Alberta Politics
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney less than a week ago on New Year’s Eve optimistically forecasting a better 2021 – “of course, there will be some challenging weeks…” (Photo: Screenshot of UCP video).

In epic flip-flop, Jason Kenney reverses course, disciplines globe-trotting MLAs and sacks migratory chief of staff

Posted on January 05, 2021, 1:19 am
9 mins

After a weekend of unprecedented denunciation from all points of the political compass, including many of his own loyal supporters, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney yesterday folded and accepted resignations from two cabinet members and a top aide, while demoting four backbench MLAs for ignoring repeated pleas by health officials not to travel during the pandemic.

Some called it the Monday Morning Massacre, because it sounded as if there was precious little voluntary about yesterday’s sudden changes, although the discipline meted out was mostly too mild for such a moniker. 

Former Alberta premier Alison Redford (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard returns to the United Conservative Party back benches after only 132 days in cabinet as municipal affairs minister. She had holidayed in Hawaii while most Albertans hunkered down and obeyed restrictions designed to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Parliamentary Secretary Jeremy Nixon, the MLA for Calgary-Klein, also resigned from cabinet. The brother of UCP House Leader and power broker Jason Nixon also vacationed in Hawaii during December. 

Kenney Chief of Staff Jamie Huckaby, who visited relatives in the United Kingdom, was the only one among the seven disciplined yesterday who will have to look for work. Of course, premiers do not have the power in our system to fire MLAs. 

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan was kicked off the Treasury Board, a prestigious appointment. MLAs Tanya Fir, Calgary-Peigan, Pat Rehn, Lesser Slave Lake, and Tany Yao, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, were all turfed from Legislature committees. 

For backbench MLAs, the punishments may hurt their pride, but won’t cause much inconvenience. On the contrary, they’ll have less work to do for their money. 

Mr. Yao, meanwhile, is still missing in inaction somewhere in Mexico. 

A supporter of former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean during the contest to lead the UCP, one imagines he has a pretty good idea what’s been happening and just decided to turn off his smartphone. He seems not to have responded to Mr. Kenney’s summons to travelling MLAs to get back to Wild Rose Country pronto. 

Interim Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Transportation Minister Ric McIver will have interim responsibility for the Municipal Affairs portfolio. The premier’s principal secretary, Larry Kaumeyer, will act as chief of staff.

By making international travel the bar for largely symbolic sanctions, Mr. Kenney is saved from having to sack Sonya Savage, energy minister and a member of his inner circle. She drove to her Okanagan holiday home last week for “essential” property maintenance. Any other ministers whose names have not yet come to light but may have enjoyed a brief sojourn in B.C. are protected for the same reason. 

“By travelling abroad over the holidays, these individuals demonstrated extremely poor judgment,” the premier said in a short statement on Facebook yesterday. 

Acknowledging the intense uproar over the weekend, he said, “I have listened to Albertans who are sending a clear message that they want real consequences for these actions.”

Retired radio commentator Dave Rutherford (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It was the most epic political flip-flop in Alberta since 2014, when the Progressive Conservative Caucus gave foundering premier Alison Redford a “work plan” to follow, then drove her out of office four days later. Alert readers will recall that Ms. Redford’s troubles started with some expensive overseas travel too. 

There was a whiff of panic in the reaction yesterday as Mr. Kenney executed his sudden course reversal. 

On Friday he had praised Ms. Allard for helping keep Calgary-based WestJet in the air.

Yesterday, he threw her under the wheels of the airport bus. 

On Friday, after the trips were first reported by media, he defiantly announced at a news conference there would be no consequences for any of the travellers. “I don’t think it’s reasonable for me as a leader to sanction people who very carefully followed the public health orders and the legal requirements,” he said at the time. He offered to take the rap for their tone-deaf irresponsibility – confident nothing could happen to him.

Former Alberta energy minister Mel Knight (Photo: Provenance uncertain).

Yesterday he pointed right at them: “By travelling abroad over the holidays, these individuals demonstrated extremely poor judgment.”

Something that Mr. Kenney may not have realized until last weekend is that Alberta is hard to govern, especially when times are tough. Generations of Progressive Conservatives made it look easy, but they had good leadership, bench strength and more good times than bad, all of which the UCP lacks. 

We’ll probably never know if Premier Kenney had to endure a phone call from his former boss Stephen Harper ordering him to sort it out. Arguably, his 11th hour flip-flop made him look even less in control without doing much to change the perception his party is ethically challenged and arrogantly entitled. 

However he came to the decision, he certainly heard from lots of veteran Conservatives over the weekend. 

Former Progressive Conservative energy minister Mel Knight said in a Facebook post that every single MLA who travelled outside Canada “during this serious curtailment of personal freedom for most Albertans, needs to step down or be sacked by Premier Kenney.” He threatened to withdraw his support if it didn’t happen. 

