Can Jason Kenney throw a rope around Alberta’s unruly Right? Delacourt

Good column by Susan Delacourt on Kenney’ s move to Alberta politics and his many strengths, with a nice shout out to my books:

One of the events obliged panelists to give quick answers to provocative questions posed by the audience. “Who’s the best cabinet minister in Ottawa right now?” someone asked. I didn’t even have to pause for thought: “Jason Kenney,” I said. Many others on stage and in the audience shared that view.

It wasn’t just his reputation for hard work, although that certainly was a factor. Kenney was everywhere in the old Conservative government, building his clout on the political front (with those cultural communities and others) but also on the policy front. I was told once that Kenney had a representative at every meeting in Ottawa, keeping tabs on all kinds of decision-making processes, even those beyond his ministerial brief.

open quote 761b1bKenney does have strong views (no one’s going to mistake him for a Red Tory) but the caricatures ignore his practical side. And party mergers need practical politicians.

For a sense of what kind of minister Kenney was, I tend to urge people to take a look at books published by Andrew Griffith, a former director general in Kenney’s old department of Multiculturalism. Griffith has written revealingly of a public service coming to grips with a minister who had definite ideas about how to blend policy and politics, evidence and anecdote.

And where many ministers hewed to the PMO diktat and avoided contact with the media, Kenney was eminently approachable. I don’t think he ever said no when I asked him for comment on one thing or another. (Though he hasn’t replied to a message I sent him today as I was writing this article.)

For years he held annual Christmas parties at which reporters were not only welcome, but positively encouraged. The reward for attending was getting to hear Kenney tell funny, behind-the-scenes stories about the Harper government — nothing headline-making, just anecdotes that presented his political workplace as a little less stuffy and aloof.

And it was never hard to find opposition MPs during the Harper years willing to say that Kenney (along with John Baird) was one of the more co-operative ministers in cabinet, willing to occasionally drop the hyper-partisan posture that characterized so much of that government’s style.

This version of Jason Kenney is at odds, naturally, with the caricature painted by his critics — of a rigid, even scary, ideologue. Kenney does have strong views (no one’s going to mistake him for a Red Tory) but the caricatures ignore this high-energy politician’s practical side.

And party mergers need practical politicians. Harper was a pragmatist when he set about uniting the old federal PC party with the Canadian Alliance back in 2003.

Still, I will concede that I’m finding it hard to square the more nuanced Kenney I saw with the politician who tweeted out his support for the Brexit vote a couple of weeks ago. Given that much of Brexit’s support came from hostility towards immigrants, it seemed odd, to say the least, to see a former immigration minister — a courter of cultural communities — on that side of the question.

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose, I noticed, also seemed at a loss to explain the support for Brexit from the likes of Kenney and Tony Clement in an interview last weekend on CBC’s The House — suggesting vaguely that it might have something to do with friendships they’ve forged abroad.

Perhaps it was just Kenney keeping things interesting, blurring the tidy lines of the boxes people want to throw around him. If he is going to seek the leadership of the Alberta PCs, that in itself is a bit of a surprise; many people expected to see him seek the leadership of the federal Conservatives.

It may not be a good sign for those federal Conservatives that Kenney sees his future elsewhere right now. He became pretty adept — as his old boss would attest — at figuring out where there was room for growth in the conservative movement.

Could he pull off a merger in Alberta? I wouldn’t put it past him. Kenney has developed a knack for doing — and being — the unexpected.

Source: Can Jason Kenney throw a rope around Alberta’s unruly Right?

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

2 Responses to Can Jason Kenney throw a rope around Alberta’s unruly Right? Delacourt

  1. Peter O'Neil says:

    Interesting.

    It never occurred to me to ask you your view on QIIP, and Kenney’s failed bid to deal with it. He called it a “fraud” before committee in 2013 but neither he nor alexander could do anything, and now of course the Liberals wouldn’t touch it. There is speculation that cabinet and the bureaucracy wouldn’t support his efforts against this sham, and against the 1991 sweetheart deal that gives quebec a grossly disproportionate share of settlement bucks. Perhaps I’ve asked you this before but do you recall how sincere his efforts were, and why he wasn’t successful?

    From: Multicultural Meanderings <comment-reply@wordpress.com> Reply-To: Multicultural Meanderings <comment+rd54dprx-ssle8zw5ftkdyl5@comment.wordpress.com> Date: Thursday, July 7, 2016 at 7:20 AM To: Peter O’Neil <poneil@postmedia.com> Subject: [New post] Can Jason Kenney throw a rope around Alberta’s unruly Right? Delacourt

    Andrew posted: “Good column by Susan Delacourt on Kenney’ s move to Alberta politics and his many strengths, with a nice shout out to my books: One of the events obliged panelists to give quick answers to provocative questions posed by the audience. “Who’s the best cabi”

    • Andrew says:

      I have no first hand knowledge the degree to which he pushed.

      But based upon my experience with him on other files he would have been concerned about the disparity and would have advocated change. Whether the pushback came from cabinet or PMO or both hard to say. But he would have been pragmatic and dropped file once opposition clear.

      Birth tourism file is example where it is clear he wanted change to birthright cit but provincial opp made the impossible.

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