Alberta Politics
The Alberta Legislature – hiding its face in embarrassment? (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

UCP Government imploding? Sexual harassment scandal hits Premier’s Office hours after supposed referendum victory

Posted on October 28, 2021, 2:02 am
7 mins

Premier Jason Kenney had less than 24 hours to savour his dubious victory in Alberta’s anti-equalization referendum before a serious scandal involving accusations of sexual-harassment, heavy drinking in the office, and the firing of a victim hit the headlines.

It’s not clear if the revelation a former ministerial chief of staff has filed a lawsuit claiming she was unjustly fired for complaining about sexual harassment in a workplace where open drinking and abusive behaviour were tolerated was coincidental or timed to inflict damage on Mr. Kenney. 

Former ministerial chief of staff Ariella Kimmel, who is suing for recovery of wages and damages (Photo: Ariella Kimmel/LobbyMonitor.ca).

It hardly matters. This is what the implosion of a government looks like.

For, while Mr. Kenney was not directly implicated in the any of the alleged toxic behaviour, it is obvious the allegations about some of his chosen colleagues and the possibility he may have known about and tolerated unacceptable behaviour has further wounded his already badly tarnished United Conservative Party government.

Soon after the CBC published a story yesterday morning outlining the allegations made by Ariella Kimmel, chief of staff to Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer until she was fired last February, former UCP deputy leader and status of women minister Leela Aheer began openly calling for Mr. Kenney’s head.

Ms. Aheer, who was kicked out of cabinet by Mr. Kenney in July for criticizing his boozy mid-pandemic Sky Palace patio party, tweeted: “Premier Kenney-you knew! Step down!” 

Later, calling the situation “a failure of leadership,” the UCP Caucus member and MLA for Chestermere-Strathmore again told journalists the premier should resign. 

There’s more than a whiff of panic in the air as ministers close to Mr. Kenney scramble to figure out their talking points amid a burgeoning sense of scandal.

In her tweet, Ms. Aheer drew a connection to the tolerance for the misdeeds of Calgary City Councillor Sean Chu, a UCP supporter who shortly before the Oct. 18 municipal election was revealed to have received a professional misconduct reprimand for sexual contact with a 16-year-old girl during his years with the Calgary Police Service.

UCP MLA Leela Aheer, calling for Premier Jason Kenney’s resignation (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The government’s foes on the left – on a day they were supposed according to Premier Kenney’s narrative to be licking their wounds for their referendum “defeat” – were quick to point out on social media how Government House Leader and Environment Minister Jason Nixon, who Ms. Kimmel said she approached about her concerns, in 2005 fired a woman who complained about sexual harassment at a B.C. worksite. 

Ms. Kimmel’s Toronto-based employment lawyer, Kathryn Marshall, is a high-profile conservative commentator whose opinions appear frequently in the National Post. She is the wife of Hamish Marshall, the Conservative Party of Canada’s National Campaign Manager from 2017 to 2019. 

“Politicians have to lead by example, and this is going to set a new standard to how political staff need to be treated,” Ms. Marshall told the CBC. Her client is seeking payment of her salary until her contract’s end-date in 2023, in addition to $399,000 in damages. 

The CBC reported that Ms. Kimmel’s statement of claim says Ivan Bernardo, former advisor to the then health minister Tyler Shandro, made sexually inappropriate comments to staff members. He left his health ministry advisory role after his contract ended. The statement of claim also described Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen, with whom Ms. Kimmel had a relationship, as drinking in his office. 

Lawyer Kathryn Marshall, representing Ms. Kimmel (Photo: Milburn & Associates).

Readers who want the details should read the CBC story. 

The important point, though, is that this kind of situation might happen in any government, but it would never be allowed to continue in a properly functioning one.

It appears, however, little was done to stop it on Mr. Kenney’s watch.

This piles onto the sense of deep division between pro- and anti-vaccine UCP MLAs, leaving the impression Mr. Kenney’s grip on power is growing more tenuous by the day. 

This doesn’t mean, of course, that Albertans are going to wake up to find Rachel Notley and the NDP back at the helm any time soon.

It does mean, though, that very soon we might have a UCP government with another premier’s name attached to it – although it’s far from clear who among the UCP’s obvious potential leaders would be able to hold the bitterly divided caucus together.

