Jason Kenney was with Stephen Harper, the prime minister of the day, at a secret Canadian special forces base in Iraq when he heard the NDP had won the May 5, 2015, election in Alberta.
“I turned to him and said: Maybe we should just stay here.”
Kenney is now here, leader of the Progressive Conservatives in this province, pushing hard for one new united conservative party to go toe-to-toe with the Notley NDP government, a fight no one ever imagined before May 5, 2015.
“It’s sometimes surreal but all too real for the people who are paying the consequences of this government’s ideological fancies,” says Kenney.
“One guy said to me the other day, he feels like he’s living under occupation. He can’t believe socialism is actually governing Alberta.”
The PC leader looks to explanations. Both the PCs and the Notley NDP ran in the 2015 election on higher taxes and big deficits.
In fact, the PC’s health tax plan would have hit Albertans more immediately and the NDP never pitched their carbon tax.
“When conservative parties ape their opponents they lose. The PCs blurred the differences and so the NDP platform didn’t seem all that different,” says Kenney.
As well, says the Tory leader, many Albertans felt the PCs needed a kick in the pants and Wildrose was going through a crisis after the notorious floor-crossings.
“People just thought: Well, this Ms. Notley seems like a nice person and it’s impossible she could win.”
“They just collectively made a mistake and now regret it. They woke up the next morning with a bad hangover.”
As for the victorious NDP, Kenney believes the government will press on, knowing the clock is ticking to the next ballot battle.
The PC leader also thinks they may pick fights near and dear to the party’s base to rouse their supporters for what is expected to be a no-holds-barred election in 2019.
“I think they know in their heart of hearts this is a one-term government, so it’s time for them to put their pedal to the metal and re-create the province in their socialist image as quickly as they can.
“I actually think their strategy is to energize their base of supporters and drive up turnout.”
Could the NDP win again?
“It’s not impossible,” says Kenney. Recent politics teaches us nothing is impossible.
The PC leader points to the PCs and the Wildrose and how neither party polls in majority government territory.
He figures one conservative party could score 50% of the vote on a bad day.
“It doesn’t matter how many lucky breaks the NDP get and it doesn’t matter how successful they are in turning out their base, if we unite free-enterprise voters they’re done. Stick a fork in it.”
That’s the yet-to-be-determined future. We live in a very different present.
“I don’t think any of us ever thought it would happen. How wrong we were. Some days I wake up and I’ve got to double-check that this has actually happened. These guys are in power. But it’s real. It’s true.”
In the legislature Thursday, Wildroser Derek Fildebrandt thunders on about obliterating the very memory of the Notley NDP in power as the ancient Romans did in their time with those they believed disgraced them.
“We will tear down their ideological monuments to socialism by cutting taxes, reducing spending and balancing the budget,” proclaims Fildebrandt.
“We will tear down their temples of eco-fundamentalism. We will sow the fields of socialism with salt so a government like this can never grow again.”
Premier Notley speaks in Edmonton but, alas, it is not her trademark counter-punching style.
She is feeling more optimistic.
Notley says the economy is getting stronger, full-time jobs are returning. She mentions the two pipeline approvals and how schools and hospitals are being built and school fees are being cut.
The government is making life better, helping people through difficult times.
They aren’t perfect but no government is. The premier says her government does have “sincerity and authenticity.”
The premier gets a question about whether she thinks the NDP government moved too fast when they came to power. The answer is no.
She insists her government is focused on Calgary.
As for mistakes, it’s not really a mistake.
The premier sometimes wishes she would have spent a little more time learning French.
And with that, it’s on to the second half of life under the NDP.