The leadership review for Premier Jason Kenney is the current centrepiece of the Albertan political theatre.
Having been premier for three years, Kenney has had ample time to showcase his values and opinions, while also getting himself stuck in many controversies. Among his political actions, cuts to public post-secondary institutions have been a particular staple of student life in recent years — with the University of Alberta receiving a $222 million cut in the last three years alone. So with his leadership review underway, should the student body wish for Kenney’s defeat, or hope he remains the head of the United Conservative Party (UCP) for the 2023 election? In my opinion, the optimal result for the student body would be for Kenney to continue as leader of the UCP.
This becomes clear when we look at the options out there for a UCP headed by someone besides Jason Kenney. Two people have publicly stated their desire to be premier: newly re-elected Brian Jean in Fort McMurray and Danielle Smith in her bid for MLA of Livingston-MacLeod.
Brian Jean was the leader of the Wildrose Party when it merged with Kenney’s Progressive Conservatives to form the UCP. Jean recently returned to politics and the UCP caucus. Danielle Smith was also a leader of the Wildrose Party, heading the party from 2009 until 2014, until she crossed the floor and joined the Progressive Conservative caucus at the end of her time with the Wildrose Party. Both of these leaders’ ties with the more conservative Wildrose Party could lead to major issues for the student body in relation to cuts to post-secondary funding.
Since we have all been subject to the financial decisions towards public post-secondary schooling made by Kenney, we can avoid going into any depth about what he would continue to do to funding for universities and colleges. But how do the other potential leaders compare?
In 2017, Brian Jean suggested total cuts of $2.6 billion in immediate cuts when he was running for leadership of the newly formed UCP, which would surely have included major cuts to post-secondary education. Kenney, by contrast, promised to cut a total of $1.8 billion in his four years as premier. If Kenney were to lose the leadership review and Jean were to become the head of the UCP, it is apparent that major cuts would come to many sectors, including post-secondary education. The potential for more extensive cuts is why I believe Kenney remaining the leader of the UCP is the best option for students.
Danielle Smith, another potential outcome of a leadership hunt, has a wholly different view on cutting education funding from Kenney or Jean. In a 2018 opinion piece she wrote for Global News, she favoured the complete phasing out of government-funded public schools. Her suggestion to cut all government-funded public schools out of the province and instead give that funding to independent schools could become an ill omen for universities and their continued government funding. For these reasons, keeping Kenney as the leader of the UCP would be the most beneficial outcome for students.
This spewing of data would be useless if we ignore another outcome of the leadership review that I have so far neglected to mention: the UCP losing the upcoming 2023 provincial election. While the provincial election is still months away, the leadership review will certainly directly affect the outcome.
If your hope is for the New Democratic Party (NDP) to win, the result of the leadership review is important. Are the UCP going to lose if Kenney remains and splits the party? Or will his comparatively moderate stance push the UCP to another victory? If Kenney is removed, will the introduction of a new leader, like Jean or Smith, provide a honeymoon period among the conservatives and cause the UCP to win? Or will the choice of more conservative leaders, split the political right further and cause a renewed NDP sweep of the political scene?
Rachel Notley, the leader of the NDP, has been vocal in critiquing the UCP government’s cuts to post-secondary education. This critique should bring a ray of hope to the student body that the major cuts we’ve seen in recent years could be coming to an end. However, putting all hope on the NDP winning the 2023 election is too risky for the student body. We cannot disregard the leadership review. This means we have to hope for Kenney to remain as leader of the UCP so as to hedge our bets come the provincial election.
Disregarding an election loss for the UCP, Kenney would be the best option for students. Among the three politicians currently hoping for leadership of the UCP, Kenney is by far the least bad option. More cuts may happen, and probably will, but the cuts Kenney will present would be less than those which would probably happen under Jean or Smith.