Defying Jason Kenney’s pleas to take COVID-19 seriously, two UCP MLAs join ‘End the Lockdowns National Caucus’

Two MLAs from Premier Jason Kenney’s government caucus have joined a national coalition of elected and former politicians dedicated to the proposition restrictions on social and commercial activities intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 must end.

Needless to say, centrifugal force is not a good look for a United Conservative Party that’s starting to look a bit frayed around the edges thanks to caucus dissatisfaction with its leader’s apparent inability to get pretty much anything much right. 

Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt, another recruit to the ‘End the Lockdowns National Caucus’ (Photo: Government of Alberta).

The identity of the rebellious pair won’t come as a particular surprise to observers of Alberta politics. They’re Drew Barnes, the would-be Alberta separatist from Cypress-Medicine Hat who expects an independent Albertastan could order British Columbia around as if it were East Prussia, and Angela Pitt, the MLA for Airdrie who recently mused about how maybe Alberta should become an “autonomous province” like South Tyrol.

But according to Ms. Pitt – speaking with the Western Standard, online voice of Alberta’s unhinged right fringe – there are more UCP MLAs lurking in the COVID-skeptical caucus lockdown closet, waiting for the right moment to come out. 

Ms. Pitt is, I kid you not, also the Deputy Speaker of the Alberta Legislature. 

The pair have joined the five-day-old “End the Lockdowns National Caucus,” already populated by such fringy elected figures as Ontario MPP Randy Hillier, People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier, and Independent MP Derek Sloan. 

Mr. Hillier was kicked out of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party by Premier Doug Ford in 2019 for making “disrespectful comments to parents of children with autism.” 

Mr. Sloan was turfed from the Conservative Party of Canada by Leader Erin O’Toole last month for accepting a donation from a white nationalist, although he was already in bad odour for racist remarks and robocall shenanigans during his bid to lead the federal party. 

For his part, Mr. Bernier quit the Conservatives and founded his own xenophobic splinter party after narrowly losing the 2017 race to become Canada’s Opposition leader to Andrew Scheer, Mr. O’Toole’s predecessor.

Exit, Stage far-Right!

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

But the national caucus also has a passel of additional fringy Albertan members on board, including Paul Hinman, interim leader of the Wildrose Independence Party, former Western Canada Concept leader and Alberta MLA Gordon Kesler, and Derek Fildebrandt, once a rising star in the Wildrose Party and UCP before Mr. Kenney banished him from caucus supposedly for hunting on private land and fibbing about it. 

Mr. Fildebrandt was later leader for a spell of the Freedom Conservative party, previously known as the Western Freedom Party, previously known as the Separation Party of Alberta, and previously known as the Alberta First Party. He is now the publisher of the Western Standard, mentioned above. 

For its part, the End the Lockdowns National Caucus appears to be a spin-off of Liberty Coalition Canada, which got its start as Reopen Ontario’s Churches. 

So what’s Mr. Kenney going to do about his two embarrassing MLAs?

Former Alberta politician Derek Fildebrandt (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Nothing, Mr. Barnes boldly predicts. “I’m not worried about disciplinary action,” he told the Toronto Star. “As a government backbencher, I’m not a part of cabinet. I’m not part of the decision making. It’s my job to speak up with what my constituents want.” 

Not that very many of Mr. Barnes’s constituents really want to separate from Canada, but what he actually means – if I may be so bold – is that in his present straits Mr. Kenney doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to make him walk the plank, no matter how outrageously he acts. This is especially true if a couple of other MLAs like Ms. Pitt are willing to join the fun. 

With the windchill, it’s almost minus 40 outside now most mornings here in Wild Rose Country. It’s just too early for spring break-up!

And anyway, breaking up is hard to do — especially when you’ve already sent most of your reliable old Red Tory friends packing months ago because they were too cautious about the bull-in-a-china-shop speed at which you wanted to create the New Alberta.

Who’s left but The Base? 

Mr. Kenney keeps telling Albertans they have to take COVID-19 seriously. Then, the instant he gets an excuse, his government does stuff like it did the day before yesterday – weakening COVID-19 restrictions, allowing gyms and fitness studios to reopen, and letting restaurants resume sit-down service with essentially no rules. 

It should take about two weeks for COVID-19 infection rates to start spiking again, probably helped along by more infectious coronavirus variants now circulating in Alberta. 

The fact this is well understood suggests Mr. Barnes is likely right about what Mr. Kenney will to do to control the defiant COVID deniers in his caucus. 

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  1. The UCP are not looking after the best interests of Albertans, and it shows. People were warned about how bad the UCP would be, but they didn’t listen. The results they now have are far from pleasant. There are new variants of Covid-19 in Alberta, and they will not be diminishing at anytime soon. The UCP again won’t effectively take care of this matter, and things will get worse. It’s going to be a rough 2 more years with the UCP in power.

