Dozens of politically-minded and progressive Albertans attended a town hall in Calgary on Thursday to address a growing concern in their circles that Jason Kenney will be the province’s next premier.
Duncan Kinney, the executive director of Progress Alberta and one of the speakers at the event, said Calgary and Alberta have changed significantly in the 20 years since the leader of the United Conservative Party was initially elected to parliament.
“Calgary and Alberta are far more progressive than people think,” Kinney told CBC News.
“I think there’s a certain segment of Albertans and Calgarians who respond to Kenney’s rhetoric, but I think there’s far more people who don’t.”
Kinney said that it’s simply a myth that the region that elected Naheed Nenshi as Calgary’s mayor and Rachel Notley as Alberta’s premier is deeply conservative.
Kenney celebrated a resounding win in a provincial byelection in December, where he said he and the UCP were on track to “defeat this job-killing, socialist government.”
But, if the sentiment at Thursday’s town hall was to be believed, Kenney may be in a more vulnerable position than he thinks.
“Politics has always been a trailing indicator. Politics has always been the last thing to fall into place after other factors in society are present,” said Zain Velji, vice-president of strategy at Northweather.
Velji is a former host of the Strategists podcast, and he served as Nenshi’s campaign manager in the last municipal election.
Velji said the NDP’s win in 2015 “was a real result of the changing tide of young people in Alberta, of how urban Alberta is and of the discrepancy of income inequality in Alberta.”
He said the key to victory for the left this time around will be to moderate to the middle, and ensure centrist voices can feel at home, whether with the NDP, Liberals or Alberta Party.
While many attendees at the event acknowledged that Kenney is a strong competitor, others were more bullish on their party’s chances.
Gurmit Bhachu, a 4th Grade teacher in Calgary and NDP-supporter, said he came to the event because he’s worried about his students’ future and he doesn’t want a return of the Ralph Klein-era.
“I think Jason Kenney was a gift to us, because a lot of people here in Alberta and here in Calgary know what kind of politics Jason Kenney plays and those are not the kind of politics a lot of everyday Albertans are interested in,” he said.