Alberta Politics
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Jason Kenney, wounded by UCP Caucus dissent, manages to kick out two rebellious MLAs

Posted on May 14, 2021, 1:34 am
6 mins

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.

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

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.

Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen (Photo: Facebook).

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.

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

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.

Former NDP MLA Robyn Luff (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

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.

25 Comments to: Jason Kenney, wounded by UCP Caucus dissent, manages to kick out two rebellious MLAs

  1. Dave

    May 14th, 2021

    Mr. Kenney wouldn’t be the first politician to make rash promises, to try gain or keep power, that didn’t pan out. Some of those promises matter more than others. Now what was that again that Kenney promised – something about jobs, economy and pipelines? No, no and so so, at this point.

    Now, Kenney despite all his federal experience jumped into a province in a perilous state, with little provincial political knowledge or experience. A change of government was not going to magically improve things and anyone who believed that was bound to be disappointed. COVID only made this situation worse and clearer.

    Didn’t the fall of Redford also start with two MLAs leaving? At this point Kenney has at least 16, if not more remaining ones to worry about. I suspect more will happen over the next several days and weeks. So, I believe the count down has begun.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    May 14th, 2021

    Politics in Alberta has gotten uglier, ever since the UCP came into power. The UCP are bungling anything they touch, and their party is fracturing. If it were a horror movie, a good title of it would be Horrific Mess. It would be fitting for the UCP. Albertans end up paying the price for this stupidity, they were forewarned about, which the UCP were doing.

    Reply
    • Renan

      May 15th, 2021

      Amen.

      Reply
  3. Scotty on Denman

    May 14th, 2021

    Alberta has an anarchist bent, since a long time by now. The pithy Cournoyer says Wild Rosers don’t want to be led, and that the old ProgCons didn’t like a leader who looked like he or she would lose. But I think the facts that the latter was about looks, not actual leadership—except whenever inspired by perceived need to defend provincial interests—and that Albertans accepted the governance of only two parties, both of the right, for eight decades suggests that leadership, political, and partisan contest is something they prefer not to trouble with. Since the de-Kleining of the ProgCon era (one might almost say, eon), however, Albertans have been increasingly bothered by leadership and partisan politics as a plethora of parties appear, disappear and reappear, the old monolith reduced to rubble, while heavy artillery is brought up, captured, pivoted, and recaptured, and principality is hectored by peltasts who whistle their missiles in chipmunk paean before melting back into the prairie to prepare for the next opportune deployment from their warren rooms below. We could say “hot and bothered.”

    Remoteness at the continental height of land sets the stage, a refuge for high plains Aboriginal nations pressed by mounted rivals from the south and better-armed Cree traders from the east, again by Métis seeking cultural freedom from spreading Anglo-Saxmania confederating around the Great Lakes, by East European refugees fleeing persecution, and by Atlantic Canadians abandoning fished-out waters for jobs in gas and oil.

    An anarchist streak has costumed the cast: white leadership never did Aboriginals much good (but did a whole lot of bad) and degraded them to an impoverished rump; harsh prospects on the high prairie were a hard sell to which only the hardest pressed might respond and, in the circumstance, religious communalists were accepted out of desperation to populate the near-trackless wastes between the two, separate parts of Canada (BC and the East), their pledged anarchism and all. Farmers in the difficult climate united to better represent the common interest of independent businessmen outstanding in their fields. For decades, Alberta experimented with “no-party government” and wonky tenets of Social Creditism (which the dastardly feds—the Supreme Court, in fact—shitcanned). These characteristics underly the Wild Rosers’ shoot-up-the-town antipathy to being told to comply to anything—even protocols against a deadly viral pandemic.

    This basic mindset, nurtured over centuries, rather views a leader as someone who leaves rugged individuals to run their own lives. Traditionally, therefore, Albertans have only called on their politicians to lead them into battle against perceived threats. Traditionally that’s been the feds, but one measure of the recent challenge to this attitude is the diversification of enemies, multiplying from the original “Eastern Bastard” Pierre Trudeau (et son fils) to gradually include Northern (Thomas Berger) and Western Bastards (John Horgan and BC First Nations), Southern Bastards (the Rockefellers), omnipresent foreign and domestic environmentalist bastards, and even imaginary bastards like Bigfoot.

