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Last Modified: May 9, 2023
Feature Image for April 2023 Sunday Short: Sunday Shorts is written in white text on a blue background. To the left of the text is the book cover for “Blue Storm” edited by Duane Bratt, Richard Sutherland, and Lisa Young.
Jason Kenney and the Perfect Storm, Duane Bratt, Richard Sutherland, and Lisa Young

With the provincial election upon us, we have chosen to share as this month’s Sunday Short a selection from one of the many books BPAA member presses have produced about Alberta politics. Blue Storm: The Rise and Fall of Jason Kenney, an Open Access book, is published by the University of Calgary Press.

When Jason Kenney drove his blue Dodge Ram pickup truck into the convention hall on election night in April 2019, he was celebrating a landslide victory that returned the province to “normal.” After two years of campaigning to win the leadership of both the Progressive Conservative (PC) and Wildrose parties, merging them into a new United Conservative Party (UCP), and then soundly defeating Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party (NDP) government, Kenney seemed poised to join the likes of Manning, Lougheed, and Klein in the pantheon of long-serving Alberta conservative premiers. Instead, only three years later, Kenney stood in front of a much smaller crowd of supporters to announce that he would step down as party leader after receiving only 51.4 per cent yes votes in the 18 May 2022 UCP leadership review.

This book tells the rise and fall story of the Kenney government’s ambitious plans to return to “true” conservatism reminiscent of the early Klein years, and how these plans were received. It examines the Kenney government’s efforts to will the province out of its sense of decline by taking on national and international forces calling for a shift away from fossil fuels. It traces the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the internal tensions in the UCP, and enumerates the tragic consequences of the government’s inability to manage the situation.

Just as Jason Kenney was the centre of attention on election night in 2019, he remained a central and increasingly controversial figure in the government his party formed. Through many of the chapters, the book tells the story of hubris: excessive pride and self-confidence that left Jason Kenney resigning before finishing his first term.

In 2019 we, along with Keith Brownsey and David Taras, co-edited Orange Chinook. We felt that the 2015 election of the NDP and Premier Rachel Notley was such a notable event that it needed to be documented in a major academic study. The NDP not only replaced the forty-four-year PC political dynasty, but also it represented a dramatic ideological turn for a historically

dominant conservative province. Orange Chinook explained the breakthrough election victory and also examined the first three years of the Notley government. The Notley years saw the creation of the Climate Leadership Plan (CLP), fights over pipelines, changes to the tax structure, reforms to party financing, an ill-fated farm bill, and a host of other changes to Alberta’s political and cultural system. The 2019 election, which saw the NDP lose to the new UCP, was initially seen as the second half of the same story.

If 2015–2019 was a dramatic shift away from conservatism, 2019 was the backlash and the restoration of conservative rule under the leadership of UCP Premier Jason Kenney. One of us was at the UCP election night victory party at Calgary’s Big Four building. In speaking to UCP staffers at the end of the evening, they promised a return to Alberta conservatism. They did not just mean replacing the NDP, they were also referring to previous PC governments that they felt were insufficiently conservative (Stelmach, Redford, Prentice). In other words, they promised a return to the conservativism of Ralph Klein in the 1990s. The UCP would form government with a massive set of campaign promises that sought to reverse many of the NDP’s policies, reclaim the glory days of oil and gas prosperity, cut back on the size of the public sector, confront the federal government, and institute more conservative social policies.

The first book had orange (NDP’s colour) in its title, so we wanted blue (UCP’s colour) in the title of this book. Within a year of the election, we realized that Blue Storm would be an appropriate title. This is because, by March 2020, the UCP’s carefully crafted agenda was sideswiped by the arrival of the COVID-19 storm. This unprecedented health pandemic also had far-reaching economic consequences and social dislocation. The Kenney government had to reorient its scheduled agenda to address COVID-19. However, in other respects, they decided to persevere with their agenda, sometimes to disastrous consequences, in the midst of COVID-19. This book analyzes the UCP agenda in the context of COVID-19.

However, COVID-19 was not the only storm facing Jason Kenney and his UCP government; they also confronted substantial political turmoil. Prominent Alberta pollster and political commentator Janet Brown regularly says that a premier has three main audiences: 1) the public, 2) the party caucus, and 3) the party donors. On all three indicators, there were storm clouds that swirled around Kenney leading to his resignation. As Brooks DeCillia shows in his chapter, the NDP passed the UCP in public opinion polls in June 2020, but because of the vagaries of seat distribution was not in a position to form a majority government until March 2021. If an election had been held in May 2022, the NDP would easily have formed a majority government. Kenney’s approval rating was the lowest of any Canadian premier and was stuck in the high 20 per cent (the lowest of any Alberta premier since just before Alison Redford resigned). When it comes to caucus, as David Stewart and Anthony Sayers describe in their chapter, two former MLA critics of Kenney were expelled from caucus, two MLAs have been demoted, and other MLAs have been openly critical of Kenney’s leadership. Adding to Kenney’s woes was the re-emergence of Brian Jean, the former Wildrose leader and failed 2017 UCP leadership candidate. In March 2022, Jean was elected as a UCP MLA in a by-election in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche (Jean’s old riding) on an explicit platform of Kenney resigning as UCP leader. Finally, UCP donors appear to be abandoning the party. Even in the era of stricter party financing rules, governing parties usually have a huge fundraising advantage, and conservative parties usually have a huge fundraising advantage over progressive parties. Therefore, it is shocking that over the last two years, the opposition NDP has raised several million dollars more than the UCP.

Party Fundraising (2020-2022)

2020 2021 January-June 2022
NDP $5,059,537.66 $6,152,003.93 $2,467, 675.38
UCP $3,747,753.11 $3,795,701.01 $1,409, 149.70

Note: The 2022 figures do not include donations to UCP constituencies, because recent reporting changes only require those numbers at the end of the year. The NDP does not have separate donations to its constituencies.

Sources: Elections Alberta, “Financial Disclosure—Parties,” accessed on 3 August 2022.

For the past two decades, the politics of Alberta have been tumultuous. Ernest Manning served for twenty-five years as premier, and Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein each served for fourteen. But since Klein left office in 2006, there have been seven premiers in seventeen years. It remains to be seen whether Danielle Smith, as the new UCP leader, can move beyond the Kenney government’s troubles and establish another conservative political dynasty, or whether this period of tumult has been a transition to some kind of competitive two-party system.


Duane Bratt is a political science professor in the Department of Economics, Justice, and Policy Studies at Mount Royal University. He is the co-editor of Orange Chinook: Politics in the New Alberta and author of Canada, The Provinces, and the Global Nuclear Revival. Duane is a regular commentator on political events.

Richard Sutherland is associate professor, policy studies, in the Department of Economics, Justice, and Policy Studies at Mount Royal University. He is the co-editor of Orange Chinook: Politics in the New Alberta. Richard’s research interests focus on Canadian cultural policy, particularly music industry policy.

David Taras was professor in Communication Studies and Ralph Klein chair in Media Studies at Mount Royal University. He was co-editor of Orange Chinook: Politics in the New Alberta. Through a distinguished career, David was a respected scholar, public intellectual, and generous mentor. This book is dedicated to his memory.