Alberta Politics
Calgary Sun political columnist Rick Bell (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Does spat between once-simpatico columnist and Jason Kenney signal the end of the road for Alberta’s premier?

Posted on November 18, 2021, 2:12 am
8 mins

Et tu, Brute? 

Was political columnist Rick Bell’s news conference question yesterday about allegations of cash being funnelled from political action committees to Jason Kenney’s supporters in advance of this weekend’s United Conservative Party annual general meeting a sign the end is near for Alberta’s increasingly unpopular premier?

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at yesterday’s Edmonton News conference (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flicker).

Or was it, and the sharp response it drew from Mr. Kenney, just the end of one of Alberta’s longer-running politico-journalistic bromances? 

Either way, the sharp exchange between the premier and the long-simpatico Postmedia columnist sparked a buzz in political circles already fascinated by the spectacle of Mr. Kenney’s intramural troubles with UCP rebels who have come to view him as the biggest threat to their own political survival.

The brouhaha threatens to boil over at this weekend’s UCP annual general meeting. Twenty-two UCP constituency association boards have voted to force an early leadership review on Mr. Kenney – enough to make it happen under the party’s current rules. The premier’s allies are scrambling to come up with procedural manoeuvres to block them. Tempers are rising. 

Tuesday morning, in the midst of this, Mr. Bell published a column on Airdrie-Cochrane UCP MLA Peter Guthrie’s complaints about the premier. 

Mr. Guthrie, one of numerous rural Conservative MLAs with a history of opposition to measures to control the spread of COVID-19, wrote a letter to the UCP Legislature Caucus asserting “we may be at a point where this party cannot be salvaged.”

Mr. Guthrie is said to have written that he had heard from “multiple direct sources” that PACs supporting Mr. Kenney offered to pay member fees and provide other favours in exchange for votes at the AGM. “Those involved in the scheme include staff from your office (using taxpayer dollars), as well as the party and even MLAs,” the letter is reported to have said.

First mentioned by a right-wing online publication, the letter might not have been that much of a news flash had Mr. Bell not decided to write about it in the Calgary Sun, still a favoured news source for the UCP base. 

Airdrie-Cochrane UCP MLA Peter Guthrie (Photo: Peter Guthrie/Facebook).

Mr. Bell relayed Mr. Guthrie’s call for an independent investigation of the financial shenanigans, then telegraphed his next move. “You can be certain Kenney will be asked about these allegations on Wednesday,” he vowed. “He will be given an opportunity to clear the air. Talking points emailed from his office will not suffice.”

Well, given that warning, Mr. Kenney obviously had time to prepare for the moment, which came yesterday at a news conference about announcing government funds for homeless housing in Edmonton. Mr. Bell asked: “D’you ever sit back at 3 o’clock in the morning and think, ‘Maybe there’s something I should do?’ That this is a symptom of something wrong in your government? Do you ever think that? Because a lot of people ask me that.” 

Obviously annoyed, Mr. Kenney churlishly replied: “Well, Rick, what I focus on is the priority of Albertans, of getting the job done.” He then launched into a list of jobs and economic benefits he claims are coming the province’s way. 

“Last week, I don’t know if you wrote a column about this, Rick, because, maybe it’s just too fun and easy just to write about, um, people who are angry with the government over COVID policy. I know you’ve been doin’ that for a couple of years. Good for you. 

NDP Ethics Critic and Edmonton-South West MLA Thomas Dang (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“But I would challenge you, maybe, to find space, I dunno, a paragraph, about one of the biggest weeks in the history of the Alberta economy,” he continued, sarcastically, coughing frequently. 

“I know it’s a small deal, $7-billion dollars in new investment last week … Those are the issues that I stay up at 3 in the morning focussing on and thinking about.”

At this point, staff minions could be heard loudly applauding the premier’s quarrelsome counter-check. He flashed them a momentary shaka sign, presumably to indicate his approval. 

Those who want to watch the exchange will have to rely on clips posted by news reporters since, unusually for the UCP, the entire news conference was not published on the government’s web site. If you do, it’s important to remember the jobs and investments described by the premier are only announcements at this point, promises that may not be kept. 

Regardless of that, the bloom, obviously, is off the rose. One tweet compared the exchange between the premier and the Dinger to “a married couple fight … right before the divorce lawyers get called.” 