    That’s why a politician who really craves leadership has had to demonize and personify the biggest threat to Alberta—the tanking of bitumen prices and the province’s dominant industry—and, therefore, to dismiss the real reason for this demise: the free market which values conventional oil more than low-grade bitumen, and is starting to shift away from the century long fossil fuel paradigm anyway. Albertans instinctively made an exception to their basic anarchism for this cause, as lost as it looks from the outside. But it was useful for Jason Kenney, a quicker route to what he really craves than attempting to lead the federal HarperCons whence he came, replete with his mentor’s “Firewall” theology like a Ninja Turtle with Tora scroll across his carapace.

    I think the Wild Rosers have twigged to the fact that Kenney hoodwinked them with his “unite the right” rationale: they thought, like most Albertans, that it was simply prerequisite to defeating the enemy of bitumen, but that once Kenney had achieved this, he would thence become the perfect anarchist leader—one who doesn’t so much lead individualist libertarians— except, of course, in defence. Theoretically, once the dream of bitumen resurrection had been realized, Albertans would prefer not to trouble with party politics and leadership: that should take care of itself in the most minimalist, unobtrusive way possible —like it used to, for generations.

    For K-Boy, leadership shouldn’t simply be about looking like a hands-off figurehead who lets subjects do as they please. Unfortunately, he made a deal with the libertarian Wild Rosers instead of reforming the ProgCons: he did win that leadership contest but was contracted to destroy that party in favour of one which doesn’t want to be led. Just so long’s he’s the leader. But he killed the only vehicle in modern Albertan history that could find this balance between government and ungovernable.

    The brutal irony is of course foisted by Covid, an epidemiological situation where real leadership and compliance with it is absolutely required. Here K-Boy has become a caricature of himself, trying so hard to look like a leader by hogging hour long pressers as his chief health officer grimaces politely nearby, by scolding but hardly meting out punishment for noncompliance with vital Covid safety protocols. And, naturally, by relentless tilting at windmills (also symbols of a new paradigm which Alberta happens to lead the country in installation, blessed as it is by prairie winds, but which Kenney cannot, in consistence with his war paean, recognize as anything but cancerous).

    As right-wingers like to say of government, the deal between Kenney’s ulterior leadership lust and Wild Rosers’ reactive anarchism is “broken.” He, naturally, will insist that the UCP caucus must remain united as he points to mirages of Big-footed bogeymen on the dusky horizon. But he will almost certainly insist only he can lead the charge. Even though Alberta has diluted its founding anarchism by way of immigration and now includes voters for whom socially responsible leadership is desirable, Kenney is hamstrung within his party, not the province. Albertans would dump him in a heartbeat given the chance. And, within the chimera he created, so would a considerable number of his caucus.

    Politics has gotten all local, indeed. Moses never did get to the promised land.

    Reply
  4. Cam

    May 14th, 2021

    I always knew the a Jason Kenney government would enact horrible policies and make life worse for Albertans. But I expected that he would operate in a sophisticated way that allowed the horror to go under the radar and unnoticed by most until it was too late. After all, he claims that men are better a tactical politics so he set himself up to be held to a high standard. Instead what’s happened is an amateurish, disjointed, confusing style of governance that has managed to attract the negative attention of practically everyone – a dumpster fire which Kenney himself stokes with heaps of rubbish (with Jason Nixon fanning the flames with a bellows). If the UCP is to be given credit for uniting anything, it would be uniting Albertans against their mean-spirited, arrogant, entitled and rookie style of governing and ultra regressive policies.

    Reply
  5. tom

    May 14th, 2021

    The manner of the vote says everything about Jason Kenney and his methods. The ballot wasn’t secret but the final tally was.

    Reply
  6. Just Me

    May 14th, 2021

    How many premiers in fifteen years?

    They sure go through their premiers fast in Alberta.

    Do they think they grow on trees?

    If they turf one, they believe they can always get another, as the current mindset dictates.

    I’m going to switch to kettle corn, btw.

    Reply
  7. Just Me

    May 14th, 2021

    So what is really going down?

