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

Yes, there’s trouble in Kenneyland – but not yet the kind Alberta’s unlikable Conservative premier can’t survive

Posted on March 08, 2021, 1:48 am
6 mins

It’s obvious there’s trouble in Kenneyland. 

But is there enough trouble to unseat Alberta’s suddenly unpopular premier? 

Progressive blogger Dave Cournoyer, on the job (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

There’s certainly plenty of buzz about that on social media these days. The chitchat about Premier Jason Kenney’s difficulties with his own United Conservative Party Caucus, especially the rebellious former Wildrosers in the ranks, is almost deafening. 

You have to know something’s actually up when both progressive political blogger Dave Cournoyer and conservative Postmedia political columnist Rick Bell are saying the same thing!

Half a dozen UCP MLAs, predictably dubbed the “Six Pack,” have publicly complained about the government’s approach to COVID-19 restrictions, which they’d like to see completely lifted Texas-style, and shamed the premier for his uninformative approach to communication with his own caucus members.

Starting with the public rebellion by MLAs Todd Loewen, Central Peace-Notley, Drew Barnes, Cypress-Medicine Hat, Angela Pitt, Airdrie, Ron Orr, Lacombe-Ponoka, Michaela Glasgo, Brooks-Medicine Hat, and David Hanson, Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul, Mr. Cournoyer went on to say he’s been told “there may be another 10 to 20 UCP backbenchers who are supportive of the six-pack but haven’t said so publicly.

A number of them, he added, “are agitating for a leadership review to happen before the 2023 election.” 

Mr. Bell, until recently one of the media’s most enthusiastic Kenney boosters, made the same point, in his characteristic staccato style: “Others may join this Six Pack. There are more than just six UCP politicians who have a beef with what’s going down.”

Even Brian Jean, the former Wildrose Party leader who lost the contest to lead the UCP to Mr. Kenney in 2017, amid dark and still unresolved talk of Kamikaze candidates and shady electoral shenanigans, has been writing op-eds and social media posts as if he thought there might be a chance he could regain his stolen crown. 

Postmedia political columnist Rick Bell, also on the job (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

All this has led to predictions Premier Kenney will soon be skidded by his caucus.

Such a thing, it must be conceded, isn’t unheard of in Alberta politics. 

Conservative premiers who have worn out their welcome with their own MLAs have been given a gentle shove, as Ralph Klein was in 2006, or made to walk the plank immediately, as was Alison Redford, starting on the Ides of March 2014 and ending with her departure from office eight days later on March 23. 

The splash Ms. Redford made when she went over the side still reverberates around Alberta’s small political pond. 

So why not Jason Kenney too?

Well, I don’t want to be a party pooper, but there are reasons to think this is unlikely. 

Mr. Kenney may not be the most likeable premier in Alberta history. He may even be the most unlikeable Alberta premier in recent memory. But, as his campaign’s conduct in the 2017 leadership contest with the hapless Mr. Jean suggests, he is more ruthless than anyone we have seen in the Premier’s Office for a long time. 

Former Conservative premier Alison Redford a few days before she was fired by her own caucus in March 2014 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

And you don’t have to be personally popular to succeed in Canadian politics. 

The last thing Mr. Kenney wants is another division on the right that could open the doors to the return of Rachel Notley as NDP premier, and if what it takes to prevent that is a strategic if risky move even farther to the right, unpopular as that might be with many urban Albertans, he’ll risk it. 

If the Six Pack won’t settle down, Mr. Kenney can do what Mr. Klein did to sweeten the “Deep Six,” the group of backbenchers who tried to push him to make even deeper cuts in the early Nineties. To wit: Bring most of them into cabinet on the principle you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

One of those Deep Sixers, Ed Stelmach, went on to be premier, and a premier as it turned out who was prepared to spend quite generously in office.

But if that doesn’t work, Mr. Kenney certainly possesses sufficient ruthlessness to crush any holdouts like bugs, pour encourager les autres.

It’s said here that only if former prime minister Stephen Harper decides Mr. Kenney has to go will Mr. Kenney be in trouble. 

And so far we’ve heard nothing at all from the glowering éminence grise of the UCP government, who does whatever he does in Alberta when he’s not running the neoliberal internationale in Munich. 