  2. Dave, one of your picture captions identifies a being known as Airdrie MLA Angela Barnes. is this one of those celebrity-couple mashups–Drangula?

  3. Jason Kenney can show up late to another press conference and scowl at the camera, but he has encouraged this dangerous nonsense at every opportunity.

    He has repeatedly referred to the virus as “the flu”. He has said only old people are dying so it’s nothing to worry about. He worries about the poor farmers who might have to wear a mask in the barn. He has consistently disrespected frontline workers by refusing to top up their wages with federal money. He appears in meetings with other covidiots not wearing masks. He encourages international travel. He winks at the scofflaws who defy the rules. In fact, the scofflaws are rewarded for their behaviour by Kenney opening the bars for them.

    Kenney will do nothing because he secretly supports these buffoons. They are his people.

  4. And it just never ends!

    These clowns in their clowncar just continue to do clownish things.
    None of this would be tolerated in any workplace I know about but these idiotic and childish goofballs get away with it day after day. And on a 6 figure salary – with a gold-plated pension.

    It’s shameful.

  5. Yes, the Cons/UCP types are truly special people when it comes to Covid 19 and the public health measures they so dislike. As was said elsewhere: “It has been a year now. I can potty train a puppy quicker.”

    PS: a bit of a mislabeling of Ms. Pitt’s picture. Her name is correct in the text, but knowing the short attention span of many of the UCP base, they may be confused by the error.

  6. The way cases were rising last fall, Jason Kenney was forced to make a choice: abandon his libertarian inclination and impose a lockdown, or be remembered as the premier who oversaw the collapse of the health system. Fortunately he eventually realized he had no choice and locked down.

    Also fortunately, it would appear that most Albertans took the problem seriously and did not have large Christmas get-togethers, as we saw no dramatic increase in cases in January like Ontario and Quebec did. This may be a consequence of Kenney’s delayed lockdown: it gave Albertans a preview of what could happen, although I don’t think this consequence was planned by Mr. Kenney.

    The lockdowns have worked and our numbers are dropping very nicely, but now they appear to be a victim of their own success. If the numbers are this low, we don’t need restrictions! Meanwhile, it sure is easy for the likes of Mr. Barnes & Ms. Pitt to make noise to end the lockdowns, since they are unlikely to pay a price politically if lockdowns end and the numbers explode again.

    1. Mad Max almost won? Maybe he did win. That’s why they destroyed the ballots within hours after the election, so that no recount could be done. What if he did win? Why destroy the ballots?

  7. “…letting restaurants resume sit-down service with essentially no rules.”

    Actually there are rules, and they may even be effective. The real kicker is whether they will be enforced, especially when some restaurants essentially dare the authorities to enforce them, like we have seen with a couple of churches.

    One of the things I like about the government’s reopen plan is that they are tying it to hospitalization numbers and new case numbers, but again, will they be enforced? Restaurants reopening was contingent on hospitalizations being less than 600. If these numbers go back up, will Kenney pull the plug as promised, or will he cave in until the numbers go way up again?

  8. Simple question: If Alberta voters consistently elect idiots like these, then what does that say about Albertans?

    Remember Alberta you voted them into power. As a result everyone must suffer the consequence. Things won’t improve until kenney’s UCP are voted out in 2023 – only 2 more years.

    I’ll hold out until then, but if they win again I’m out of here.

    1. Same reason, I think, that there are so many protestant denominations in the U.S.A – it’s relatively easy for upstarts to decide their church is not fundamental enough (or does no interpret the bible, or parts of it, correctly) to open their own shop. In fact, I wonder if there is a correlation between what I think is a larger protestant base (particularly in southern Alberta) compared to other parts of the country and these conservative political splinter groups.

  9. Almost 50 years ago, when I was showing an early interest in Canadian politics and history, a wise friend of my old man summed up Alberta: “It makes the rest of Canada safer, because they can all be together in one province”.

  10. A few years ago when Kenney packed his carpet bags and headed to Alberta, Conservatives seemed fairly united around the travelling big blue truck circus. Kenney was able to silence most dissent and the prospect of getting power probably helped molify others. There were only a few voices of dissent remaining, such as some former PC’s, Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who inconveniently got in the way Kenney’s pursuit of power, and people like Fildebrandt who were too ambitious and shot themselves in the foot figuratively. Of course now, the political landscape is different. The grassroots guarantee proved to be a sham and Kenney’s popularity, never the strongest, has taken a real beating lately, so voices of dissent amongst Conservatives are starting to reappear. For instance, Brian Jean sure seems to have become outspoken lately.