    First off, divide the UCP caucus into two camps: Kenney acolytes and WR diehards.

    Kenney’s acolytes are loyal to him and for one reason only: career advancement. When Kenney won (WR diehards believe stole) the UCP leadership, the factions were able to find a common peace. Since Kenney was unstoppable and widely believed to be divinely installed to accomplish everything promised and more, the factions could live together. But since Kenney’s Annus horribilis doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon, the factions have split and the open fighting is beginning.

    It’s more than Kenney’s unending supply of bad decisions that is at the heart of the issue: it’s his clear interest that he has no intention of sticking about Alberta much longer. Ottawa is Kenney’s home and it is where he intends to return. WR diehards always knew Kenney and his crew were carpetbaggers, but they were willing to let them bag as much as they could carry, provided they didn’t get their shite on everyone else. Now that everyone is covered in Kenney’s shite, the knives are out.

    Judging by the volume of weird oped pieces that have appeared in recent days, it appears that Kenney’s acolytes have circled their wagons are ready to fall for their leader, no matter how stupid they look doing it.

    David Staples’ recent defence of Kenney’s pandemic response reads like a propaganda piece. Staples’ fluffing of the Dear Leader is embarrassing, but he was never much of a journalist anyway. Brett Wilson, raging and often incoherent Twitter troll wrote an editorial declaring everyone should cut Kenney a lot of slack. While the piece reads like the ramblings of a barfly, it does point up the fact that Wilson owes Kenney a lot for taking the clean-up of decommissioned oil wells off his hands.And Danielle Smith’s oped reads like her love letter to Kenney, as if he’s the only man who ever understood her.

    Keeping my ear to the wires, I am learning of a wide and concerted effort to throw Kenney overboard. While it’s all rumours, there is much, much more coming, in the form of allegations and claims of various scandals, financial and, of course, moral.

    We all know how big those WRs diehard are all about the morality of everything.

    And I guess I should switch to Cracker Jack, because revenge is best served sweetened.

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      May 14th, 2021

      As I’m surely not the first to point out, Jason Kenney is good at politics & campaigning, but pretty sh!tty at governing. But let us not take too much joy — or engage in too much schadenfreude — over the fact that the wheels are coming off the UCP bus. The rebels aren’t criticizing the Premier for how [email protected] a job he’s done protecting us from the pandemic — they’re criticizing him for doing anything at all, no matter now ineffectual, that interferes with anyone’s “freehdumb”. Wear a mask? Social distancing, restricting physical interactions with people, keep non-essential businesses from exposing their workers & their clientele to a deadly pathogen? “No Siree Bob, that there’s dictatorship”. Cripes Kate. We don’t need the kind of whacko that would undoubtedly replace Kenney if he quit or was pushed out.

      So, who’s the longest-serving Premier since King Ralph was unceremoniously dumped over the side like Bismarck in 1890? Actually, Ed Stelmach — 4 years, 10 months — with Rachel Notley close behind at 3 years 11 months.

      Reply
  8. Abs

    May 14th, 2021

    One wonders if the results would have been different with a secret ballot.

    Reply
  9. Jimmy

    May 14th, 2021

    In the blue corner ….., and in the other blue corner ….. United they will never be.

    Reply
  10. Mike J Danysh

    May 14th, 2021

    Did Kenney “tolerate” and “encourage” criticism from his caucus, or was he too scared to shut them up? Looks to me like he was scared, and only reacted to the open threat when they backed him into a corner.

    Con governments, especially in Oilberduh, do NOT support leaders who become losers. Kenney’s days are numbered. The only question left is, will he drag the Unhinged Contrarian Party to defeat with him? Or quit in disgust?

    Reply
  11. brett

    May 14th, 2021

    I believe that Kenney and his UCP team have done an abysmal job. On covid and on a number of key files.

    That being said, I am happy that Kenney has survived this for- now. Just wish the UCP would punt a few more MLA’s who are too gutless to resign from caucus. MLA’s like Drew Barnes are an embarrassment to the Party.

    I want Kenney to stay. He appears to have grown a bit of a spine lately over the covid situation. i cannot think of anyone on the weak UCP bench that would be an improvement.

    There will be time for change when the the next election comes around.