27 Comments to: Yes, there’s trouble in Kenneyland – but not yet the kind Alberta’s unlikable Conservative premier can’t survive

  1. Dave

    March 8th, 2021

    It is probably not a good sign for Kenney that that the gang of five has now become the six pack. There is discontent with the Premier, although whether it is growing or just becoming more public is not totally clear. I agree though, I think Kenney may survive what could become a bumpy ride. In addition to keeping your enemies close, it also help to know who they are and the dissidents are emboldened now, so perhaps have become not as cautious as they should be.

    Yes, there is a history of Conservatives in Alberta turfing their leaders, but none of the past examples quite fits Kenney’s case. Klein was no longer at the top of his game when the party realized it. Stelmach wouldn’t be described as ruthless and Redford might have been described as clueless. None of these applies to Kenney.

    I suspect the relative quietness of the Premier lately is a sign he is up to something. He is generally quite secretive about making his plans, but I suspect it involves a combination of sticks and carrots to deal with the more prominent critics in his own party. I also suspect the sticks will be quite ruthless for those that don’t take, or get offered, the carrots.

    Reply
    • Alan K . Spiller

      March 8th, 2021

      So you claim he isn’t clueless yet he cuts $9 billion off taxes for the rich and wants to make it up by cutting 11,000 health care jobs and privatizing the RCMP. Where is the intelligence is that?
      He wastes $1.5 billion by ignoring what Joe Biden was telling him because he thought Trump would get re elected because he wasn’t listening to what reporters were telling us. My American relatives , all republicans , called Trump the worse liar they had ever seen, yet Kenney being the worse liar we have ever seen ignored it.

      He whines about Canada not getting enough vaccines and ignores the fact that Canada had no say in what foreign countries providing the vaccines were doing, but finds it smart to scrap the Super Lab to be built in Edmonton that could have created vaccines down the road and offered no solution to the problem Ottawa was having.

      He tries to close province parks, and privatize others , he tries to open up coal mining and tells rural Albertans that they need to accept the fact that the oil industry hasn’t been paying their municipalities taxes after we’re learn that these reformers helped the oil industry steal $575 billion in oil royalties when they didn’t bother to collect what was legally owed to Albertans

      I think Kenney has proven time and time again how clueless he truly is. After watching what Albertans allowed the Klein, Stelmach and Redford governments do to them he thought he could just carry on screwing them out of their money and he has found Albertans have had enough of these reformers and aren’t going to fall for it again.

      Don’t forget this is the same reformer who helped Harper take Canada from a $19 surplus to a $151 billion debt and is doing the same thing in Alberta after whining about what Notley had spent trying to fix the mess she had inherited.

      The fact is she was planning to gradually bring Alberta’s taxes and royalties back up to the Lougheed levels to get us out of this mess and Kenney has no intention of doing this .

      Reply
  2. Anonymous

    March 8th, 2021

    Anyway you look at it, the UCP are finished. They don’t listen to Albertans, and are racking up such an enormous debt. It’s sitting at $100 billion, or more, and is rapidly going up. Alberta used to have such a good conservative government with Peter Lougheed, but that is long gone, and we’ve had a big mess ever since, with these so called “conservatives” running things. The best thing for Albertans, and for the future of Alberta is to never have a conservative government in power ever again. If Rick Bell happens to be criticizing the UCP, when he normally champions them at every opportunity, you know something is wrong.

    Reply
  3. Abs

    March 8th, 2021

    So that booty-shaking dance with John Tory might have been a warm-up for bug stomping? How about La Cucaracha for the next dance?

    Reply
  4. !?

    March 8th, 2021

    0ur American cousins are going through similar dilemma. Trump is threatening to create his own “Patriot Party” if the GOP doesn’t kowtow to his deranged demands.

    Kennedy’s leverage is considerably less – which leaves one wondering: Where’s Preston Harper? Shouldn’t Stephen be Manning the phones getting the ungrateful miscreants back into the fold?

    Reply
    • Glen

      March 10th, 2021

      Hahaha. Thank you for the chuckle.

      Reply
  5. Bob Raynard

    March 8th, 2021

    This is an interesting topic, David, but missing from the discussion is what is best for the people of the province. Its all well and good for some no name back-benchers to try and generate a bit of political support by calling for an end of restrictions when they won’t be held responsible for their consequences. Indeed, I suspect that if Jason Kenney was still the opposition leader he would be howling for an end of restrictions.

