In 1984, I chose to get involved in politics as a Liberal during a summer blizzard of Conservative voters. The Liberals went down to a humiliating defeat and the Mulroney era was upon us. Yet, despite being soundly trounced, a dedicated group of Liberals in Mission-Port Moody riding soldiered on, and from them I learned a lot about politics.
Two of those local Liberals that always made time for a young whippersnapper like me were Mart and Norma Kenney. My father explained that Mart and Norma were not just kindly local Liberals, but among the greatest Canadian entertainers of the 20thcentury. Mart was a renowned Canadian bandleader and Norma Locke (as she was known) was a singing star of the Big Band era. They were truly class acts. Mart often talked about his grandson, Jason, who was getting involved in the Liberals too, in Saskatchewan.
The Kenneys were strong grassroots supporters, regular convention-goers, and faithfully attended general meetings of local Liberals in church basements and community halls. In 1986, I was gearing up for my first national Liberal convention, being held in Ottawa. The main event was a leadership review that would determine if Rt. Hon. John Turner would continue as leader (he passed the test). For Young Liberals, we would also elect a national executive. Mart told me that Jason was going to make a run for one of the Vice-President positions and asked if I would help him out. I would do anything for Mart, so I did.
As I recall, Jason faced off against an older, eastern Young Liberal who had much stronger connections. It was an uphill battle and Jason lost. I doubt it was close. Among my many convention badges was a sticker for Kenney affixed to my Turner scarf.
That was it for my career as a Jason Kenney ‘staffer’. As time went on, Mart would share updates with me about Jason’s evolving political perspectives. While he would work with Ralph Goodale in the 1980s, Jason migrated to the rising forces of prairie populism and taxpayer protest. By 1997, he was a Reform Party Member of Parliament at age 29.
Mart himself served as Councillor in the District of Mission well into his 80s. He had every honour you could imagine – Freeman of Mission, Citizen of the Year, BC’s Senior Citizen of the Year, Order of Canada, and I was honoured to support his successful nomination to the Order of British Columbia in 2002. Both Mart and Norma are well remembered and honoured in Mission, as they should be. I was very lucky to know them.
The kid that ran for VP of the Young Liberals in 1986 is now the Conservative Premier of Alberta. I have only watched his career from afar, and how he governs remains to be seen, but one thing I can say is that Alberta’s new premier can draw upon a strong family legacy of commitment to community and public service.