    Reply
  12. Gromster

    May 14th, 2021

    I am reminded of John Diefenbaker who once stated that the difference between a cactus and a caucus is that the cactus has has its pricks on the outside.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      May 14th, 2021

      For some reason this reminds me of the description of what’s in a Nanaimo bar. DJC

      Reply
      • pogo

        May 14th, 2021

        Dearest Sensei; I hesitate to inform you, but I must. The porcupines maintain a robust deterrent externally. Porsche owners however, are the ever vocal pricks inside the car.

        Reply
  13. Bruce

    May 14th, 2021

    I remember hearing an old saying that kind of sums up Jason Kenney to Albertan’s:
    “If something is to good to be true, it probably is …”

    You need to move with the times Mr Kenney.

    Reply
  14. pogo

    May 14th, 2021

    Do you really want to make an impact? Are you just another broken toy? This is not that funny!

    Reply
  15. Mark Konnert

    May 14th, 2021

    One could say that Kenney is doing the work of 3 men: Larry, Curly, and Moe.

    Reply
    • Mike J Danysh

      May 15th, 2021

      Sorry, Mark, I can’t agree. Larry, Moe and Curly were funny.

      Reply
  16. Abs

    May 14th, 2021

    Will today never end? As the stomach churns, Kenney has ranted on about Gretchen and the pipeline (because dissing her once wasn’t enough), decided that he CAN work with Trudeau, after all, but only if Trudeau sends him some cowboys, and topped it off with a suggestion that hugging grams will make this the “best summer ever”. The street sweepers at the end of every Calgary Stampede parade have never had to clean up this much manure. The pace of it all is astounding. More cowboys! Less Gretchen! Hug a senior. Where is Maxine to whack him with her purse?

    Reply
  17. Bob Raynard

    May 15th, 2021

    Thanks for sharing the link to Daveberta, David. As usual, both he and you make excellent points.

    Wildrose does seem ‘unleadable’. After the 2012 election, Danielle Smith put a brave face on her loss by saying something about a more winnable platform for the next election, then she essentially quit by crossing the floor. Brian Jean has so many detractors leading up to Kenney’s great merger he was probably on his way out anyway – we saw what happened when he tried to censure Derek Fildebrandt, and now the Wildrosers are in the process of turfing Jason Kenney.

    One of the problems with the Wildrose is the whole grass roots concept. People reading about the concept get the impression it will produce the exact policies they want; disappointment is the inevitable result. The other problem is, as Danielle Smith saw, it too often produces policies that will just never fly with the general electorate. Consequently a leader can either ignore the policies (I hold the pen) and sow discontent within the ranks, or campaign on the policies and face disillusionment when they produce election losses.

    You are also dead on with your comment on promises he could not deliver. In addition to the promise of a return to boom times, you really have to wonder what he was thinking when he signed the ‘grassroots guarantee’, when he must have known he was going to lead autocratically, as he watched his mentor do.

    All I can think of is he thought he could waltz into the province and bamboozle the entire electorate. He thought he could seem like a born and bred Albertan driving a blue truck, even though his hands had no callouses; he thought he could sign the grassroots guarantee because he could bamboozle people into backing his policies, the whole time thinking it was their idea. Even yesterday he thought we would believe him when he suggested the caucus decided to oust the two MLAs without his input. Whenever he comes up with something like that I feel personally offended that he thinks I am stupid enough to believe him.

    Mr. Kenney has given you a lot to do with your ‘hobby’, David. Thanks for all the work you do.

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      May 17th, 2021

      “… One of the problems with the Wildrose is the whole grass roots concept…” This is also what has been standing between the federal Conservatives and a credible climate action alternative to the Liberals’ plan: their grassroots’ refusal to acknowledge the reality of climate change, let alone any need to address it. Erin the Tool’s recently announced “plan” — aka the “Green Air Miles” plan — doesn’t meet that threshold (credibility), and yet I’m sure there’s a lot of grumbling about it amongst the CPC’s perpetually angry base.

      Reply
  18. Mr. Wu

    May 15th, 2021

    Kenney has always enjoyed playing with his caucus; it now seems to be tired of being played with. So tired in fact, that it rejected two nuts.

    Reply

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