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

Even if Mr. Kenney can find a way to hang on and avoid the total implosion of his government that right now appears imminent, it hardly speaks well of the party’s long-term prospects.

In order to survive, Alberta’s Conservatives may have to reach back into their more progressive past to find a steady hand who could present a moderate and competent image to help the disunited party start moving forward again.

Indeed, the UCP may require a few years in Opposition before anyone can put Humpty Dumpty together again.

The question is, could the party’s right fringe, which under Mr. Kenney has enjoyed great empowerment, tolerate the likes of a competent old Progressive Conservative like Gary Mar or Jim Dinning trying to bind up their movement’s wounds?

39 Comments to: UCP Government imploding? Sexual harassment scandal hits Premier’s Office hours after supposed referendum victory

  1. Dave

    October 28th, 2021

    It like the leaders of the UCP government have been behaving like they were running a frat house party. I suppose this is not totally surprising after the Sky Palace dinner debacle and several notable earlier fiascos.

    I suppose then the bad behavior and drinking is at least consistent. However the sexual harassment, ignoring it and this firing is now something far, far worse. I don’t see how Kenney can wiggle his way out of this one.

    I suspect some in his own party are now just as tired of all the antics as the rest of us. However, I suspect more are angry about all the damage he has done to the UCP and just want him to stop digging a deeper hole. I believe they probably also realize if they really want to end this continuing damage, they need to change their leader sooner rather than later. Regardless, I am not sure if Humpty Dumpty can be put back together at this point.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    October 28th, 2021

    I also recall a UCP MLA who did nothing when a single mother was fired from her job, when she reported harrassment at her place of employment. If I am not mistaken, it was one of the MLA’s friends who either managed or owned the business. The profit margins of the business mattered more. It is something of that nature. The UCP are crumbling from within. Their ploy to rule Alberta have been fraught with disaster, from the Reform aided inception of the party. You just cannot trust these pretend conservatives and Reformers. Peter Lougheed knew that you shouldn’t trust Reformers. This latest development is yet another disservice to the UCP and their depleting credibility. If the UCP keeps on behaving so badly, they will see themselves out of power, sooner than they realize.

    Reply
    • Gerald

      October 29th, 2021

      Arguably, one of a political party’s “profit margins” is fundraising. The 3rd quarter numbers are set for release on Nov 1st. I suspect the UCP in general and Premier Kenney in particular are going to a well deserved very bad week.

      Reply
  3. pogo

    October 28th, 2021

    “Gary Mar or Jim Dinning trying to bind up their movement’s wounds?”.. Halloween candy! I love it! https://youtu.be/e8xGVnLales

    Reply
  4. tom

    October 28th, 2021

    Dave, looked at another way, the question is, could Gary Mar or Jim Dinning tolerate it? And why would they want to?

    Reply
  5. jimmy

    October 28th, 2021

    The survival of this gaggle of opportunistic bottom feeders would be of no benefit to Alberta. The UCP has been a failed attempt to unite a very disparate group of individuals driven by personal ambition and characterized by overly simplistic attempts at populism. Albertans are tired of witnessing its buffoon leader throw billions at lost causes, a so called ‘blue ribbon’ panel, a supposedly public, but in fact private enquiry into alleged foreign economic sabotage, and the pathetic and embarrassing attempt at pro fossil propaganda known as the war room.
    Workplace intoxication would in many instances lead to dismissal. There is little likelihood of an entitled inebriate minister receiving more than a gentle wrist slap, if that. This is the man that oversaw the Cargill meat plant’s Covid outbreak that in excess of fifteen hundred confirmed cases remains Canada’s largest.