    What is the downside for Barnes here, after all? Kenney can’t banish him to the backbenches – he is already there. I suppose, Kenney can boot him out of the UCP, but someone like Barnes who has been in opposition before, probably can handle a few years on the opposition benches. Heck, he might get re-elected as an independent or something else. The danger, for Kenney is Barnes might also take a few other disgruntled UCPers with him. There are a lot of them, who are not part of the carefully curated group of Kenney loyalists who seem to snagged many of the best positions in the government, despite not having as much political experience as someone like Barnes. So, Kenney has to tread carefully here but letting Barnes take pot shots doesn’t convey a position of strength either.

    You have to wonder if both Barnes and Kenney are playing a game here, sort of a cold war. Each waiting for the other to push to far or make a mistake. Kenney is probably waiting for Barnes to say something very stupid, so he can dispatch him like Sloan or Fildebrandt. Barnes is continually provoking Kenney, in the hopes of forcing him to do something, so he can either leave or be freed of his UCP shackles and perhaps become a martyr to some on the right. Of course, for Barnes, it could also just be a waiting game – for Kenney to go, either back to Ottawa, or to be sent packing by either the party in a leadership review, or by the voters of Alberta.

    Basically, there is not much downside for Barnes, unless he does something really stupid and not much upside in this situation for Kenney. As for all those former PC’s who Kenney crudely pushed aside, he could probably use their support now, but that 10% or so of the voters has either left or never really was part of the UCP. Brian Jean will probably continue to offer “helpful” advise every chance he gets. Hence Kenney now gets to see the another side of politics – all the people you messed over on the way up will be there to “help” you on the way down.

    1. Your comments were spot on. I agree, Jason Kenney is playing the long game here. It would not surprise me Kenney’s people are compiling oppo research on Drew Barnes as we speak.

      There is also the option of promoting Barnes to cabinet. While the decision appears risky and nonsensical, it could provide Kenney the breathing room he needs to deal with Barnes. Some of the reasons for promoting him:
      1. Keep your enemies closer…
      2. Politicians are creatures of ambition, never underestimate the lure of power and relevancy.
      3. Cabinet solidarity; as a member of the cabinet, Barnes would lose the ability to speak freely without breaking Cabinet confidence & solidarity.
      4. Keep him busy.

      Of course, the danger is that Barnes could outshine Kenney and grow his following among rural MLA’s.

  11. I believe that this is a very telling example of how Jason Kenney no longer has a solid grip on his UCP party-MLA’s and on the ground supporters. This is the start of it. Will Kenney be able to nip this in the bud as it were?

    Key cabinet members have shown that they are weak and politically inept.

    I have no doubt that more political entertainment is on it’s way courtesy of the UCP. It will make up for some of the covid boredom that has set it.

    Oh…how interesting it would be to sit in on some of those private conversations and machinations!

    The $64,000 question. Can Humpty Dumpty put the pieces back together?????????

  12. This is where the FREEDUMB revolution begins.

    The FREEDUMB to …

    Do whatever the hell you want and damn the consequences and those who may affected by those actions.

    Open all the bars, pubs, and restaurants 100%. Full attendance. Crammed to the rafters.

    No masks. Masks are latter day burkas, or shackles, and no one wants to be a slave — especially white people.

    Let joy and FREEDUMB ring out through the land and beyond. For by the grace of God go them…and the rest, sucks to be them.

    I’m just loving it as this Darwinian game play out.

  13. These Reformers never give up. Ironically I came across a study done several years ago where it was proven that Albertans were 42 % more likely to be fooled by phoney conservatives than any other Canadians.
    I think that answers why we are in this horrible mess, doesn’t it? My late father was the strongest conservative supporter I ever knew. It made him furious how easy it was for Liberal Ralph Klein to fool Albertans into thinking he was their hero when we all knew what a disaster he was creating.
    My late parents and two sisters spent countless hours volunteering for the Lougheed and Getty governments. A brother in-law voluntarily flew the government plane for them in his spare time, and Lougheed’s energy minister , Bill Dickie , was a brother in-law of one of my uncles.

    1. ALAN K. SPILLER: Albertans never seem to learn, do they? Ralph Klein was horrible. Peter Lougheed and his MLAs knew that to be the case. Here we are again, with the UCP. What a shame.

  14. Alberta is fascinating—like theatre, a small political stage that makes up for size and crude props with dramatics performed upon an arc the playwright has rendered into an integral bridge of sand from which almost any disbelief may be suspended. In it, tragedians portray palace intrigue with all the mastery of irony demanded from a cast that calls itself “United”: The auntie-hero is done in by the Pretorian Guard what brought him to the ball. Poltei’s thirty-six dramatic forms can easily convert this tragedy into comedy or satire but, for a while yet, those should be saved for another day, hopefully not too far away.

