Jason Kenney - United Conservative Leadership Launch Speech

Notes for Remarks by Hon Jason Kenney

July 29, 2017

***Check Against Delivery

Thank you, Kathleen and Kaycee!

Thank-you fellow Albertans!

Thank-you Edmonton!

What a magnificent rendition of O Canada!

Which reminds me. We are celebrating 150 years since Confederation, the birth of our Great Northern Dominion.

Now, Justin Trudeau says that Canada “has no national identity,” and seems to think that Canada 150 is all about apologizing for our past.

He could not be more wrong.

I believe we have a proud identity, rooted in our history, and that Canada 150 should be all about gratitude for those who have gone before us, those who built this great country.  

The finest of those Canadians are those who have defended our democracy in Canada’s uniform.

So I would like to begin this event by asking all of those who serve, or have served in Canada’s Armed Forces, to stand so we can acknowledge and thank-you!

You remind us that freedom is never free.

That we must fight for what we value most.

And that service to our fellow citizens is the highest calling.

Let us also be grateful for all who went before us to build this magnificent home we call Alberta.

For the Aboriginal people who were the first to create communities in this rugged place.

Pour les voyageurs, les Métis, les Oblates, les canadiens, tous animé par l’ésprit de liberté.

(The voyageurs, the Metis, the Oblates, the French Canadians, all animated by the spirit of freedom.)

For the Mounties who brought with them the rule of law.

For the ranchers who settled rugged terrain from the Cypress Hills to the Eastern Slopes.

For the fur traders, like the Shaben family of Lebanon whose grandson Larry became the first Muslim to hold high office in North America, in the Lougheed Cabinet;

…and for the merchants, like the Kwong family from Canton, whose son Normie went on to become our Lieutenant Governor.

For the “men in sheepskin coats” who left the steppes of Ukraine to plough virgin soil, dotting the landscape with their onion-domed Churches.

For the oilmen, the engineers, roughnecks and geologists who came from the United States and around the world to turn our resources into riches.

To our newest Albertans, like Kaycee Madu and his family  –

all of them –

all of us –

together,

have built one of the most prosperous and generous societies in all of human history!

You see, Alberta is not a random collection of people or an accident of history.

It is an idea.

An idea of a place animated by hard work and enterprise.

By the creative power of economic freedom.

Thrift and personal responsibility.

A place where how hard you work and how you treat others matters infinitely more than who your father was, where you came from, how you pray, or who you love.

A compassionate society that understands wealth cannot be redistributed to the least fortunate unless that wealth is first created by somebody through hard work.

But that idea of Alberta is under assault.

It is being damaged every day by an ideological government that takes its inspiration from the failed theories of socialism: by a resentment of success, a distrust of enterprise, a mistaken belief that a powerful state is a greater force for good than strong families and civil society.

So many of our fellow Albertans who are hurting.

Nearly 200,000 are looking for work. Many others have just given up.

Tens of thousands of full-time jobs have been lost since the NDP came to office.

Thousands more have left our province.

Near record levels of bankruptcies and insolvencies, as thousands of small businesses – the unsung heroes of our economy – struggle to get by.

All of this because of a government that has poured gasoline on the fire of the recession through reckless policies that have driven away investment and jeopardized our future.

With higher taxes on everything: Incomes, businesses, property, payrolls.

And now the largest tax increase in Alberta history: a multi-billion dollar carbon tax, which will go up by 50% at the end of this year, and will then go even higher because of the NDP’s backroom deal with Justin Trudeau.

All for a tax that they didn’t even mention in the last election, and which is all economic pain with no environmental gain.

Massive new regulations, higher labour costs, suing power producers, an unnecessary royalty review, all of it causing tens of billions in investment to flee our province, and with it tens of thousands of lost jobs.

If all of that wasn’t bad enough, they are mortgaging our future.

A province that not long ago was debt free is now plunging into a sea of red ink, borrowing nearly a billion dollars a month.