    Reply
  6. Carlos

    October 28th, 2021

    Let Jason Kenney fall hopefully with his head down.
    What a disgrace.
    The UCP had its chance and it has been what I expected – a horrible scandal ridden mess

    Reply
  7. Bp

    October 28th, 2021

    SUPPOSED victory?????????? Sore loser much? I’ll be sure to label any of Notley’s victories as SUPPOSED going forward. I’m EMBARRASSED that I used to think you were one of the smartest people in Alberta, Dave. Turns out you’re just another internet troll.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      October 28th, 2021

      No need to feel embarrassed, Bp. The analysis is all mine. We’ll just have to agree to disagree, I guess. The Supreme Court of Canada would appear to agree with me that 61 per cent of a low-turnout election, with a significant voter group disenfranchised, a misleading question proposing a constitutional impossibility that was not about what the principal spokesperson said it was about would not amount to a proper endorsement of the proposition. Moreover, my experience in the labour movement (as another commenter observed under the previous column) is that you’d better have a very high endorsement in the 90-per-cent range if you hope to impress the people on the other side of the table. So, 61 per cent suggests the majority of Albertans didn’t give a hoot about the question, and that doesn’t cut it in the real world. I think Mr. Kenney knows this. In recent times in Alberta, Mr. Kenney could have expected an 80-90-per-cent level of support if only because the folks who rolled their eyes at such nonsense wouldn’t have bothered to cast a ballot. All that said, I make no claim to be one of the smartest people in Alberta. Just one of the more entertaining ones. To paraphrase Ted Morton, the worst premier Alberta never had, I aspire to be “every conservative’s nightmare – a left-winger with a sense of humour.” DJC

      Reply
      • Hana Razga

        October 28th, 2021

        Touche.

        Reply
      • pogo

        October 28th, 2021

        I think the think tankers of the Alberta Republican party are ready to run three candidates to replace their sadly deflated trial balloon Premier Jason (why me) Kenney. Sources close to the fatherland have told me it’s down to Danielle, Derek, and Rob (sleepy) Anders! Now that makes Saskatchewan look good!

        Reply
    • John T

      October 28th, 2021

      Speaking of trolls…

      Reply
    • Keith McClary

      October 28th, 2021

      As I pointed out before, the Constitution was a trade-off, where Alberta agreed to Equalization in exchange for other provisions. So now, Premier Whiny wants to take out Equalization, while keeping all the stuff he wants.

      That’s like buying a car and then going back after a year and saying: “Can you throw in the extended warranty? For free?”. Good luck with that, even if your whole family votes in favour!

      Reply
    • Abs

      October 28th, 2021

      You could say that Jason and his UCP are a lot like the MV Zim Kingston. They’re anchored in a bomb cyclone, and cargo is dropping into the ocean. Soon they could be washing ashore on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, like so many dented refrigerators and children’s rain boots. Or somethng.

      Reply
  8. tom in ontario

    October 28th, 2021

    From cbc.ca
    “It (the lawsuit) lists the damages as subjecting Kimmel to a ‘poisoned work environment,’ fabricating and spreading rumours against her, failing to implement a robust sexual harassment policy, terminating her employment in reprisal, causing mental distress and reputational harm, and affecting her future employment opportunities.”
    Whew. Jason may not be named in the lawsuit but since his office is, he may whip out the latest strategy du jour…the equalization formula made them do it!

    Reply
  9. John Kolkman

    October 28th, 2021

    Dinning or Mar would not be acceptable to the UCP base. But Brian Jean might be.

    As an NDP partisan, I’m secretly hoping that Kenney manages to hang on as Premier through to the next election.

    Even if oil and natural gas prices only remain at their current levels and not go higher, a new Premier without Kenney’s baggage would inherit a rapidly improving economy and government balance sheet. Not a bad recipe for seeking a renewed mandate from Albertans.

    By appointing a useful foil like Stephen Guilbeault as Environment Minister, Justin Trudeau seems more than happy to help the UCP cause.

    Reply
    • Phlogiston

      October 29th, 2021

      I am not sure if I found it odd. What I did find disturbing was the comments section to the article: a cesspit of reactionary, sexist and misogynist victim blaming. A dominant theme was that the complainant was some sort of modern, woke version of Potiphar’s wife, a jilted, scorned woman out for revenge. Pretty low-brow stuff. Not surprising given the audience that the National Post likes to cultivate.

      Reply
  10. Just Me

    October 28th, 2021

    According to the suit, matters got worse when Jason Nixon and Matt Wolf became involved. Of course, I’m not surprised by this detail.