    It is an entirely different kettle of fish for the premier. It wasn’t long ago that he was setting up field hospitals in the butterdome in Edmonton and another one in Calgary, in anticipation of the hospital system collapsing under the weight of out of control Covid cases. In the comment I wrote yesterday in Mr. Cournoyer’s blog, I included the CBC story linked below about how the Czech Republic has totally lost control of Covid by implementing the same policies Mr. Kenney’s renegades have called for. On Saturday 1.5% of the population of the country was diagnosed as a new case.

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/czech-republic-europe-covid-19-1.5938504

    Reply
  6. Bret Larson

    March 8th, 2021

    Of course there are differences of opinion on what restrictions to forgo and such. Its a pandemic. there is actually no play book and different geographical locations are impacted in different ways.

    Seems to me, they have actually played it really well, seeing as its not a full blown conflagration by now.

    Course some of these guys may be remembering going door to door last election. The NDP smear campaign resonated with certain segments of the population. I certainly heard it many times. It seems smear campaigns work.

    Course, it looks good on the NDP resorting to such tactics. If I had any doubt about the path forward it made it crystal clear what I didnt want to be associated with.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      March 8th, 2021

      BRET LARSON: What smear campaign? The UCP have done not one iota of good for Alberta. If massive amounts of debt, unethical conduct, and a disregard for democracy is someone’s thing, they can support the UCP. The UCP are not good at all, and are not like the way Peter Lougheed governed Alberta so well.

      Reply
      • ingamarie

        March 10th, 2021

        The smear campaign I suspect was all the information the NDP circulated about Kenney’s past antics. It was during the election I learned about how he worked hard during the AIDS epidemic in California to make sure dying gay men didn’t get to see their partners……not family don’t ya know.

        It may well have been a mistake to dwell too much on Kenney’s unsavory right wing activism of the past…….we’ve seen that Trump supporters in the USA don’t much care about how sexist, racist or downright dishonest the man is……..but I for one am grateful I now know more about the ideology that motivates Kenney. It’s more alive in Alberta than many of us want to acknowledge….cruise the Rebel Media for half an hour if you have any doubts about that. It’s ignorant, ill informed and prone to violence.

        Which may well be the tenor of the rebellion Kenney is facing from inside the UCP gulag….in Alberta we should all consider that the mindset that attacked the United States capital isn’t easy to reason with…..or control. It infests the far right fringes of Canada’s conservative parties as well……..and its a tricky base to deal with. You may need their votes; but even Kenney has to fear their pitchforks.

        Reply
  7. Just Me

    March 8th, 2021

    The big problem with the notion that Kenney should just bring the rebels into the Cabinet is that Kenney loves an echo chamber. Really. The man is like the Wicked Queen, standing before his mirror asking, “Mirror, mirror, who is the fairest of all?” If the Crying & Angry Midget doesn’t hear what he wants to hear, he blows a gasket and his mind. This is the level of Kenney’s narcissism.

    Worse, since there maybe no where for Kenney to run to at the federal level, at the moment, he may not be inclined to walk the plank; rather, he will try to punch holes in the hull and sink the whole ship. That is the level of Kenney’s pugilism. (And people wonder why he’s still single?)

    I am not sure if Kenney wants a triumphant return to Ottawa to be replaced with any whiff that he was tossed from the most CON province in Canada. The Toole is currently having enough trouble with his own caucus for being too centrist. Evidently, the SoCONs love their leaders to be angry, frothing at the mouth, midgets. No need for reason and compromise now that Trumpism is a thing.

    Reply
    • Bret Larson

      March 8th, 2021

      Ahh there it is again.

      Reply
  8. brett

    March 8th, 2021

    I believe in many instances Kenney has been stuck. Stuck trying to do what his UCP members expect and want him to do, stuck trying to do the what he believes is the right thing to do for Albertans, and stuck trying to do what needs to be done to get re-elected.

    So far it seems that he has tried to placate UCP members at the expense of the other two, not exclusive groups. All the while trying to tell Albertans something different. He has not succeeded.

    Eveyone seems to be PO’d with Kenney, and with the performance of his key Cabinet ministers. Really, who could possibly even suggest that the likes of Savage, Nixon, LaGrange, Shandro have moved this Government forward. The opposite would be true.

    Reply
    • Bret Larson

      March 8th, 2021

      Yes, they have went down a median path. Meaning nobody is totally happy.

