‘I have great confidence’: Kenney praises Erin O’Toole as Conservative leader focused on Western alienation

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney had high praise for the new federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole Tuesday.

At a news conference held to announce changes to Alberta’s cabinet ministers, Kenney said he was “delighted” with the election of O’Toole.

“I have great confidence in his ability, his wisdom, and his total dedication to fairness for Alberta and a strong future for our resource industries,” Kenney said.

“Yesterday, in his very first conversation with the Prime Minister… the first issue that Erin raised was Western alienation and the need for the national government to respond in a real and detailed way to it.”

Erin O’Toole highlights ‘western alienation’ as Conservative Party’s top priority

Erin O’Toole highlights ‘western alienation’ as Conservative Party’s top priority

In his first press conference as party leader on Tuesday, O’Toole said over the last four years, an “Ottawa knows best” attitude has alienated many Canadians, particularly in Western provinces where resource production has historically been a major source of jobs.

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Because of that, O’Toole said he wants to see a plan from the federal government in the throne speech on Sept. 23 that addresses the need to get resources to market.

“We need to make sure Canada’s strength in natural resources is part of that plan.”

Kenney has not been quiet about his endorsement of O’Toole — he also appeared in a March video posted to O’Toole’s social media where he spoke at length about his approval of the candidate.

Read more: Jason Kenney endorses Erin O’Toole for leadership of Conservative party

Kenney and O’Toole were both members of Stephen Harper’s cabinet. Alberta’s premier said he believes O’Toole understands the importance of the West and its specific issues.

“He’s really spoken to that [Western alienation] from the very beginning,” Kenney said said Tuesday. “Erin called me yesterday, and we spoke for half an hour further about these issues.

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“He has been a consistent, longtime leader on issues of real priority — issues for Albertans around oil and gas pipelines, fairness in the federation, jobs and the economy.”

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole expected to prioritize Western Canada issues

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole expected to prioritize Western Canada issues

Mount Royal University political analyst Duane Bratt said while Kenney was the only premier in Canada who gave a public endorsement to a leadership candidate, it’s possible it was less about O’Toole and more about taking down Peter MacKay.

O’Toole defeated MacKay — the former leader of the federal Progressive Conservatives — in a vote that stretched into the early hours of Monday morning in Ottawa.

“I wonder how much of the endorsement was in support of O’Toole, and how much of it was in opposition to Peter MacKay,” Bratt said.

“Peter MacKay was not well liked in conservative circles in the Prairies — Jason Kenney in particular.”

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Read more: Erin O’Toole: A look at the new Conservative leader and what he is promising

Bratt added while Kenney’s endorsement will help Albertans accept the Ontario MP as leader, O’Toole will likely need to focus on areas other than Alberta to gain headway for the party come the next federal election.

“He’s got a lot of building to do. As a suburban Toronto MP, that’s where the Conservatives need to make hay,” Bratt said.

“They’ve already won most of the seats in Alberta and Saskatchewan. They need to win suburban Toronto, suburban Vancouver.”

Read more: Erin O’Toole defends ‘pro-choice’ stance in pitch for more inclusive party

— With files from Amanda Connolly and Karen Bartko, Global News

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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