Alberta Premier Jason Kenney during Friday’s news conference (Photo: Screenshot of Alberta Government video).

Much of the Alberta commentariat pivoted Friday to the theory Premier Jason Kenney himself was behind the leak of a recording of his speech to political staffers in which he accused the right wing of his United Conservative Party of bigotry and lunacy.

“I did not think that Kenney orchestrated the leak of his comments to staffers on Tuesday,” tweeted one influential frequent commentator. “But watching today’s press conference, I have completely changed my mind.”

Kenney rival Brian Jean (Photo: Brian Jean/Flickr).

“Can we talk about how this Kenney audio was clearly leaked by someone on his team to make him look reasonable,” said another. 

The proximate cause of this course change was a government news conference Friday to re-announce funding for an air-ambulance service during which Mr. Kenney blithely reeled off some of the same talking points about the many UCP members who would like to see the last of him that Albertans first heard in the CBC’s report of his secret speech.

In response to a question from a reporter, Mr. Kenney declined to apologize for calling his opponents extremists, and insisted that “I am determined to ensure that such hateful, extreme and divisive voices do not find a home in this mainstream, broad, conservative party.”

Well, it’s possible he’s behind the leak. But it still seems unlikely, seeing as it made him look weak, barely in control of his staff or party. And if Mr. Kenney is anything, it’s not a leader who appreciates looking feeble. 

Anyway, we were all bound to hear his main talking points soon enough as his campaign to salvage his reputation and hang onto his job picks up steam in advance of the UCP’s April 9 annual general meeting in Red Deer and subsequent mail-in leadership review vote. 

In that regard, his remarks to his staffers were just a dress rehearsal.

Moreover, from the commentariat’s perspective, having touted the man for years as a political genius, it’s far easier to attribute this development to his brain power than to admit it’s a risky move driven by desperation.

So a dispute over whether the leak was the work of the premier and his brain trust or just a disgruntled employee is almost entirely academic.

The important question is whether collapsing another part of the Alberta conservative movement’s “big tent” can be a winning strategy for Mr. Kenney.

After all, the tent was diminished soon after the creation of the UCP when Progressive Conservative Red Tories were discouraged from hanging around.  

Now that Mr. Kenney seems to be losing the UCP’s right fringe to splinter parties and general disillusionment with his reluctant COVID-19 mitigation policies over the past two years, he’s decided to call those who oppose him lunatics – at least until he’s dispatched his chief rival, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, to a place where he no longer constitutes a threat.

Once Mr. Kenney has managed to survive his leadership review vote – which seems likely now that the party board has changed the voting process to make it easier for him to win – he’ll probably try to stitch his right wing coalition back together again.

You could see the broad strokes of the UCP’s re-election messaging during Friday’s news conference, which served as a sort of informal launch to the election campaign that will follow the end of the premier’s leadership troubles.

In a sense, it can be argued, temporarily disavowing the party’s far right and painting the UCP as a moderate centrist party is not so different from what Mr. Kenney did in his 2019 campaign.

The question is whether the UCP’s right wing will continue to accept his ideological winks and nudges and hold their noses and vote for him one more time.

Well, he’s gotten away with tactical rhetorical reversals before, so he may well think, why not one more time?

Beyond that, Mr. Kenney took credit for the almost balanced budget passed Thursday in the Legislature – never mind that is was almost entirely the result of recently surging oil prices driven by factors outside Alberta’s control.

He touted his leadership through the public health and economic crisis of the pandemic, slumping economy and low petroleum prices – not bothering to mention those times he disappeared for days on end while COVID-19 surged, leaving the province effectively leaderless. 

And he claimed to have taken no salary for three years while working to create the UCP, which is true as long as you don’t count the salary he received from the Government of Canada for being MP for Calgary-Midnapore. 

“I decided to continue to offer in the spirit of servant leadership my continued service,” Mr. Kenney piously told his news conference. 

Look for more of the same in the days ahead. 

