Can Alberta Premier Jason Kenney remain in office longer than Alison Redford was premier?
Until yesterday, I would have answered that despite his current unpopularity, Premier Kenney’s rule would obviously last longer than Ms. Redford’s short, unhappy tenure.
Now I am not so sure.
Mr. Kenney has not emerged looking stronger after it took him most of the afternoon and well into the evening to drag his United Conservative Party Caucus kicking and screaming behind him to dump two dissident MLAs who had openly challenged his leadership.
And while Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes and Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen have now been turfed from the UCP Caucus, at least 16 MLAs from the dissident group known as the COVID 18 remain in the party.
Ms. Redford, who was in effect fired by her own Progressive Conservative Party Caucus at the end of March 2014, lasted 898 days as premier of Alberta after she perpetrated a series of scandals and missteps that PC MLAs feared threatened the continued rule of the party. Their fear turned out to be warranted in May 2015 when Albertans elected an NDP majority government led by Rachel Notley.
As of today, Mr. Kenney has held the job for only 746 days.
No one’s fired him yet, although Mr. Barnes has been needling him for weeks and Mr. Loewen took at decent stab at trying to unseat him yesterday with his letter saying the UCP “did not unite around blind loyalty to one man” and telling the premier to resign.
When he came to power in the 2019 provincial election after playing a significant role uniting the far right Wildrose and centre right Progressive Conservative parties, Mr. Kenney looked like a colossus astride Alberta, his grip on power historic and unshakable.
But he did it on a promise that he could not deliver – even without a global pandemic to make everything worse. It was delusional to think anyone could restore the boom times to Alberta with a snap of the fingers and the restoration of Conservative government. That is now obvious to many.
Mr. Kenney’s tone deafness, arrogance, miscalculations, constant flip-flopping on COVID-19, and dismissal of the new UCP’s old Wildrose base recounted in Mr. Loewen’s bitter epistle did not help. His personal popularity, which has always lagged his party’s, is now in the toilet.
And as my blogging colleague Dave Cournoyer pithily observed yesterday, the UCP “is an institutional mix of former Progressive Conservatives, who do not tolerate leaders who look like they are going to lose, and Wildrosers, who just don’t want to be led.”
Right now, the UCP trails the Opposition NDP – whose four years in power were made possible in part by Ms. Redford’s foibles.
In the fall of 2018, when the NDP kicked out rebellious MLA Robyn Luff – who seemed in a tweet last night to be comparing her fate to Mr. Loewen’s – the party caucus was solid, committed to the same vision and united behind Rachel Notley’s leadership. After the Calgary MLA had announced she wouldn’t sit in the Legislature any more, alleging bullying by NDP brass, the vote to remove her actually brought the NDP Caucus together, insiders now say.
Mr. Kenney’s position today is quite different. The COVID 18 is still the COVID 16. Mr. Kenney’s grip on power looks far from sure.
The Western Standard, the far-right online news outfit founded by former UCP finance critic Derek Fildebrandt, who was kicked out of the party on Mr. Kenney’s command in 2018, was practically live-tweeting the supposedly closed-door caucus meeting yesterday. That sure doesn’t make Mr. Kenney look like a strong leader in command of his troops.
But at least the premier managed to skid Messrs. Loewen and Barnes at the end of the day, otherwise his grip would have been shakier still.
There was no vote to remove Dave Hanson, the UCP MLA for Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul, who praised Mr. Loewen on his own Facebook page and shared his letter. This suggests what the current limits to Mr. Kenney’s power are.
If the UCP caucus had told Mr. Kenney to forget about dumping the dissident pair, he wouldn’t have had much choice but to resign himself. He would then have had to find something to do to keep body and soul together until his generous Parliamentary pension kicks in in May 2024.
The Wildrose Independent Party’s leadership nominations close at 5 p.m. today, so it’s not too late for Mr. Barnes, who has definite separatist leanings, to throw his hat in that ring.