Premier John Edward Brownlee, at the centre of a scandal in 1934 (Photo: Provincial Archives of Alberta).

Retired Radio talk jock Dave Rutherford, a tireless campaigner for merging the PC and Wildrose parties during Rachel Notley’s NDP government, excoriated Mr. Kenney. On Facebook he asked, “How would this premier, who is a workaholic and micromanager, not know that a senior cabinet minister was in Hawaii? 

“This is not passing the unscientific but usually accurate smell test,” Mr. Rutherford continued. “Damn it, I’m pissed off that my premier, the guy in whom we had placed such high hopes for principled leadership, has ignored all of the sacrifices that we have all made to fight this virus because ‘we are all in this together.’ Obviously not.”

I doubt there’s been as strong a public reaction to a political scandal in Alberta since 1934, when United Farmers of Alberta premier John Edward Brownlee was accused of seducing his 18-year-old secretary. That scandal certainly contributed to the election of William Aberhart’s Social Credit government in 1935.

All that remains of the UFA today is a chain of mostly rural gas stations. As it tries to put Hawaiigate behind it, the UCP can concentrate its collective mind by pondering a future as a chain of electric vehicle charging stations.

27 Comments to: In epic flip-flop, Jason Kenney reverses course, disciplines globe-trotting MLAs and sacks migratory chief of staff

  1. Dave

    January 5th, 2021

    There has certainly been a lot to digest over the last few days and it will be a while before the fallout of this all is clear.

    First, Kenney who is his own version of “the lady is not for turning”, finally changed course or was forced to. I hope that one thing he might learn from all this is a bit of humility and flexibility. Sometimes the best and most beneficial thing is to change course, even if you don’t want to and it is difficult to do. I suspect my hopes on this will probably prove to be too optomistic

    Second, there will be fall out from this, but the damage will be limited. More stalwart UCP supporters and friends in the mainstream media will likely accept the discipline given and try move on, probably rather quickly. Of course, the growing number of those not so sure of Kenney may come to somewhat different conclusions. Voters are surprisingly willing to forgive and Kenney did change course, but he didn’t really apologize for his previous mishandling of this. One thing he could have learned from Ralph was how to sound truly sorry and contrite, whether it was really the case or not.

    So for now, crisis probably averted for Kenney and the UCP. However I suspect the confidence in Kenney as some sort of political genius has probably finally been seriously damaged. His government will be watched more closely and judged more harshly if it makes future mistakes in judgment, particularly if they bear any resemblance at all to what happened here. The number of people involved in this situation alone, will throw the government into some turmoil for a while, when it already has much bigger problems it is not handling well.

    As you said, governing Alberta is not as easy as some others once made it look in better times. I doubt it will get any easier any time soon and it may even get harder in the next year or two for Kenney.

    Reply
  2. Greenmapleleaf

    January 5th, 2021

    Whoops! Another one, mighty big fish this time: https://pressprogress.ca/the-head-of-jason-kenneys-public-inquiry-into-anti-alberta-activities-worked-remotely-from-palm-springs/
    Perhaps he was spying on California’s notoriously dangerous environmentalists.

    Why do so many UCP not vacation in Canada? How many are dual citizens? You should ask before voting best to know where loyalties rest.

    p.s. Thank you for the early morning releases, great for insomniacs like myself.

    Reply
  3. tom

    January 5th, 2021

    Dave,

    “The brother UCP House Leader and power broker Jason Nixon” should be “The brother of UCP House Leader and power broker Jason Nixon.”

    Otherwise perfect.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      January 5th, 2021

      Thank you. It’s fixed. My original draft last night was riddled with typos. I ent through it four times and found more on every pass through … and sill I missed one. DJC

      Reply
  4. Hammer

    January 5th, 2021

    I can see the fissures coming to play. Using a hockey metaphor, The rightwinger’s ( no offense to Guy Lafleur and Gordie Howe) will fracture into rump parties lead by the Western Standard crowd. The leftwinger’s ( no offense Bobby Hull) may leave and join the Alberta party and JK will be left to coach with more pucks than players.

    Reply
  5. Farmer Brian

    January 5th, 2021

    Jason Kenney finally did what he had to do, unfortunate he didn’t do it last Friday, that was a big mistake.

    Your last 2 paragraphs did give me a cause for a chuckle. Certainly shows the disconnect between urban and rural. While you are correct that UFA has “rural gas stations” I would say their predominant business is their farm supply stores. I have bought building packages, my cattle handling system, grain bins on and on from UFA. And where is the Social Credit today? Alberta has had more than one political movement rise and fall over the years. I did understand the point you attempting to make and the majority of your readers will appreciate it but I am always surprised how much where you live affects what you see.