In particular, brace yourselves to hear the word “mainstream” over and over again. 

Unless, of course, Mr. Jean’s supporters manage to muster enough votes to derail the premier’s efforts.

Yesterday Mr. Jean was promoting a poll that suggested the UCP would do better in a general election against the NDP if he led the party than if Mr. Kenney remained at the helm. 

If Mr. Jean succeeds, well, everything will be different … and everything will be the same.

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19 Comments

  1. Without a doubt Kenney is setting up his government for a snap election.

    He’s created an internal crisis in his own party for the purpose of distracting from his own failings. Kenny is presenting himself as the only reasonable actor in the UCP capable of reforming the party and defeating the NDP. It’s an inventive gamble but it’s also heavily laced with Kenney’s extraordinary type of bullshite.

    It’s come to a point where Kenney is adding more gaslighting upon gaslighting to diminish a circumstance created by his own gaslighting.

    Gaslighting deluxe.

  2. I agree, I don’t think the leak was intentional. Kenney’s reaction to it is typical of him and is just his way of trying to deal with a bad situation – double down and don’t apologize. It works for some, but I have a strong feeling most Albertans have had more than enough of Kenney’s overly confrontational approach to everything by now.

    This reminds of of how towards the end of the Harper years, the leader and his party mostly kept its overly partisan and petty approach to almost everything, an approach that worked for them years earlier to successfully attack political opponents , but by that time the voters had tired of it and really wanted something better. Oh, wait a minute, Kenney was a part of that gang and he seemed to fit in well, so I suppose no coincidence here. Perhaps Kenney is like Wile E Coyote who keeps on running even after he has gone off the edge of the cliff. Things have changed, but Kenney hasn’t realized it yet, or maybe he can’t change, so he keeps on doing what he always has done even though it no longer works so well.

    Kenney won the UCP leadership by portraying himself as a very right wing conservative, deliberately appealing to many of many of those same people he now calls kooks and extremists. Now, that they don’t believe him anymore, he is turning on them. I doubt that the more moderate conservatives ever really liked Kenney that much or found him that appealing. Sure, some probably voted for him reluctantly because they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for other parties or felt he was more likely to be successful, but they probably would have preferred a leader with a more moderate tone. So, I doubt they will believe him now as he tries to recast himself as some sort of moderate and I doubt they will really want to save him either, especially now that he is so unpopular.

    So to me, Kenney looks like a drowning man, grasping at anything to try save himself. If the party doesn’t boot him out, the voters will. This also seems to be the fairly clear message from the most recent poll, which could be taken as good news for Brian Jean. However, I am a bit skeptical about polls that focus on UCP leadership for a couple of reasons. First, of all for all his faults, Kenney is still a better campaigner and strategist than Jean. So, I suspect the poll underestimates Kenney and over estimates Jean. Yeah, voters are really, really tired of Kenney, so Jean probably could do better, but not by as much as the poll indicates. Second, the next election will also be a judgment on the UCP, so if they change leaders whoever takes over will really have to repudiate a lot of what was done over the last several years. I don’t see that a new leader would be willing or completely able to do that.

    Much of the baggage is Kenney’s, but not all of it. There will also be a reckoning for the UCP which had a role in the all the bad things the government did in the last few years. I recall Rona Ambrose once said after Harper left – “the bad man is now gone”, perhaps in an attempt to win back support for the next Conservative leader. It didn’t work then and I have a feeling it will not work now either.

  3. The UCP is a hybrid monster that was hastily stitched together to resemble at one time a unified political party. No amount of anti-immune medication is going to cause the various parts to be rejected as foreign. The party is likely to explode into disparate putrid piles. This is going to happen regardless of who is at the helm. The party that ends up emerging with the label UCP is likely something that the voters will reject from the body politic. At least, that is my hope.

