Any long-term politician will have a complicated legacy.
Whether it’s federally, provincially or municipally, the role is front and centre in the public eye and often bears the brunt of people’s frustrations.
As Jason Kenney prepares to leave the political sphere with a planned exit in early October, few Canadian leaders will leave office as such a polarizing figure.
Once the heir apparent to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Kenney came to Alberta as the white knight in a blue pickup truck to be the so-called rescuer of the province from four years of NDP governance.
Despite saying earlier this week he never intended to “be in this gig for a long time” as premier, the career politician has made his mark – whether for good or bad – on both Canada and Alberta.
The bungling of COVID-19 will likely be first and foremost when people think of his legacy, with it seeing nearly 5,000 Albertans dying during the pandemic and the best summer ever never quite coming to fruition. The back and forth between mask mandates, slow acceptance of vaccines and hesitancy to implement policies to better protect people until it was too late left the province as an embarrassment in public health.
At times, Kenney seemed far more interested in taking shots at the federal government rather than fixing issues Albertans were facing.
The Canadian Energy Centre – also known as the Energy War Room – was a drain of taxpayer money to the tune of $30 million for no other reason than to make the federal government appear as an enemy to Alberta residents. Other than an attempt to galvanize people against a children’s movie about Bigfoot, it achieved little.
The failure to better address healthcare needs and the ongoing battle against doctors has led many physicians to flee the province while leaving a growing number of residents without a family doctor. The ambulance crisis and the vastly unpopular attempt to rescind the 1976 coal policy has also been highly contentious across the province.
Under his leadership, the UCP has also stripped funding to municipalities that will place more burden on local taxpayers for everything from infrastructure needs to social services, while also attempting salary rollbacks on nurses during the worst pandemic since the Spanish Flu and still finding a way to give lower taxes to corporations.
Kenney now adds his name to a growing list of Alberta premiers who hasn’t been able to finish a term, with the only one since 2004 being Rachel Notley to complete four years in the leadership role.
In fairness to Kenney, few people could have held a divided UCP party together as long as he had. From the moderates and radicals in the party, the one uniting theme holding them together is to keep the NDP out of office.
There’s little doubting his skill in holding the party together as long as he did, and few can match his intelligence. While he could have stuck it out after the leadership vote in which he received 51.4 per cent, he quickly announced his plans to leave as leader.
The future of the UCP party is unknown, with a new leader set to be chosen Oct. 6 with Danielle Smith, Brian Jean and Travis Toews the most likely to be selected. They each bring unique policies and leadership that will be different than that of Kenney.
The sniping and eagerness for fights has created a question mark on what the future of conservative politics in Alberta will look like and whether a united party will remain, or if another separation will occur between the moderates and far-right elements of the party.
The tactics used by the far right to divide people and groups with no plans to offer an overall good or improvements to the province are concerning, but have become the norm.
After building a career on stoking anger and attempting to lionize people’s rage for votes and to push policy, the same tactic was ultimately Kenney's undoing by those opposed to him in his own party.