Emboldened by the success of the social conservative coup plotters who overthrew Conservative Party of Canada leader Erin O’Toole in Ottawa Wednesday, the same anti-vaccine faction of Alberta’s United Conservative Party is now eyeing Premier Jason Kenney.
Not that Mr. Kenney is a moderate. Far from it.
But he is politically wounded, unpopular with voters, and facing a leadership review on April 9 while increasingly seen as too open to COVID-19 mitigation measures by his fractious rural caucus.
As a result, ambitious underlings and anti-vaxx rural caucus nobodies alike are smelling blood, and growing bolder.
Kenney consigliere Jason Nixon wrote a letter positioning himself as sufficiently extreme in his opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates to suit the rural caucus members now driving demands for an immediate end to all pandemic restrictions.
“My position on vaccine mandates is that they need to end,” the Government House Leader and environment minister chirped in his message to Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre constituents. “I’ve told this to the premier, to caucus, and now to you. You’ll note the premier said they’ll be gone imminently, and I’ll hold him to it.”
He is also opposed to Alberta’s euphemistically titled Restrictions Exemption Program, so named to spare anyone from having to utter the words “vaccine passport,” Mr. Nixon said before his letter descended into pro forma vilification of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Nathan Cooper, Speaker of the Alberta Legislature, said much the same thing on social media.
“The people of Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills are in overwhelming agreement that vaccine mandates and the Restriction Exemption Program must end, and end now,” Mr. Cooper said on his official MLA Facebook account. “I agree. … I stand with you in calling for an immediate end to vaccine mandates and the Restriction Exemption Program.”
Whether or not the Speaker should be expressing such partisan sentiments is another matter, but who would stop him? Anyway, he is widely thought to have bigger ambitions than just remaining Speaker.
Veteran Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid yesterday wrote that “the large and impatient anti-passport crew” in the UCP Caucus has “reached peak anger over the program and want it to vanish immediately” – especially with more copycat convoy blockades and traffic disruptions expected in some of their ridings over the weekend.
Mr. Braid quoted Bonnyville-Cold Lake UCP MLA Dave Hanson complaining that the REP needs to go “right now. I don’t see the value of putting it off. We’ll just have more trouble with demonstrations over the coming weekend because it’s still there.”
To give Mr. Kenney his due, he is a veteran politician who undoubtedly understands that it’s dangerous to truckle to a militant minority pushing a policy bound to make the desperate state of the province’s hospitals even worse.
But he also understands the immediate danger he faces from his own party, so it didn’t take long for UCP issues managers to tell caucus members it’s now OK to badmouth COVID mitigation measures, and for the premier himself to pledge an end to all public health restrictions very soon.
“Early next week, Alberta will announce a firm date to end the REP and to do so in the very near future,” Mr. Kenney said on a Facebook Live session yesterday where, unlike the gruelling news conference at which Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw squirmed to avoid answering reporters’ aggressive questions, he was safely insulated from the media.
“We will also lay out a simple, phased plan to remove almost all public health restrictions later this month,” he added, as Alberta transitions into Florida without beaches or nice weather.
Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi begged the province not to act so quickly and hinted the city might impose restrictions of its own. His pleas will be ignored, of course, and the province can be expected to obstruct efforts by the city to act independently.
Meanwhile, back in Ottawa, as Mr. O’Toole made a dignified exit from his job as Opposition leader, the Globe and Mail revealed that his interim replacement, Manitoba MP Candice Bergen, had advocated encouraging the lawless convoy invasion force to continue its occupation of downtown Ottawa because eventually that would put pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“We need to turn this into the PM’s problem,” she said in an email leaked to the Globe, sent shortly before she took over as leader.
Well, I guess you don’t even need to see Ms. Bergen in her camo MAGA cap or dining with a group of insurrectionists to understand what has become of the party of John Diefenbaker, Robert Stanfield and Joe Clark.
With the support of their Conservative friends and jacked up by the failure of federal, provincial and municipal authorities to restore order in the capital region, the so-called truckers – who appear to be mostly unemployed men with funds from God knows where – have been digging in and stockpiling fuel and supplies while harassing locals in downtown Ottawa.
One way or another, this can only end in tears.
At least two counter demonstrations by Ottawa residents to take back their city are expected this weekend.
They may or may not provoke a violent response from the squatters, but the risk is real and will increase the longer the noisy mob is allowed to camp in the city centre.
The longer it takes to restore order, the greater the risk of violence will become.