Jason Kenney was feeling confident when made his final round through Central Alberta to help gain support for his bid to be the first leader of the United Conservative Party (UCP).
“We feel we have a strong base of support from the legacy Progressive Conservatives and growing support from people in the Wildrose Party,” he said after an open house speech at the Harvest Centre in Red Deer.
Kenney spent much of his speech focusing on the policies of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, rather than focus on his leadership opponents – Brian Jean and Doug Schweitzer.
“We are trying to keep it as positive as we can,” Kenney said. “We are coming out of a decade of division in Alberta and I don’t want to deepen those divisions in this leadership convention. There has been some friction and clash but we are keeping it positive so we are united on October 29th. I respect both of those individuals and win, lose or draw and I hope to work with them in the future.”
One of his opponents was also in Red Deer earlier that day, throwing his support to the life-saving cardiac catheterizing service that is missing from the Red Deer Regional Hospital and which is currently being lobbied for by local doctors, politicians and residents. Kenney wouldn’t directly commit to funding the service if he were elected premier, but was open to the idea.
“I have met with physicians here who have told me about that situation,” he said. “I am open to addressing that, but I am not here to improvise potential provincial budgets for the year 2020. I don’t think that is realistic and I don’t think people would take promises like that very seriously.”
Kenney said that he would focus on providing better value for health care dollars invested.
“We need better care, shorter wait times and critical services like cardiac in every region of the province,” he said. “We have to turn around the situation where we are spending 45 per cent of the provincial budget on health care. That is 20 per cent per capita more expensive than other parts of the country.”
Kenney also addressed the issue of the Stephan Lougheed, son of former Premier Peter Lougheed, recently calling praise of his father ‘disingenuous.’
“I have great respect for former Premier Lougheed and all he did to help build modern Alberta. There is nothing disingenuous about that,” he said. “We need a premier who will stand up again assertively for our resources and I think the fight that he led during the National Energy Program gives us lessons on how to do that again.”
Kenney said the shift towards questioning the federal government is representative of what he has seen from Albertans.
“When we started a year and half ago, a lot of the frustration was on the provincial government,” he said. “A lot of that frustration has migrated to the federal level. I think that means this is about having a premier who will defend this province and its interests.”
He added federal policy has led to western alienation and even support for separation.
“It is more than I can recall in my adult life. I am a Canadian patriot and I want to channel that frustration into positive political direction rather than divisiveness,” he said.
UCP members have the opportunity starting Thursday and ending Saturday to vote for Kenney, Jean or Schweitzer.
“We are confident, but not taking anything for granted,” he said. “That is why we are out at events like this during the last stretch. We are going to work really hard to encourage our supportive members to vote. For me it has been 16 months and over 100,000 kilometres on my pickup. It has been over 850 events meeting tens of thousands of people. Win, lose or draw, I’m looking forward to getting past the finish line Saturday night.”