Alberta Premier Jason Kenney moved quickly to kick Pat Rehn out of the United Conservative Party Caucus this morning, a day after an Edmonton researcher revealed the Lesser Slave Lake MLA spent almost all of last April, May, June and July in Edmonton while constituents complained he was never in the riding.
In a Facebook Post published at 8 a.m., Mr. Kenney said Mr. Rehn “has made no meaningful effort to work in his constituency, or properly to represent his hard-working constituents.”
Moreover, he claimed, “I have repeatedly asked Mr. Rehn to be more present in his constituency. He has ignored calls from me, UCP caucus leadership, and his constituents to do so.”
Accordingly, the premier said, “I have made the decision to remove Pat Rehn from the UCP Caucus, effective immediately. MLA Rehn will sit as an independent MLA. He will not be permitted to run for a future UCP nomination.”
Mr. Kenney said he’s spoken to local leaders in the north-central Alberta riding, about 225 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, “to express the Government’s support for their communities.”
Needless to say, this wouldn’t have happened a year ago, no matter how dissatisfied were local leaders like the town council of Slave Lake, all seven of whom signed an open letter to Mr. Rehn on Jan. 5 expressing their displeasure with his protracted absence and complaining that he spends more time in Texas managing a business he owns there than he does in the riding.
They asked him to resign and got a defiant refusal in response.
But that was then, and this is now – when dissatisfaction is running high province-wide with the Kenney Government’s response to COVID-19, the UCP is suddenly low in the polls, and the government has suffered a series of embarrassments from MLAs including Mr. Rehn and UCP political staffers who travelled out of the province and out of the country over the winter holiday despite pandemic travel restrictions. Mr. Rehn went to Mexico.
A recent poll by Mainstreet Research for a right-wing online publication indicated support for the UCP had plummeted to 26 per cent, compared to 41 per cent for Rachel Notley’s NDP, while the Wildrose Independence Party would take 9 per cent of the vote.
It must be noted that Mainstreet Research has published controversial and sometimes inaccurate polls in the recent past, and has been called out for its methodology by some other pollsters, so I wouldn’t bet the farm on this one being bang on.
Still, the premier’s reaction suggests there’s something to it, and that the UCP has been rattled by voters’ reactions to recent events.
Mr. Clark’s discovery, which he revealed on social media yesterday, included the detail that Mr. Rehn had “expensed nearly every meal” over the four months during which he spent all but eight days in Alberta’s capital. That would come to $4,713 in per diems.
In addition to the outburst from the Slave Lake Town Council, councillors in High Prairie, another town in the rural riding, voted to send Mr. Rehn a letter of their own complaining about his lackadaisical performance.
Danielle Larivee, the former NDP MLA for the riding won by Mr. Rehn in the 2019 general election, noted on her Facebook page that “to add insult to injury, Pat Rehn claimed expenses for being in Edmonton … ‘for the purpose of carrying out duties as a Member.’ I know he was sitting in the House in the Legislature for some of those days, but what about the rest?”
In light of the dud Mr. Rehn turned out to be as MLA, many residents of the riding have doubtless regretted turning the capable and hard-working former NDP MLA out of office in the 2019 general election.
In his Facebook post, Mr. Kenney promised that “Alberta government ministers and I will be meeting with Lesser Slake Lake constituents in the weeks to come to ensure that they have direct access to their government, and to help them address important local issues.”
They’ll need to if they are going to repair the bridges that Mr. Rehn appears to have so cavalierly burned.
Mr. Rehn also received the maximum MLA housing allowance for a residence-away-from-home in Edmonton last year, $1,930 per month, Mr. Clark said. If he doesn’t resign as MLA, though, he will be able to continue receiving that subsidy.
And while the premier needed to make a public example of Mr. Rehn, who is not the only member of the UCP caucus with other interests, he is unlikely to want to have to face a by-election in the riding now even if he could fire the MLA, which is not possible in the Westminster Parliamentary system. Only voters can do that.
After all, it’s almost certainly better from the UCP’s perspective to have a lousy Independent MLA in the riding than a capable New Democrat with cabinet experience.