    Looking deeper and speculatively into Ms. Kimmel’s lawsuit, as well as her associations within the CPC, this whole matter is going to whip up a powerful firestorm between the CPC and the UCP. If the post-election tempers are bad now, they will get downright caustic in very short order.

    Could Kenney use his SoCON leverage against Kimmel’s associations within the CPC leadership if O’Toole opens up and demands that Kenney leave public life immediately? That will certainly be a mo’ popcorn moment for me.

    I honestly had no idea I would be dancing on Kenney’s political grave this year, believing that he had it going for him into 2023. Now, it appears that he maybe heading to the exit soon, and hopefully taking Jason Nixon, Devin Dreehsen, Matt Wolf, and Dr. Hinshaw with him.

    Reply
    • Hana Razga

      October 28th, 2021

      Hopefully taking all of them with him….

      Reply
  11. Gromster

    October 28th, 2021

    Perhaps Kenney should change his party’s acronym from UCP to BLIP (Befuddled Losers in Power) which better describes this historical voting accident.

    Reply
  12. Scotty on Denman

    October 28th, 2021

    Dear, dear, dear…!

    As was observed here recently, Kenney “has no shame.” And I believe that’s true.

    But remember: when dealt lemons, he’d be the first to make lemonade. In this sordid case (which apparently isn’t the first one under this heading), the K-Boy is as likely to ‘make an example’ of the alleged offender(s) as to defend whoever he is (they are) or resign himself. I mean, if he ain’t gone yet, after everything that’s gone down on the energy, federal, environmental, healthcare, education, electoral and, of course, pandemic fronts, then I don’t reckon he’ll buckle on this one—not unless he was caught pants-down on a pecker-pole—which is to reiterate: I don’t reckon…

    So get ready for somebody in the UCP to get hung out for a good shellacking which, for Kenney, would be far and away preferable to resigning. Not after everything that’s gone down and he’s endured. A bigger majority agrees he’s hung on too long; for that very reason he’ll try, I expect, to hang on even longer.

    Reply
  13. brett

    October 28th, 2021

    I certainly hope that Jason Kenney leads the UCP into the next Provincial election.

    My wish for him to to feel the sting of defeat and for him to personally carry the can for the UCP defeat at the polls.

    Simply resigning is too easy. My guess is that he will hang on by his fingertips for as long as he possibly can….or until the party executive and money men turn their backs on him.

    Reply
    • e.a.f.

      October 30th, 2021

      It is doubtful Kenny will resign unless he has a large severance package. Where else is he going to get the type of salary, benefits, and life style he currently enjoys. If he’s not premier, he might have to fly economy and certainly no drinking in expensive resturants.

      Wasn’t a bit surprised about this news given the pictures of his drinking party in the sky. Those boys have patterns of behaviour which they think they are entitled to and don’t expect any blow back. The picture portrays a group of men who feel they are entitled to what they do and any one complaining, especially some one not male, is shown the door.

      Reply
      • Northern Loon

        November 1st, 2021

        Mr. Kenney will receive a very handsome pension when he turns 55 on May 30th, 2023. Not sure if a guaranteed $120,000.00 a year (then $148,000.00 when he turns 60 in 2028) will keep him in the lifestyle he currently enjoys, but I’m pretty sure he can pick up some extra money from his conservative friends.

        Reply
  14. Just Me

    October 28th, 2021

    Given what is being learned, with more information and allegations likely to come, the condoned frat-boy behavior of the UCP government. I say condoned because it appears that, given the apparent disinterest in the complaint by Matt Wolf and Jason Nixon, it’s all about not bothering the Premier with such trivial concerns. He has bigger ambitions that outweigh Kimmel’s petty nonsense, right?

    All this reminds me of the time I spent with young Reformers/CRAP/CA adherents, witnessing their rowdy antics, their prized alcohol-fueled stupidity and plain dumb-arsed stunts. Of course, CONs love this sort of stuff because this is how men bond and form their tight-knit gangs and entourages. This assures loyalty and camaraderie against enemies imagined.

    As for women in the fold, well, woe unto them. They have one purpose: to serve the Alpha males, always be obedient and never be uppity. Or else, be shown the door and the road. For this gang, women are props and a means of instant gratification but little else.

    Reply
    • Joan Muriel Swain

      October 29th, 2021

      Thank you for that – very well expressed and so very true.

