In 2015, the Alberta NDP under Rachel Notley surprised the province and the country when it won a majority of seats in the Alberta election, mostly because the right-of-center voter was divided between the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties. After the Conservative Party of Canada lost the federal election five months later, former immigration minister Jason Kenney turned his sights to provincial politics and campaigned for the leadership of Alberta’s PCs, the unification of the PCs and Wildrose, and then the leadership of the new United Conservative Party. On April 16, Jason Kenney’s UCP won a majority, taking 63 of the 87 seats in the Legislative Assembly on the strength of 54.8 per cent of the vote. The NDP won the other 24 seats; the Alberta Party and Liberal Party elected no MLAs. Minor right-leaning parties such as Reform, Pro-Life (formerly the Social Credit Party), Alberta Advantage, and Freedom Conservatives did not win seats either.
Kenney had a sterling pro-life, pro-family record as an MP, once serving as a co-chair of the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus and regularly addressing the National March for Life. In recent years, however, he has distanced himself from socially conservative positions, including supporting the effort to remove the traditional definition of marriage in the Conservative Party of Canada policy book at the 2016 federal CPC policy convention. As leader of the UCP, he has championed parental rights in education, but also said he would ignore the UCP’s 2018 policy convention motion, which passed overwhelmingly, that would require the notification of parents when their child joins after-school clubs, including “gay-straight alliances.”
Kenney’s UCP caucus also boycotted a vote on Bill 9, which established anti-free speech bubble zones around the province’s private abortion mills, with the leader saying “We’re not going to play games with divisive social issues.” Instead, Kenney said, “We’re here to focus on job creation and economic growth.”
During the campaign, the NDP and media attacked Kenney for not disqualifying candidates who questioned homosexual practice, the transgender ideology or who were pro-life, although a few candidates quit the race before the official campaign started. During the leaders’ debate, Notley said that the leader and party was not “modern” in its refusal to accept “women’s control of their bodies” or the “safety of trans kids.”
The NDP launched a website,TheTruthAboutJasonKenney, which claimed “Jason Kenney has spent his entire career trying to restrict access to abortion and roll back women’s rights.” It said, “Thanks to Jason Kenney, a woman’s right to choose is in sudden and real peril in Alberta,” because the UCP is “already trying to restrict access to abortion.” The website also pointed to Kenney’s pro-life voting record in Parliament and said, “the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.”
Kenney said during the leadership campaign in 2016 that he would not “bring forward legislative measures” on abortion and told the CBC that same year that he never introduced pro-life legislation during his two decades on Parliament Hill. A party spokesman told Global News during the election campaign “a United Conservative government under his leadership will not reopen this debate.”
Groups such as Campaign Life Coalition supported individual pro-life candidates at the riding level, as they always do, but have long being reticent about Kenney’s leadership. Jack Fonseca, director of political operations for CLC, said that Kenney is either “afraid to be criticized by the liberal, pro-abortion media” or “completely abandoned his faith with regards to life and family issues.” Or as one long-time former Parliament Hill staffer told The Interim, “this isn’t Jason Kenney from 1999,” when the then-Reform MP brought up the abortion issue during parliamentary debates and addressed pro-life conferences.
Campaign Life Coalition congratulated Kenney and the UCP on their victory, with national president Jeff Gunnarson saying that the “Notley regime” “gravely curtailed” parental rights, religious freedom, and free speech. While concerned with some waffling on the issue of gay-straight alliances, Gunnarson was hopeful that the government might stop pushing the LGBTQ+ agenda and attacking home-schooling and faith-based schools.
Indeed, the UCP policy platform commits the government to increasing school choice by supporting private schools and lifting the cap on the number of charter schools.
Gunnarson said that he hoped the Kenney government would rescind the bubble zone law and ban GSAs completely. Gunnarson also said that he looks forward to seeing Kenney carry out his “pause” of the NDP’s “ideological” overhaul of the provincial school curriculum.
Gunnarson told The Interimthat if Kenney had been vocal in support of pro-life and pro-family policies, like many of his UCP candidates were, the party could have won even more seats. “As large as his majority was, there were many pro-life and pro-family Albertans who were unhappy with Kenney’s wavering on their issues and his lack of support for socially conservative candidates. Perhaps he would have won more seats if he had courted voters concerned about moral issues instead of running away from them.”