Jason Kenney at the helm – at least for now

TORONTO – Jason Kenney is more confident now than he has been in “a long time” about his leadership.

The United Conservative leader took the podium at the 17th meeting of the party’s national council – three days after his party lost a vote of confidence and saw two of his most senior staff quit – in front of a room full of at least 100 delegates.

A year ago, he reminded the mostly conservative men and women, who eventually voted him in as leader, the party “made great history” with that historic victory.

Some people were, however, probably not too proud of that history, with fiscal conservatives wandering themselves with Alex Wilks, Kenney’s highly touted right-hand man, leading the charge to oust him.

Kenney was determined to thank everyone who’d gone through that process.

He also didn’t shy away from making noise about the machinations of the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives, who split Alberta’s electorate after the NDP was elected in 2015.

“There is no way to unring the bell. These are not normal political circumstances,” he said.

There’s still time for the NDP to unseat him, Kenney said, but he encouraged the party to rally around him. He called on conservatives to “affirm our beliefs, affirm our values and affirm our party” against “the years of hypocrisy” under the NDP.

“What we’re seeing is Alberta again crashing to the bottom of the barrel economically and, even worse, is behaving in a particularly strange way in our politics,” he said.

“This is not healthy for the United Conservative party, it’s not healthy for the province of Alberta and it is not healthy for its future. It’s time for our best people to rise to the occasion and stand up.”

Kenney told reporters he was “very pleased” with the turnout at the meeting and noted that everyone there was there for a reason, and “want to help the United Conservative party create great policy for our people”.

It remains to be seen if they’ll push for a leadership review in 2019. Kenney said that’s something that can’t be on the horizon right now, but noted, “it is something that will be dealt with in due course.”

“I don’t feel that the process that’s been followed in Alberta the last two years and in 2013 before that, is appropriate for our party,” he said.

“Now what I’m looking forward to is a vigorous debate about our party’s platform and the future direction that it takes, and a concerted effort to make our party a party that people understand will guide Alberta through difficult times.”

A raucous group of self-described progressive delegates had already gathered outside the meeting to greet caucus and call for their support. Kenney spent most of his time at the meeting addressing them, urging them to stick with him.

Some even greeted Kenney with yelling and booing. The most vehement were members of the progressive Women’s Alliance in Lethbridge.

They have called for Kenney to resign because of what they said was his record on LGBTQ issues and his support for abortion.

Kenney thanked those delegates for a “spirited debate” and said they’re raising important questions about what makes for a progressive party in Alberta.

“We were free to air our concerns. We did,” he said.

“And as we move forward, we will do just that.”

“We’re united and we’re stronger,” he told the rest of the party.

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