The stress, the overwork—it was only a matter of time until the nurses fled after the doctors. Fewer doctors, fewer nurses; surgeries pushed into the future. Think of the savings! This worked so well that Mr. Kenney screwed up the ambulance service too. If people had to wait longer for an ambulance, or if no ambulances arrived—well, you see the point. More savings.
As I write this, Mr. Kenney, as acting premier, was still squeezing the pennies out of the healthcare system and was working toward the ultimate goal of privatizing the thing entirely.
Something else for which Mr. Kenney must be credited is how he changed the way we look at elections. Some say Kenney is a follower of the plucky Mr. Trump, who is still denying that he lost the 2020 US election—which he lost. But Trump claims many of those who voted against him did so fraudulently, and in this way he sounds more like those whom Kenney defeated in his ascent to the UCP leadership.
In the UCP’s first leadership election, in 2017, Mr. Kenney shone light down a path that could have guided Mr. Trump to a better result. All attempts to prove that Mr. Kenney won the leadership through subterfuge have failed. All a person can say for sure is that someone became a candidate for leadership, said a lot of nasty things exclusively about Mr. Kenney’s main opponent, and then quit the race. There was some stuff about meetings between Kenney and his camp and this “kamikaze” candidate. The election itself was done online. One had to have an email address and a PIN. Again, all that can be said for sure is that quite a few PINs that were used to vote for Mr. Kenney belonged to people who later swore they did not vote or even know they had a PIN. As I say, Mr. Trump could learn from this.
At the root of all the lessons I learned from Mr. Kenney is one: If there’s a mess, don’t stick around and muck in it. If Mr. Kenney really intends to leave us, it is probably because he has looked into Alberta’s future and seen something ghastly. Long before that ghastliness manifests, he will have bid us adieu. So cheery bye, Jason. It’s been an education. That I can’t deny.
Fred Stenson’s novels include Who By Fire, The Trade, Lightning and The Great Karoo.