That’s $300 million a day.

$12 million an hour.

$20,000 every minute of every day.

It’s no wonder our credit rating has been downgraded five times, making it more expensive for us to borrow. A vicious cycle that, according to Standard and Poors, is going to leave us with a $94 billion debt by 2020.

All of this means more tax dollars going to bankers and bondholders in Toronto and Zuric; and less going to schools and hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary.

As Margaret Thatcher used to say, “the problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money to spend.”

Or as Ronald Reagan quipped, “Socialism only works in two places. Heaven, where they don’t need it, and Hell, where they already have it.”

But the deeper problem is this: the NDP’s ultimate goal is to remake Alberta into their own image.

That’s why they’re spending $200 million of the health care budget not on beds or nurses, but on washing machines, to move the laundry jobs from the private sector to the government.

It’s why they’re wasting $50 million dollars to move laboratory services from an efficient private firm to the state.

None of this to improve public services.

All of it so they can grow the number of people paying dues to NDP affiliated unions.

But the most obvious way that the NDP hopes to change who we are as Albertans is through the education system.

They are:

- preparing to attack Alberta’s successful model of school choice,

- undermining parental authority,

- and re-writing the school curriculum in secret.

We all know what that means: more teaching fads and political agendas in our classrooms.

Have you seen the outline of their new Social Studies curriculum?

It is riddled with politically correct themes like “oppression,” “colonialism,” and “climate change,” but does not include one word about Parliamentary democracy, Confederation, Canadian or Alberta history, economic literacy, the rule of law, or any of the key concepts to understand our society.

But for me, here is the greatest scandal of this NDP government: their draft K to 12 curriculum does not include a single word about Canadian military history. The NDP wants kids to graduate from high school never having learned a thing about Vimy Ridge, Juno Beach, the Battle of the Atlantic, or any of the 118,000 Canadians who gave their lives in the defence of our country.  

What shameful ingratitude for the those who gave their lives so that we might live free!

Friends, all of these are reasons why we cannot afford the risk of a second term of this

tax-raising,

debt-quadrupling,

job-killing accidental NDP government!

And that is why a year ago I launched our campaign to unite Alberta, saying, quote:

“There is only one way to ensure that we defeat the NDP in 2019, and get Alberta back on the right track.

And that is to unite Albertans around a common cause, around a united, principled, compassionate and diverse free-enterprise party.

A party characterized by a sense of hope, optimism, and opportunity.

A party focused on the concerns and struggles of ordinary Albertans.

That means both the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties must put Alberta first.

We must focus on the future, not the past.

On what unites us, not what divides us.

We must come together to form a single free-enterprise party.

And we must do so before the next election.

Because Alberta can't wait.”

Since that time I resigned my seat in Parliament, and put 80,000 clicks on my Dodge pickup, travelling to over 700 events in every corner of the province, from High Level to Milk River, from Medicine Hat to Grande Cache, couch-surfing with supporters, and meeting tens of thousands of Albertans to advance the cause of unity.

Friends, when we launched the unity campaign a year ago, they said it couldn’t be done.

The critics said it would take too long, it was too complicated, it wasn’t legal. One party leader said that the unity plan was all “gamesmanship” that would create “confusion and disarray” and could result in “three or four” conservative parties instead of one.

But Alberta is the can-do province. We don’t sit around looking for excuses, we figure out how to overcome obstacles and we just get ‘er done!

Together, with a growing army of volunteers, we did just that.

Some in the PC Party establishment did everything they could to stop unity, but the grassroots will was too strong, and we won 75% of the vote to get the PC Party on the path to unity.

And then a week ago we witnessed another miracle on the Prairies when 95% of both PC and Wildrose members voted YES to unity!     

Thank-you for making history happen!

A year ago this was just a vision, an improbable plan.