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      January 6th, 2021

      Obviously, Kenney did NOT do what he had to to. He should resign in disgrace and drop the writ. He is an unmitigated disaster for Alberta, and lives are being lost to COVID unnecessarily under his watch.

      Reply
    • Neil Lore

      January 6th, 2021

      “…I am surprised how much where you live affects what you see.”

      Spot on. I think this is part of the cause of the increasing partisanship of politics. We get a bunch of otherwise-reasonable adults arguing with one another about whose facts are “correct”, where in a bygone era, we used to have otherwise-reasonable adults agreeing about a common set of facts, but interpreting them differently and then arguing about whose interpretations are “correct”.

      Reply
  6. Mike in Edmonton

    January 5th, 2021

    Will wonders never cease? Kenney actually looking “responsible.” He’s enforcing the Twelfth Commandment: “Thou shalt not, by word or deed, publicly embarrass the boss.” (The 11th is, “Thou shalt not get caught breaking the first 10 commandments.”)

    Reply
  7. Abs

    January 5th, 2021

    A jolt is what they needed and a jolt is what they got.

    #OverthrowTheUCP is trending on Twitter. The people of Alberta have spoken, but It will take more than a light pass with a Swiffer for Kenney to sweep this under the carpet. Public pain and anger won’t go away. The imperious leader may have whispered caucus come-hithers into the warm Hawaiian night, but it is going to be a long, dark one. This will dog Alberta Aloha Kenney for the rest of his time in office. He has destroyed lives and livelihoods. He has dissed the dead, and turned them into a joke. (They are either past their expiry dates, or useless corpses with comorbidities, depending on the day.) The people are hurting, badly, and the man in charge is sitting on freezers full of vaccines, while health care workers die. We can only imagine how powerful this makes him feel. This is his sorry-not-sorry swan song.

    Reply
  8. Political Ranger

    January 5th, 2021

    So, if Jason the second, (Nixon) has been in Hawaii for a vacay why are we not hearing about it in the news?

    Also, we have all had a nice long look at the car accident, with our collective thumb up our arse. Meanwhile there is some actual serious politics to examine:
    on Dec 14 these UCP nutjobs sold 18,000 hectares of Rocky Mtn eastern slopes to an Australian coal mining company
    according to Racheal Notley this morning on CBC, the UCP brain-trust has left $300 million on the table offered by the Feds for wage top ups for health-care workers
    these incompetent slobbering idiots still have more than 3/4 of the $107 billion given by the Feds to clean up abandoned and orphaned wells in the province

    Let’s get on with it folks. These guys are losers, every one of them. We have work to do.

    Reply
    • Neil Lore

      January 6th, 2021

      AY-MEN!

      On a completely unrelated note, I’ve been stockpiling torches and pitchforks. You know… for reasons.

      Reply
  9. Bob Raynard

    January 5th, 2021

    Well, David, at least Mr. Kenney has given you lots of material to write about! I do hope he doesn’t make you tire of the hobby the rest of us enjoy so much.

    We do indeed live in interesting times. I wonder how secure Jason Kenney is feeling right now. I have thought our esteemed premier could also have suspended his travelling MLAs for a while, like Rachel Notley did with Deborah Drever, but I wonder if he is afraid the travelers wouldn’t come back at the end of their suspension. On the CBC noon hour show yesterday, pollster Janet Brown mentioned that a lot of the support the UCP has lost over the past few months has shifted to the Wildrose Independence Party. Given Jason Stephan’s comments about travel, and the mere fact that these people were willing to travel indicates some level of Covid denial, so perhaps they would feel more comfortable with the WIP.

    Ms. Brown also mentioned that some people were probably hoping for 6 byelections this spring. Although you are certainly correct that Mr. Kenney could not require any of the travelers to resign their seat, Ms. Brown’s comment got me thinking about an interesting game of political chicken one of the travelers could play with our premier. Who is more afraid of a byelection – a traveler or the premier? I am imagining someone telling the premier that being an MLA isn’t as much fun as they thought, and getting demoted has them thinking that perhaps they will just resign their seat. The results of a byelection right now could be really embarrassing for Mr. Kenney, especially one in what is supposed to be a safe seat.

    Stay safe everybody.

    Reply
  10. Neil Lore

    January 5th, 2021

    I used to think that the UCP are a bunch of hypocritical, entitled, willfully delinquent assclowns, but it’s clearly far worse than I had imagined.

    Reply
  11. Keith McClary

    January 5th, 2021

    Sonya needs to post a selfie up on her roof with a hammer.

    Reply
  12. brett

    January 5th, 2021

    I believe that the poor judgement of those UCP members who vacationed/travelled outside the Province is eclipsed by the incredibly poor judgement of Premier Kenney’s first response.

    It was awful, and to be charitable it was less than honest. Not what one would expect of a leader, let alone a leader in a Province with a covid crisis. It cannot be explained away by even the most ardent UCP supporter.