      Reply
      • Ingamarie

        March 10th, 2021

        Please, could we have your definition of a ‘median path’? Breaking union contracts in midstream? Going to war with Doctors so rural municipalities could face shortages during the pandemic? Redoing Klein’s privatization penny pinching scheme for support workers (salaries 17-21 bucks an hour, primarily people of colour, but unionized with benefits prior to Kenney’s medium path through their livelihoods), cutting education personnel, cutting higher education, fiddling with AISH payments….all middle of the road conservative tactics for sure. But then there’s the investment in Keystone XL……….and the big tax cuts to energy companies, most of whom played him for a fool and ran for our borders after receiving the handout.

        Your idea of ‘median’ actually scares me. I’m trying to imagine what the radical path, presumably being demanded by his discontents, is going to look like!! But forgive me if you find these questions leaning toward a ‘smear campaign”.
        Past a certain point, evidence can seem like mud slinging..lol.

        Reply
  9. Doug Brown

    March 8th, 2021

    Sigh. I miss the “Deep Six”, especially Steve West. Kenney campaigned on austerity and hasn’t delivered. The pandemic got in the way, but the UCP should have known better than to defer what was bound to be controversial legislation. Its first bill should have been the “Fairness in public sector compensation, performance measurement and staffing act”, requiring the public sector unions to open up their agreements to include benchmarking against public sector compensation, annual performance reviews, end to seniority as a right and an end to salary grids where simply showing up qualifies one for a raise. Alberta is an absolute mess and even the highest PST in the country wouldn’t even come close to covering the province’s gross incompetence in overfunding public services.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      March 8th, 2021

      DOUG BROWN: If anyone misses Steve West, there is serious flaws with that. Steve West was also part of Ralph Klein’s PC cabinet, and thought that deregulation and privatization were a great thing. They weren’t. Electricity deregulation has cost Albertans in excess of $40 billion by now. Privatization of driver training led to more accidents. Unions and public servants aren’t the problem. The Conservatives in Alberta and their love of corporate welfare are the problem. The cuts of Ralph Klein still can be felt to this very day. For decades, the Conservatives in Alberta kept on doing the most costliest scandals in Canada’s history. There is a stark contrast to the way Peter Lougheed was governing, and how the others were governing. The UCP is a complete failure.

      Reply
      • Doug Brown

        March 10th, 2021

        We can agree to disagree. Privatization of liquor retailing, registry services and highway maintenance reduced costs and improved services. The impact to public sector employment, and especially on union officials, was and remains irrelevant.

        What assumptions are you using to arrive at the $40B for electricity re-regulation? Remember only electricity deregulation and retailing were reregulated. The natural monopolies of transmission and distribution remain regulated. Other provinces do not have transparent markets for electricity pricing, although Ontario does publish pool prices.

        Reply
    • tom

      March 8th, 2021

      Sigh. Under the present circumstances, Doug, your faith that stepping on public sector workers is the magical cure for all that ails Alberta is almost touching.

      Reply
      • ingamarie

        March 10th, 2021

        It might be touching………if it wasn’t also racist and sexist. Women have been the hardest hit during the covid pandemic…..because we deal with childcare, elder care……and work in ‘essential services’ most often. Stepping on public sector workers is stepping on essential workers……but because women are over represented, a patriarchal organization like most conservative parties, sees making women pay a no brainer and a sure fire win. I walked with the wildcat strike after Kenney decided to privatize hospital support workers…again! It did damage during the deKlein era, so why not play it again Sam?? These essential workers are primarily people of colour.

        We should be more than touched at the implicit racism that expects those with the least to be the first to be cut….we should be deeply shamed. And permanently enraged. Systemic racism and a good dollop of sexism is the glue that keeps outfits like the UCP in power…….it touches all of us….

        Albertans who still think public services are the problem………and rip and ship energy barons the answer need to be called on their deeply colonial attitudes about who does the work and who reaps the benefits of rapacious wealth extraction.

        Reply
      • Doug

        March 10th, 2021

        Terminology such as “stepping on”, “attacking” or “going to war” with public servants is Trumpian.

        If I sunk to the same level, I could claim that union resistance to accountability and efficiency is an “attack” on all Albertans.

        Reply
    • Doug Mr. Hart

      March 9th, 2021

      The legislation that would serve people the best would be the “Get Big Money Out of Politics” Bill. The UCP take huge donations and PAC money from Corporate Alberta, then pass legislation that serves their donors. That is why insurance premiums, utility bill, and tuition are all higher. Start serving all Albertans, not just your donors and friends. #NoMoralCompass.