    It’s the same story told in so many ways around the political world. Each performance risks becoming repetitively boring and uncool, yet this same old story can’t be put down, suspense is not diminished by a predictable ending but rather brinked by intense performance, coaxed by relentless wonderment at how long the main character can possibly stay blind to a fate all of us can see so clearly. It seems so impossible we can’t look away.

    After the play, hubby loosens his tie for the ride home, his wife asks what he thought of it:

    “Why didn’t he just get rid of those guys,” he mumbles halfheartedly.

    “But didn’t you see how his throne was beholden to the evil Count, the greedy Priest—and that cowardly knight—ugh!” They drive on.

    “Seemed totally unrealistic to me,” he mutters at the next red, wondering who won the hockey game, watch the highlights on the news. He stares half-lidded at the road ahead while her cheeks bathe in blue luminescence as she looks down at the theatre’s site on her phone, planning which play he’s going to critique next.

  15. This affair shows the upside of strict caucus discipline: it keeps the artillery restrained. One of my pushbacks against efforts at both provincial & federal levels to constrain parties’ & their leaders’ ability to discipline members of caucus that come out against the party line, is that it torpedoes the party’s grassroots internal policy development process. What good is saying “party policy is developed democratically by our members”, if any random MLA or MP can oppose that policy willy-nilly without consequence?

    Let’s take abortion rights as a hot-button example. The federal NDP is, & has been for decades, a pro-choice party, as decided at its national conventions over the years. Should an NDP MP then be allowed to actively oppose a woman’s right to choose? In my view, no: it would fly in the face of years of party members’ democratic votes to decide the party’s stance on this issue. The same would apply to everything from marriage equality to worker rights to equity in taxation to environmental stewardship. The other parties — even the Cons — also should have the right to ensure that their elected representatives support the policies democratically decided by their rank & file members.

    1. An extremely important point, Jerry. As I used to tell my SAIT students, if there were no political parties, we’d have to invent them. Rest assured, though, that Mr. Kenney would ensure caucus discipline if he could. This is a sign of his weakness. DJC

    2. Point taken. That said, when you see the blind partisan “voting” that’s taking place down south (And happens here) right now it’s hard to justify the expense of these facile political productions. I find them more irritating than anything.

    3. So true. Trump is an almost perfect example of what happens when policy (he only ever had one: to win and keep the celebratory spotlight of the most powerful office in the world) is not developed by a party of like-minded citizens. Trump totally disdained the vetted, nuanced compromises parties use to produce policy. This ignoramus rather thought of policies as politics—that is, sprinkle around some ill-considered, sensational or incendiary “policies” of his own diabolical inspiration as a way of getting what he wanted done, the reverse of policy getting done by way of politics. Musta confused the “Art of the Deal” (the ‘autobiography’ his ghostwriter said he never read) with the “art of the possible.”

      Trump’s “Build That Wall” stump rhetoric was his own idea: no party would have produced a policy like that. And, indeed, it was such a non-policy, no politics could get it done—except as a stage prop which, naturally, is not a policy. Even when his Republicans owned both Houses of Congress, he couldn’t get it done. But, then again, he always said he wasn’t a politician.

      BTW, Trump also confused partisanship with loyalty to him—and thence with patriotism, a notion he infected his knuckle-draggers with.

      We hear the complaint that the so-called “party system” should be “abolished.” That is as hackneyed and hamhanded as Trump.

  16. Queen Marie did not lose her head because of the cake remark that she never made. The French government bankrupted itself funding the Great American Insurrection and that led to its demise.

    Will Kenney’s economically disastrous fixation on Oil and Gas and Coal and gleeful oppression of the masses prove to be Albertans hope for our own revolution and a cathartic beheading ?

  17. So….Drew”bird brain”Barnes and Angela”the twit”Pitt ,have decided to abandon common sense and join the “End the Lockdowns Caucus”,occupied by far right wing denizens..Bernier..Sloan..Hillier..Fildebrandt..and lesser known idiots.Kenney had better grow some balls and reign them in or the 2 blondes will be next (Banff and Lethbridge) and who knows after that and all Albertans and our health-care providers and system will pay the price for this stupidity..

  18. Not surprising at all. People are very quick to criticize the federal government for the failures in certain areas in dealing with the pandemic but when we compare examples I would have to give the federal government more credit that the provincial government. There are no examples of Liberal MPs attending anti-mask and anti lockdown rallies and when MPs were found to have broken the rules there was swift punishment. There has no examples that I can see of Kenney punishing any MLA for breaking the travel rules or for attending events like this. Kenney spends a lot of time criticizing the federal government for the failure in vaccine delivery but fails to do the things that are within his powers in dealing with COVID.

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