United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney is ready for the election to be over.
Last week, the calendar flicked closer to three years since he landed back in Alberta and took to the road to begin unifying conservatives.
After his successful bid to unite the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties came his battle to win the PC leadership, then the UCP leadership.
He steamrolled through them all, and now he’s vying for premier.
“I’m acutely aware of my flaws and weaknesses, but one of them is not a lack of work ethic. I just put my head down and motor through it,” he told Postmedia in August 2017.
Kenney’s career began with the Alberta Taxpayers Association. He then moved to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, where he clashed repeatedly with then-premier of Alberta Ralph Klein, before his election in Calgary-Southeast (later renamed Calgary Midnapore) to the House of Commons in 1997.
In federal politics and today, Kenney is known as a workhorse.
His role as immigration minister took him to thousands of events across the country and he rarely stopped, learning choice phrases in languages from Spanish to Tagalog.
When he shakes hands at cultural events, he has brief conversations in an array of languages, and is one of the few politicians in Alberta who takes questions in French.
And yet, people wonder who the 50-year-old is.
That’s been the challenge for the UCP this election — how to make a career politician who has spent the last two decades in Ottawa seem less like a career politician who has spent two decades in Ottawa.
After all, Albertans are famously averse to people from out east telling them what to do.
Queue the slickly produced video featured on Kenney’s Facebook page for the entire campaign. Called “My Hometown,” it takes him back to Wilcox, Sask., population 225.
“I was very fond of growing up in this small, prairie village,” he says while walking the ice-covered streets, one hand in the pocket of his jeans.
Born in Ontario, Kenney landed in the prairie village when his father became president of Notre Dame College, a school famous for a hockey program that churns out NHLers.
Unlike many politicians, Kenney doesn’t often mention his family and is famously mum about his private life.
He concentrates on policy and, these days, pipelines, though during the election leaders debate said he got into provincial public service partly because of the 2010 death of his father, Martin Kenney.
Kenney’s grandfather was Mart Kenney, Canada’s foremost Big Band orchestra leader of the 1930s and ’40s. The UCP leader says he has a “whole library” of his grandfather’s records, often sent to him by elderly constituents cleaning out their homes.
His mother lives in Calgary, which came up earlier this year when controversy swirled around his primary residence claim at her retirement home when he was a federal conservative minister.
It’s one of many controversies to dog Kenney of late.
Multiple candidates and people seeking UCP nominations had to step aside over reams of bigoted remarks (anti-Muslim, homophobic, racist, white nationalist, sexist … take your pick).
There’s the ongoing questions around the so-called “kamikaze” campaign, in which rival Jeff Callaway acted as an attack dog against Kenney’s main rival Brian Jean in the UCP leadership race.
Just last week, a business belonging to UCP Calgary-East candidate Peter Singh was searched by the RCMP. For days Kenney avoided reporters seeking comment, but on Sunday briefly confirmed he’s standing by Singh.
Then there are Kenney’s years of battling abortion and gay rights.
Kenney insists his views have changed since his younger days, pointing to his Conservative Party of Canada resolution to alter the definition of marriage from between a man and a woman, or the resettlement program for gay Iranian refugees he implemented when immigration minister.
But years of dogged social conservative politics continue to follow him, including his work to stop dying AIDS patients in San Francisco from seeing their partners.
It didn’t help when his party released its platform, which would roll back some protections for students in gay-straight alliances. Kenney dismissed the resulting protests as nothing more than NDP-provoked, Twitter-based outrage.
Before the writ dropped and during the campaign, the NDP has consistently pumped the narrative that Kenney’s past political fights against vulnerable minorities is a danger to Alberta, but that hasn’t stopped the rise of the UCP in polls.
In places like Sylvan Lake, where Kenney once faced skepticism as he tried to bridge the gap between Alberta’s two conservative parties, he is now received with cheers.
“I’m sleep-deprived, I’m fighting a cold — all the usual stuff. I’m sure the other leaders feel the same way,” he said last week.
“But you just grind through it. It’s the people part that’s fun.”