Mr. Bell responded last night on Twitter, promising to deliver a riposte in his next column this morning. Mr. Kenney, presumably, need no longer wonder for whom the Bell tolls … 

Meanwhile, noting that today is the second anniversary of the firing of Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson in the midst of a probe into illegal spending in Mr. Kenney’s leadership campaign, NDP Ethics Critic Thomas Dang yesterday wrote Chief Electoral Officer Glen Resler demanding an investigation. 

Mr. Dang’s letter states that since the UCP is charging $349 for members and $149 for youth members to attend the AGM, any fees paid by a third-party PAC could violate the Elections Finance Contributions Disclosure Act. “Funnelling money from a PAC into a registered political party is illegal,” he said in a news release.

For his part, Mr. Kenney told yesterday’s news conference the payments are legal.

25 Comments to: Does spat between once-simpatico columnist and Jason Kenney signal the end of the road for Alberta’s premier?

  1. Just Me

    November 18th, 2021

    Jason Kenney stacking an AGM with newly minted members, financed by monies from uncertain sources?

    Say it ain’t so.

    Well, the shenanigans are getting to be impressive, as Kenney and his brainchild, the UCP, are headed on a collision course that could have seismic repercussions across the province. Or, maybe not.

    What better way to avoid an early leadership review than for Kenney to announce that he will be returning to federal politics to save the CPC, Erin O’Toole, destroy PMJT, and stop the Bolsheviks revolution that’s unfolding? Trudeau is Lenin and Canada must be saved.

    It’s just like Kenney to walk out of a chaotic situation of his own making. Harpo has saved his bacon multiple times, and he’s going to do it again.

    O’Toole will gladly accept Kenney’s help in Ottawa because the whole CPC caucus has their knives out for another failed leader.

    Reply
    • Lars

      November 18th, 2021

      It would be most foolish of Erin O’Toole to accept any offer of help from Kenney, especially given the rather parlous state of O’Toole’s leadership. Kenney’s repeatedly shown himself to be entirely untrustworthy. If he returned to the CPC it wold be to undercut O’Toole and replace him as party leader.

      Reply
      • Just Me

        November 18th, 2021

        O’Toole has already hired a noted partisan astroturfer as a policy advisor. Given that development, Kenney’s return to Ottawa cannot be too far behind.

        Reply
  2. Dave

    November 18th, 2021

    If this were the Sound of Music this could be the part where they would all be asking what do you do with a problem like Maria. Well the title role in this UCP drama here of course is Kenney’s, but I doubt it will be such a happy ending with him leaving to become a Governess for dashing Austrian war hero, as they try figure out what to do with their biggest problem.

    Mr. Bell has not been very amicable with Kenney for a while. I think we are fast approaching the point where the divorce papers are about to be served and it could get even messier and nastier. Of course, it is not just Bell, he is really only the messenger for a number of people in the party. This time, it seems the story will not be about Fakes on a Plane, but perhaps could be about PACs at a convention.

    I suspect Mr. Kenney, true to form, will continue to be all about money and power, giving his party a final chance to rediscover principles and populism. Maybe this is all just a cover for getting rid of a very unpopular leader, but hey it is better than nothing. This is what you possibly do about a problem called Kenney.

    Reply
    • Rocky

      November 18th, 2021

      If this were the Sound of Music, as someone observed somewhere the other day, we wouldn’t be as surprised when Nazis kept showing up.

      Reply
    • Bruce

      November 18th, 2021

      I was thinking the same thing!!!
      hilarious..

      Reply
      • Just Me

        November 18th, 2021

        Did Nazi see that coming.

        So that the close of this weekend’s AGM, Kenney will make an appearance, and when he leaves, a Gestapo officer will run into the room and says, “He’s gone!”

        Reply
  3. Anonymous

    November 18th, 2021

    Let’s face it. The UCP are an absolute disaster of a party, and even once staunch allies of the UCP, like Rick Bell, can’t ignore the UCP’s many misdeeds, poor Covid-19 response measures, and their very pricey shenanigans, which are costing Albertans billions of dollars, any longer. No one with even the slightest bit of common sense can. The UCP’s rise to power is quite suspect. We can see this, by Lorne Gibson getting fired, those in the UCP camp getting fined for breaches of the Alberta Elections act, and the head honcho of the UCP wanting to replace the R.C.M.P with a provincial police force, because the R.C.M.P are investigating the UCP’s leadership race, involving him. We had a true conservative government, under Peter Lougheed, and what we ended up getting is pretend conservatives and Reformers, such as with Ralph Klein, and with the UCP. There is no sense in that.