      Reply
  10. Scotty on Denman

    March 8th, 2021

    Discontent within the United Conservative Party seems like the same old penchant the Alberta political right has had a number of times before. I agree: the K-Boy is unlike any of the other subjects of conservative ire; but neither were any of them individually alike each other. His distinctive ruthlessness, shrewdness, and determination is very interesting: he might even be a chameleon of a chameleon. But I think there are two, potentially more influential elements just as interesting, if not as mystifying.

    First, naturally, is the electorate. A relatively new feature, starting with the legend-busting fact that Albertans’ contentment with one-party rule for decades and decades was souring. The political right’s alarm manifest in fractious ways that successfully offered vehicles of electoral correspondences that were quite popular, even though corrosive to the one-party tradition. Let’s attribute some of that to the changing complexion and mores of modern Albertan society. And let’s note that the electorate has become bolder since the Ralph’s decline: schismatics have appeared and disappeared like trails in an atomic cloud chamber, some finding their ways into the legislature, democratically or dramatically. Voters even turned the venerable monolith into crushed gravel—as plainly they wanted to do. But, still in a daring mood, they swung back around to elect Kenney’s new party of several right-wig scraps of various kinds stitched together like fig leaves. But voters appear as game to rearrange the deck chairs again.

    The K-Boy is certainly fully aware, of course, the mystery of his political calculus notwithstanding. But so, too, are restless factions within the monster he created, reckoning they got his soft-Brexit butt over a barrel and are ready to exact terms, no matter how zany.

    Alberta voters appear no more cowed by the “threat” of a “socialist” government than they were when they turned the 43-year ProgCon regime out in favour of the NDP. I think the stitched-together construction of both the PCs and the UCP might be significant: the nobs of the Wildrose rival and a ghost from the HarperCons had recently been re-sewed onto the twitching ProgCon cadaver before voters turned it out, while the scattered demon spawn of far right fringes and the bobbing head of yet another HarperCon phantom was likewise sewed onto the convulsing shoulders of untied zombie factions of the UCP. Right-leaning voters, as we know from 2015, were unafraid of taking vengeance on a venerable party which disappointed them. They seem in a mood to do it again— even if it results in another Dipper government—and it might be because they’ve proved they can do it to the NDP just as well. It’s the rodeo clown version of the political long view.

    It’s almost as if the right-wing is willing to resort to wrenching partisan factionalism and tumult so long’s it leads to another monolith of conservatism they don’t have to worry about, only vote for by rote. Like the old days. They have no qualm in using the NDP as a whip to punish any UCP backsliding. They figure they can always throw it away when their own party is sufficiently cowed. They are the Black Hats without masks.

    I’m not so sure K-Boy can think up any calculus that can out-finesse such crude arithmetic as far-right factions within his caucus employ. Re-shuffle the zombie parts so cabinet has several heads instead of one? He has a proven talent.

    And that brings us back to the electorate again—finally. Though ProgCon and UCP are much alike in a Frankenstein sort of way, and right-leaning voters, reassured that their factions, no matter how widely dispersed, can always reassemble again like a partisan slime-mould, are still poised, unafraid, to bite off zombie heads, arms, and legs, there’s a big difference in the electorate in this, the UCP’s freshman term: a considerable proportion aren’t so much in a mood to whip the right into shape, but are now rather convinced Dippers, the ones who returned the first influential Loyal Opposition Alberta’s had in generations. They appear prepared to vote NDP again—out of virtue, not vengeance.

    It’s like rational patience versus foolhardy bravery—the tortoise and the hare.

    It’s the most interesting political landscape in the country—in interesting times.

    Reply
  11. Prairie Observer

    March 8th, 2021

    Will Mr. Kenney have a big problem this May if the State of Michigan ultimately succeeds in shutting down the Enbridge 5 pipeline? What will happen when tar sands oil can no longer be shipped to Sarnia by means of this pipeline?

    Reply
    • Doug

      March 10th, 2021

      No Ontario or Quebec refineries can upgrade heavy oil, so nice try.

      If Line 5 shuts down, which it won’t, more conventional crude, liquids and refined product will move via truck, train and barge, which will push up prices in southern Ontario and possibly rural Michigan.

      Reply
  12. Dunlop Kansas

    May 22nd, 2021

    Alberta Heritage Trust Fund should be sold and proceeds going to Alberta Municipalities. Keep the Debt rising to 200 Billion and then the negative interest rates will “kick-in”. Australia was generous to a fault –1 Billion over 23 years —opportunity of a lifetime–missed.

    Reply

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