      Reply
  15. Former Albertan

    October 28th, 2021

    Cabinets made of poor lumber generally collapse quickly. And the chief stumble bum is likely to blame his tools, not his skills, or lack thereof.

    Reply
  16. An Cam Dubh

    October 28th, 2021

    If the government I was working for had been a catastrof*ck like the UCP I would probably be day drinking too.

    Reply
  17. jerrymacgp

    October 28th, 2021

    What I still fail to understand, is why so many men in positions of great responsibility seem to be incapable of “keeping it in their pants” and keeping their hands and words to themselves.

    I have spent my entire career as a Registered Nurse — all 35+ years & counting — working alongside, often in very close quarters, a largely female collection of Nursing colleagues; for 20 of those years, it was often at night & on weekends under the very stressful circumstances of a remote rural hospital or an ICU. Not once have I done anything that could be remotely construed as inappropriate or suggestive, nor has there even been any hint of an allegation made, nor have I betrayed my wife in any way, shape or form. They’re my co-workers, and often friends, but that’s all there is — or ever has been — to it. I don’t get why this seems so hard for so many people.

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      October 31st, 2021

      That’s the point, Jerry – the women you worked with were equals in capability, responsibility, and authority. I know of what you speak, having worked, since I was 16, in arenas that had either a vast majority of women or a 50-50 split. In all cases, women were either my colleagues or my superiors (or both). You live in that world, you realize women are not playthings to be used – they are teammates, who are fighting with you on the front lines (excuse the mixed metaphor). This is why I want to live in a world where hierarchy, if we have to have it, is not based on gender.

      Reply
  18. TB

    October 28th, 2021

    It’s refreshing to see the UCP excited about something other than oil.
    Maybe they do have a pulse!

    Reply
  19. Bruce Turton

    October 29th, 2021

    Interesting going back to Arnold Toynbee’s historical works: He posits that at first there are governing classes formed that are a “creative minority”, This group wins the respect and emulation of the rest of society because it is able to come up with creative solutions for the problems that a particular society/civilization faces. [Think Lougheed’s PC’s taking over from a very long in the tooth Socred party!] However, when this initially creative minority stops innovating [Think Klein, et al], they seek to force problems to fit their preferred set of solutions [Think again Klein and Rod Love, et al]. They no longer adapt solutions to fit the current set of problems.
    While the NDP government gave indication of being that “creative minority” once again, and did do some problem fixing, they were unwilling to re-imagine the course of action needed vis a vis the ‘elephant in the room’, i.e., oil and gas royalties on a scale that even, or especially, Mr. Lougheed would have approved. Not bold enough! So along comes the “newly resurrected” UCP supposed coalition that again drives Alberta toward the 1950’s with their economic/educational/social agendae under the guise of neo-liberalism founded after WWII and positioned to become ascendant with the demise of Keynesianism in the late 1970’s.
    The demise of the UCP is of their own making in that they cling desperately to their anti-government-as-player in people’s lives ideology which cannot deal positively with the problems that came to the fore withing their mandate. Creativity has been lost to the desperation of ideological blinders that has passed its “prime”.

    Reply
  20. tom

    October 29th, 2021

    Also, who paid for the liquor? It’s hard to believe these guys were coming in with their own bottles. Were government aids going on liquor runs and charging it to hospitality?

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      October 31st, 2021

      We all know the answer is ‘yes’. Looks like the trough was filled with Jamesons.

      Reply
  21. Jim

    October 30th, 2021

    Is there any scenario where the Alberta taxpayer doesn’t have to cover the costs of Kenney’s mess?

    Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      October 31st, 2021

      no there is not; Which is pretty much as it should be; it was the operator tax payer that elected him in overwhelming majority.

      Reply
  22. Marcel Matte

    November 1st, 2021

    Sexual harassment seems to be a problem with some politicians. It is also amazing what some parties and media will do to cover it up. Take Joe Biden who for years put his grubby hands all over women and young girls when in the Obama administration. This is all available to watch on the internet. It is so disgusting. Glad to see so many on this blog want to call out this kind of disgusting filthy behavior demonstrated by some politicians. Wow!

    Reply

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