    Reply
  13. lungta

    January 5th, 2021

    Got to give you flip-flops in the title….nice touch

    Oh that “United” CP, eh?
    This occasion calls for Fly United posters* for everyone
    *if you’re under 40 please google fly united poster images
    possibly a new logo for the war room ? Oh heck …why not every room ? ..

    Reply
  14. pogo

    January 5th, 2021

    Please indulge a former resident with too much skin in the game! I truly believe that without global markets, my ol’ Alaberty is doomed. In order to celebrate the four edged sword that the UCP has recently tripped and fallen on, is it a diatribe or hymn? I chose the latter! Thanks for the fish! https://youtu.be/Svep8y4N2p8

    Reply
  15. January 5th, 2021

    Excellent post. Clearly, Jason Kenney expects that the fuss will die down now that he has done “something”. In my opinion, it is far too little and far too late. The UCP have outed themselves as callous, insensitive, self-centred, elitist and completely out of touch with Albertans. The only thing the premier can do to make it all go away is call an election and find out whether the UCP still has the trust of the province.

    Reply
  16. Bruce Turton

    January 5th, 2021

    “the UCP can concentrate its collective mind by pondering a future as a chain of electric vehicle charging stations”.
    Better yet, maybe this bunch can ‘concentrate’ on the unfettered free market for used vehicles, to live up to the commonly known abbreviation of the UCP . Suspect it will be a while until we see JK come up for air from Mom’s basement; at least until some other distraction of a political nature arises.
    All the fun aside though, there is still the mountain top removal for thermal coal for which there is declining use in China, Japan, and South Korea – the biggest users of such stuff. https://ieefa.org/ieefa-update-coking-coals-decline-likely-to-follow-the-path-of-thermal-coals-progressive-demise/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ieefa-update-coking-coals-decline-likely-to-follow-the-path-of-thermal-coals-progressive-demise
    Much more destruction of Alberta’s natural assets, which to neoliberals and even more so for the neo-con variety, are merely for making $$$ the old-fashioned way: get the saleable items out quickly and damn the aftermath!

    Reply
  17. ronmac

    January 5th, 2021

    Hands up if you agree Alberta can certainly do with a juicy sex scandal right about now to take our minds off our collective problems, the list of which is about a mile long.

    Reply
  18. Abs

    January 5th, 2021

    Shirley, you jest. I know that more than a few Albertans have wondered why Tany Yao has the power not to heed his master’s voice. Lots of speculation these days about who knows what, and what a few shovels’ worth of digging might uncover — all found on social media, and all of it pure speculation, of course. Some admit to Schadenfreude. Social media can be a friend, or frenemy. Kind of like friends can be Ohana.

    Reply
  19. brett

    January 5th, 2021

    Jason Kenney did not even have the guts to come out in person, hold a new conference and announce the flip flop and the actions that he has taken. Completely gutless and disrespectful.

    Our Premier is not a leader, he is a coward.

    Reply
  20. Farmer Brian

    January 5th, 2021

    Interesting to note that Mayor Naheed Nenshi of Calgary held a news conference this afternoon to disclose that two of his staff went to Hawaii over the Christmas holidays, one was his chief of staff Devery Corbin. Mayor Nenshi said there would be no sanctions. This coming from a very vocal critic of the provincial government’s handling of the pandemic. I look forward to the same level of vitriol being directed at Mayor Nenshi as has been directed at Premier Kenney!

    Reply
    • Neil Lore

      January 6th, 2021

      I hadn’t heard about that, but I agree that this is a very bad look for Nenshi. The thing is, after a while you develop a past. I think the anger at Kenney and the UCP has coalesced around this event, but I don’t think that all of the anger was caused by this event.

      On the bright side, Kenney has displayed enough arrogance and entitlement to qualify for membership of the Liberal party when things go south for him in Alberta. We can make him an honourary Trudeau!

      Reply
  21. Just Me

    January 6th, 2021

    Kenney has two faces: Captain Canada and the Czar of Alberta.

    One is his federal aspiration, the other is his zealotry in action.

    Ultimately, Kenney has only himself to blame for the behaviour of his MLAs and their partisan staffs. Kenney has encouraged bad behaviour, that involved UCP MLAs wearing earplugs during debates in the Leg; his various functionaries have encouraged action against the public interest, preferring to make war on public assets, like health care and education; and using the public trust (and funds) to support the interests of the O & G industry.

    President Obama once said that the US presidency amplifies the character of that officeholder, enhancing the effect of their successes and failures. Alberta’s Angry Midget Premier has relied on demagoguery, fear, revenge, gaslighting, and personal hatred to govern Alberta. In the end, Alberta has and will reap further a bitter harvest of destruction and discontent.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (not be published)