But now I hold in my hands a letter from the Speaker recognizing the United Conservative Caucus as the Official Opposition in the Alberta Legislature;  

and a letter from the Chief Electoral Officer confirming the registration of the UCP as an official political party.

We did it!

You did it!

These two letters mean that hope is on the horizon!

They mean that this accidental NDP government is living on borrowed time, that they will be one and done!

That if we continue to work hard and win the confidence of Albertans we will reverse the damage inflicted on this province and renew the Alberta Advantage!

But now, friends, we have another important decision to make.

Who will we choose to lead our united party to victory?

Who has the right experience to lead a government from day one, especially during troubled times?

Who is best equipped to stand up for Alberta against Justin Trudeau?

A future Conservative government will inherit a fiscal disaster, and will have to move immediately to restore investor confidence in our province.  We will have to embark on an ambitious program of reform that grows the economy, balances the budget, and modernizes public services.

This will be the most challenging time in Alberta government in at least 25 years.

We need a leader with consistent conservative convictions,

who can withstand endless attacks without flinching,

who has the political skills to unite our new party while reaching out to broaden the tent,

and has a proven track record of leading major reforms within government.     

I know that I have those clear convictions.

And I have been blessed with the right kind of experience, which I believe has given me the temperament needed for the huge challenge ahead.

And so, in a spirit of servant leadership, I am today announcing my intention to seek the leadership of the United Conservative Party of Alberta.

Friends, a leadership election is like one big job interview.  This will be my second in a year! But since you are the bosses who will decide who to hire as our Leader, allow me to tell you a little more about myself.

I grew up in a small prairie town called Wilcox, where my parents ran a great Canadian school called Notre Dame College. I learned there the classic prairie values, about hard work, and the importance of community.

Twenty-five years ago I arrived in Alberta, as a young economic refugee from NDP Saskatchewan to help start the Alberta Taxpayers Association, which later became the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

At the time, government was growing and freedom was shrinking.

Governments at all levels were raising taxes, running huge and growing deficits, racking up massive debts on future generations.

Our provincial government was losing billions in failed schemes to intervene in the economy. (Sound familiar?)

The conventional wisdom amongst the political and opinion elites was that Canadians would never tolerate fiscal restraint.

But they were wrong.

The Taxpayers Federation began to give voice to the silent majority who were fed up with governments who were taking nearly half of their families' incomes.

Then the late Ralph Klein appeared on the scene

Ralph and I famously squared off in front of the TV cameras on more than one occasion.

But when he was wrong, he admitted it. And on issue after issue, he listened, took our advice and turned it into government policy.

One morning I held a news conference and called for "No More Boondoggles" legislation to ban corporate welfare.  Ralph called me up that afternoon, and said, "come see me at my condo." Over a beer or two, I outlined our proposal. He said, "It makes sense to me." And our proposal became law within weeks.

The same thing happened with Taxpayer Protection Act, Balanced Budget Legislation, the flat tax.

When I led a campaign to reform the MLA Pension Plan, Ralph at first opposed any changes, but seeing where the public was at, he ended up scrapping it completely!

I learned in those days that if you had a good idea backed by the people, it could be unstoppable.

Especially if you had a Premier with a surplus of common sense.

As President of the Taxpayers Federation, I went on to fight the same battle at the national level, pressing the Chretien government to stop Canada from going over the fiscal cliff in the mid ‘90s.

When the Liberals released trial balloons about major tax increases, we sprang into action with a  series of "No More Taxes" rallies across Canada.  And in what now seems like a political miracle, the Liberals listened to Canadians, cut spending, balanced the budget, and eventually reduced taxes.

Emboldened by these experiences, I decided to take the fight for more freedom to the front lines in Parliament.  

I did so in part because I wanted to promote unity amongst federal conservatives, so that vote splitting between the Reform and PC parties would not lead to permanent Liberal governments.

So Preston Manning asked me to head-up the United Alternative project, crisscrossing the country trying to find common ground for unity between Tories and Reformers.

