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The Trump-like hallmark of Jason Kenney's campaign: Its singular lack of ideas

Jason Kenney (David Climenhaga photo)

Jason Kenny, the social conservative social media enthusiast who will almost certainly become leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta and begin the process of dismantling it in less than two weeks, naturally hopes he can duplicate the success of Donald Trump's successful U.S. presidential campaign last year.

This is understandable even if Kenney's dog-whistles and Trump-like social media bluster seem to speak to an Alberta that is fading away in spring of 2017.

A Trumpist campaign could in fact work here in the face of the wrong strategic response by the government of Premier Rachel Notley, just as Trump's campaign to make a version of America that is rapidly slipping into history "great again" worked against the odds south of the 49th Parallel.

In Alberta as in the United States that won't change the arc of history -- but it could do a lot of harm in the short term.

But Kenney's campaign resembles the Trump campaign in another significant way: its singular lack of ideas.

Indeed, Kenney -- like Trump -- really has only one idea, a profoundly negative one. To wit: dismantle everything the government now in power has done.

This is likely to work out about as well as Trump's effort to dismantle former president Barack Obama's legacy is unfolding. Not very well at all.

On Feb. 25, Kenney expressed this thought explicitly in a sophomoric social media post, an activity characteristic both of Kenney's campaign and its model-in-chief south of the border. "There is no obstacle in the NDP's legacy that we will not be able to undo," Kenney crowed on Facebook, apparently an excerpt from a speech he gave to the increasingly far-right Manning Centre.

"I would have the longest ever sitting of the summer session of the Alberta Legislature in 2019," he went on. "I call it the 'Summer of Repeal,' we’ll turn off the air conditioners in the Legislature to focus the mind. We'll start with Bill 1, the Carbon Tax Repeal Act, followed by a succession of repeals of the NDP regulatory and legislative agenda."

Does this sound like Donald Trump level maturity to you? It does to me.

As Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman said of Trump's Republican Party just yesterday in his New York Times column, "they have no idea how to turn their slogans into actual legislation, because they’ve never bothered to understand how anything important works."

He was talking about the Republicans' "plan," or lack of one, to undo president Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, and to "reform" (meaning slash) corporate taxes with no thought about the consequences beyond the sloganeering symptomatic of believers in voodoo economics.

What we're witnessing south of the Medicine Line, Krugman explained, "is what happens when a party that gave up hard thinking in favour of empty sloganeering ends up in charge of actual policy. And it’s not a pretty sight."

Now, in truth, at this moment such rot goes much deeper in the U.S. Republican Party than among Alberta's Progressive Conservatives, who still include some pretty sensible people. But all that will change when Kenney becomes leader on March 18. Notwithstanding his experience in Ottawa, which means he should know a thing or two about how our Parliamentary system works, his promise to dismantle everything willy-nilly is hardly evocative of thoughtful leadership!

Republican-style intellectual rot is likely to be made permanent among the PCs when they choose Kenney because he has pledged to destroy the party and roll it into the more extreme Wildrose Party. Even if the Wildrosers resist, that means at a minimum there will be no room for the PCs’ progressive wing. "Red Tories" will be purged, just as they were by Kenney's mentor Stephen Harper in the federal Conservative Party. Kenney's supporters have already managed to harass several more progressive candidates out of the leadership race and, in one case, into the NDP.

It is likely in the event of his choice as leader that genuinely progressive conservatives will exit en masse, as many of them are already doing, and all that will be left in the party’s hulk is the new leader's sloganeering and dog whistles.

How else can we describe Kenney's plan when all it boils down to is the reimposition of the failed policies of the late Ralph Klein -- which Alberta is still struggling to overcome?

As the Parkland Institute’s Ricardo Acuna wrote last year in the Calgary Herald, it was Klein's policies that got Alberta into its current mess.

Never mind that Alberta's spending was far from "out of control" when Klein got into power in 1992, Acuna wrote. "With revenues from oil and gas dropping by more than 50 per cent practically overnight, the lowest taxation rates in the country, a 15-per-cent reduction in program spending over six years, and over $11.2 billion in subsidies to agriculture and oil and gas over the same period, we are expected to believe that, somehow, the best way to move forward in 1992 was to gut public spending and decimate public sector salaries."

Then there was Klein's selloff of public assets to friends of the government for less than they were worth -- to "pay down the debt." Plus the multi-billion-dollar infrastructure deficit he piled on, which we are still paying off. And the huge tax giveaway that made the province even more dependent on the proverbial resource rollercoaster.

What did the "Kleintastrophe" really achieve? Acuna wrote: "Just as the international price of oil was starting to climb and the economy was recovering in the mid-1990s, Klein actually slowed down the economic recovery by putting thousands of people out of work and greatly reducing the purchasing power of those public servants who got to keep their jobs."

Fast forward to the present, and Alberta's right-wing leaders -- especially Kenney -- are advocating exactly the same thing all over again.

This, Kenney claims, will "renew the Alberta Advantage (and) get Alberta back on track as the beating heart of enterprise in Canada."

Fat chance! More likely, it would do just what Klein did: Stall the recovery, put another 30,000 public employees out of work with no corresponding increase in employment in the private sector, build another huge infrastructure deficit and strengthen opposition to Canadian pipelines from Alberta -- perhaps fatally so.

We sat through this movie once before. Now we're watching the horrifying big-budget sequel next door.

Well, that's what happens when you elect people who don't really have a plan except to dismantle what the last guy did.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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