Alberta voters have elected United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney as their new premier, handing him a majority government.
Kenney tasted victory Tuesday night despite allegations that he and his team manipulated the 2017 UCP leadership race with a “kamikaze campaign.” The campaign also saw a string of UCP candidates step down after it was revealed they made racist and transphobic comments.
Almost three times as many voters cast ballots in advance polls compared to 2015.
NDP leader Rachel Notley, who won a surprise victory in 2015, enacted ambitious climate change policies, including a carbon tax and a cap on oil sands emissions—policies that proved unpopular amid an economic downturn in the oil-rich province. She advocated for the federal government’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, but the project hit a roadblock in court while she was in office.
Kenney, leader of a united conservative front against the NDP, fed off her political failures. He vowed to create more jobs, invest in fighting the opioid crisis, scrap the provincial carbon tax, fight for pipeline construction, and “stand up to Justin Trudeau.” His message connecting premier Rachel Notley to the high unemployment rate resonated with struggling Albertans.
But the UCP faced numerous scandals, with candidates outed for holding white supremacist views, and allegations of voter fraud and a “kamikaze campaign” during the 2017 leadership race.
Caylan Ford, UCP candidate for Calgary-Mountain View, stepped out of the race in mid-March after Press Progress revealed she had written white supremacist views on Facebook. In one comment, she said “I am somehow saddened by the demographic replacement of white peoples in their homelands.” In an exchange about the Charlottesville terror attack, she argued that white supremacist terrorists face a double standard compared to Islamic terrorists, Press Progress reported. CBC also revealed that she had questioned whether Pride parades have “redeeming values.”
A week later, another UCP candidate, Eva Kiryakos, also left the race after she admitted in a Facebook video that she made racist and transphobic comments, including retweeting and sharing a blog post that alleged a “migrant rape crisis” in Germany, with a photo calling refugees “rape-fugees.” In a discussion over gender-neutral washrooms, she said she didn’t want her children “brainwashed into accepting perversions as ‘alternative lifestyles.’”
Kenney was also confronted with his past comments during the campaign. Audio of a speech he gave in 2000 resurfaced in which he bragged about overturning a spousal law that allowed gay men to visit their dying partners in hospital during the AIDS epidemic. A spokesperson told VICE Kenney’s views changed in the 20 years since he made those comments.
The RCMP is investigating whether Kenney and his team set up Jeff Callaway’s UCP leadership campaign as a “kamikaze” mission. In March, The Star reported on documents it said confirmed that the Kenney campaign “controlled major aspects of the Callaway campaign.” Kenney’s team says he communicated with the Callaway team in a way that was “perfectly normal.”
The RCMP executed a search warrant last week, seizing a computer owned by Peter Singh, candidate for Calgary-East. The RCMP is investigating allegations of voter fraud during the party’s 2017 leadership race, but Singh’s lawyer told CBC the candidate has done nothing wrong.
In its platform, the UCP promised to cut the income tax rate on job creators from 12 percent to eight percent over four years. Kenney claims the move will create 55,000 new jobs.
The UCP also promised to sue the federal government if it forces a carbon tax on Alberta—one of Trudeau’s major policies ahead of the fall federal election.
Another major platform commitment was investment aimed toward ending the opioid crisis, which has hit Alberta hard; fentanyl-related overdose deaths skyrocketed in 2018, with 582 deaths between January 1 and November 11.
The UCP vowed to invest $40 million over four years toward treatment centres, detox beds, and other detox and dependency programs. They also promised to spend $10 million on “aggressive investigation and disruption” of opioid manufacturing and dealing.
But Kenney has faced criticism for his stance on safe consumption sites, which harm-reduction advocates say are an evidence-based way to save lives in the deadly crisis.
Kenney told the Lethbridge Herald, “Helping addicts inject poison into their bodies is not a solution to the problem of addiction.”
In response to criticism, Kenney doubled down, saying he has compassion for those suffering from addiction and asking why the federal government wasn’t doing more to intercept opioids from China.
The UCP hasn’t said specifically what it would do to deal with the problem of 167,000 inactive and abandoned oil and gas wells, which threaten to pollute farmland, forests, rivers and even playgrounds. It’s a problem that the Alberta Energy Regulator’s internal numbers have estimated will cost $70 billion to clean up. The UCP says it will “create a framework” to reclaim the abandoned wells faster, but hasn’t explained exactly how that will work.
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