Eventually, two courageous leaders stepped forward: Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper.  

They had the vision to look forward with confidence, rather than backward with bitterness.       

They realized that the future of Canadian conservatism, and in some ways the vitality of our democracy, demanded unity through strong leadership. Leadership which led to the creation of the Conservative Party of Canada thirteen years ago, and to the longest-serving Conservative government in the twentieth century!

A government:

  • That cut the federal tax burden to its lowest level in six decades.

  • That gave Canada the strongest economy in the G7 through the global crisis

  • That restored balance to the justice system

  • That gave Canada a strong and principled voice in world affairs

  • That gave prairie farmers marketing freedom, scrapped the long gun registry, and did so much else to expand human freedom

I was honoured to play a role in that Conservative government:

  • As Canada's longest-serving Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, implementing fundamental reforms to help new Canadians succeed, while strengthening the fairness and integrity of the system.

    • Refugee reform

    • Cracking down on immigration reform

    • Eliminating huge backlogs

    • Strengthening the citizenship program

  • As Minister of Employment, where I launched a skills agenda to boost trades training, and implemented the Canada Jobs Grant; and

  • As Minister of National Defence, working with our brave men and women in uniform, and deploying the Canadian Armed Forces to take the fight to ISIL in the Middle East, and to Ukraine to strengthen that country's defenses.

  • As Chairman of the Cabinet Operations Committee, which coordinated government action on crisis and key issues; and as

  • As Regional Minister for Southern Alberta, succeeding in getting Albertan an additional billion dollars a year through full per capita health care funding, tripling federal infrastructure for Alberta, and so much else.

But perhaps the most enriching challenge during the past decade has been working with a remarkable team to reach out to new Canadians, and members of our cultural communities, turning hundreds of thousands of natural small-c conservatives into big-C Conservatives.

It's true that I attended literally thousands of events, earning me the nickname of Minister of Curry in a Hurry, not to mention a couple of extra notches in my belt! But it's also true that in doing so I was constantly inspired by the stories of so many new Canadians who had overcome adversity to make Canada their new home.

And I am proud to say that over three elections we doubled the Conservative vote amongst new Canadians, and became the only centre-right party in the developed world to win a higher percentage of votes from immigrants than native-born citizens!

Friends, I offer you this lifetime of experience, together with my successful record in fighting for unity over the past year.

This is about a lot more than a merger of two political parties.

This is about uniting Albertans of all backgrounds and walks of life.

If you felt abandoned by the PC governments in recent years, I hear you. But the time is now to move forward united. Join us.

If you are a federal Conservative who has never before been involved in provincial politics, we need you. Please join us.

If you are a Wild Rose supporter who wants to see a single, common-sense free enterprise alternative to the NDP, please join us.

If you are a nurse who wants more flexibility and innovation and less central control and bureaucracy in the healthcare system, join us.

If you are a union member about to lose your job because of NDP policies, like closing down our coal industry, please join us.

If you want strong, world-class environmental protection that does not jeopardize jobs and our standard of living, join us.

If you want to end the NDP’s massive multi-billion dollar carbon tax on everything, join us.

If you believe that parents and not politicians are responsible for kids and their education, join us.

If you are a hard-working Albertan who has never before been involved in politics, but are concerned about the direction of our province, please join us.

This campaign is bigger than any individual. The time is now to move beyond egos, beyond nostalgia for the past, beyond recriminations and pointless division. It is about this province, her people, and their future.

Together we must restore Alberta as the economic engine of Canada.

Together we must begin the renewal of Canada's conservative movement right here in its heartland.

Canada is counting on us to get this right.

With strong leadership that is aligned with the democratic will of ordinary Albertans, we can do this.

Our province and many of her people are going through a time of adversity.

But united, we will get Alberta back on the right track for them.

United, we will restore this province as a beacon of freedom, hope and opportunity.

And united we will emerge, as in the words of Alberta's motto - strong and free.

Thank-you very much.