    Reply
  4. tom

    November 18th, 2021

    I for one think it’s a shame Rick Bell wasted his unique writing style on Alberta’s glorified ward politics rather than experimental fiction or concrete poetry.

    Reply
    • DIY

      November 18th, 2021

      Hah! Yes.

      Reply
  5. Carlos

    November 18th, 2021

    What I keep wondering everyday is what is necessary to take this goon out of government (Jason Kenney)

    Reply
    • Comment

      November 19th, 2021

      Exactly. This guy is made of Teflon (albeit probably stolen).

      Reply
  6. tom in ontario

    November 18th, 2021

    “He (Kenney) flashed them a momentary shaka sign…”
    Wikipedia says the shaka sign, sometimes known as “hang loose” is a gesture of friendly intent often associated with Hawaii and surf culture.
    Was JK only shaka signing his enthusiastic underlings? Perhaps he was signalling his travel agent to book a long, slow cruise to Honolulu following the UCP annual general meeting this weekend. Don’t forget your surfboard, Jason. Hang ten!

    Reply
  7. Carlos

    November 18th, 2021

    It is about time that Bell sees the light. He has been supporting this kind of politics for years. Is it a bit too extreme for your Bell? Never really trusted any of his columns because they were bad.

    Reply
    • tom

      November 18th, 2021

      I don’t think he’s seen the light, Carlos. He’s just looking for someone as bad or worse than Kenney with better approval numbers.

      Reply
    • Just Me

      November 18th, 2021

      I suspect Bell is looking forward to a comfortable retirement soon. No doubt his years of loyal and blind service to Kenney has rewarded him well. It wasn’t much of a journalism career anyway.

      Reply
      • David Climenhaga

        November 19th, 2021

        Well, Rick’s been in the business a heck of a long time. He probably reckons it beats being the schoolteacher I’m pretty sure he once was. DJC

        Reply
        • Carlos

          November 22nd, 2021

          Better be a bad journalist than a bad teacher

          Reply
  8. Abs

    November 18th, 2021

    Just Me, I hope you have a big bag of popping corn ready. Extra butter, please.

    Reply
    • Just Me

      November 18th, 2021

      I’ve graduated to sweet kettle corn of late. No question this will trash my health. But I’ve added more push-ups to my day so I shouldn’t die just yet.

      Reply
  9. CovKid

    November 19th, 2021

    What did it cost you, Dave, to get Bell to pose with an NDP/Notley lanyard around his neck?

    Surely he must have expected it to be used against him eventually.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      November 19th, 2021

      Not a thing, CovKid. We were both at the last NDP convention before the 2019 election. No journo would think twice about that, though. You wear the media tag the conference organizers give you, inevitably on the lanyard they give you too. Everyone in the business understands it means nothing other than where you were. DJC

      Reply
  10. Scotty on Denman

    November 19th, 2021

    It’s an old game, but Kenney appears to be losing his conjuring touch: now you see pea, now you don’t.

    I always loved the gunslinger who cleverly reveals there’s no pea under two of the three scrambled shells—and then points to the third shell, saying, “It’s under that one…”

    Reply
  11. jerrymacgp

    November 19th, 2021

    Let’s not kid ourselves. Mr Kenney is not in trouble with his rural base because he hasn’t done enough to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than 3,200 Albertans have died as a result. He’s in trouble because he did too much … they’re the kind of Darwin-denying Christo-Fascists that believe the Charter of Rights & Freedoms — yes, that one, the one brought to us by none other than the über-hated Pierre Elliott Trudeau (logical consistency not being their strong suit) — is a mutual suicide pact.

    No doubt the death toll would have been far worse had he followed the advice of his rural libertarian/so-con base (how those two diametrically opposing perspectives can co-exist in the same brain is beyond me, but that it seems to do with this bunch), and completely avoided imposing even the public health half-measures he did during the pandemic. No mask mandates, no vaccine passports-that-dare-not-speak-their-name, no capacity restrictions in indoor public spaces … for those who want Mr Kenney replaced by some even more doctrinaire Wildrose-type, remember these words from Metallica’s ‘King Nothing’: “Careful what you wish/you may regret it/careful what you wish/ you just might get it” (Load, 1994).

    Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (not be published)