    The news is bad for AB and the UCP whether Kenney, Brian Jean or some other candidate emerges on top. God help us if Jason Nixon and his ilk are anywhere near the levers of influence for much longer:

    https://www.sprawlcalgary.com/jason-nixon-ascent-to-power

    Most of the people in UCP party are unfit to govern. I might give a pass to Richard Gotfried and Leela Aheer. Not that I would vote for either of them, just that they don’t seem to be jerks and do seem to be somewhat principled. Not high praise for a party that seems to be composed mainly of people who are ignorant and unprincipled.

    Let’s hope the NDP can prevail in the next election, whenever that is.

    1. It’s a good time to remind everyone that the War Room Board of Directors includes none other that the dreaded Jason Nixon, along with flip-flopping Sonja Savage and the bumbling Doug Schweitzer. An incompetent trio, that should send shivers down the spines of everyone in Alberta.

  4. Under these pretend conservatives and Reformers, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The head honcho of the UCP is taking credit for a surge in oil prices, which have absolutely nothing to do with him, or the UCP. If we got back to the oil royalty rates and the corporate tax rates that Peter Lougheed had, we’d be better off. Rachel Notley was attempting to do that, and the UCP hasn’t done that. The UCP has just constantly done very pricey shenanigans, costing Alberta billions of dollars, and when these oil prices tumble back down, Alberta won’t be any farther ahead. The UCP, much like Ralph Klein did, picks on those receiving AISH, teachers, doctors, nurses, senior citizens, and students. They end up having to pay for the UCP’s very pricey shenanigans, just like they paid for Ralph Klein’s very pricey shenanigans. Here we have another pretend conservative, and a Reformer, Brian Jean, who cannot be trusted, and will continue to do more damage. Yet, Albertans are still supporting these pretend conservatives and Reformers, and they haven’t learned their lesson. It’s really pathetic. We were much better off with Rachel Notley and the NDP.

  5. The UCP Party is broken.

    It was never designed with longevity or thought in mind. It was designed for one reason and one reason alone. To secure power. And by individuals who were only interested in securing power for themselves. The fault lines were built in.

    The other challenge is that one of its organizers, now it’s leader, was interested only in his own career. It was to be a stepping stone to securing the CPC leadership a few years down the road. The founding leadership contest only served to widen the existing fault lines. The die was cast-it was only matter of time before the cracks appeared for all to see.

    Like many marriages of convenience it quickly fell apart when the going got tough politically and when the Province faced severe health and financial challenges. No surprise whatsoever.

    The challenge for the UCP…..few voters believe anything that they say. Most voters do not believe their motives. Once a spouse starts lying to you on a regular basis how on earth can you believe anything that they say. This is apart from the abysmal performance in multiple key ministries. The absolute worst example being Tyler Shandro who was subsequently rewarded with the Justice portfolio.

    This is far worse than a clown car full of self centered, self indulgent provincial politicians. We are already seeing the long term fallout in the healthcare sector in terms of professionals abandoning our Province.

    I cannot see the UCP surviving this mess. Surely the two, possibly three groups, will each decide to take their marbles home and play by themselves. Perhaps shortly after the next election. Albertans will be the better for it.

  6. On the ‘was the leak orchestrated by Kenney?’ front, what does it say about our current premier that no one is suggesting something that sleazy would be out of character?

  7. Who cares if he orchestrated it or not? It’s another empty threat.

    I remember my dad doing the same thing almost every summer family vacation.

    “If you kids don’t settle down I’ll turn this car around and I’ll cancel our vacation.”

    Oh, please! We didn’t fall for it even as kids.

    The reality is Kenney has no intentions of stepping down early. As long as there is money left that Alberta can borrow , or that he can find in the couch cushions, he ain’t stepping away. He hasn’t finished emptying out the treasury.

    Plus, the public education system and health system isn’t quite destroyed yet.

    Debating whether or not he planned the leak is a distraction. I’m not distracted no matter how often he yells, “squirrel”.

  8. Albertans are famous forgetting past political stupidity and Brian Jean might get his way. Of course he will make certain the poll will only include stupid UCP supporters so he can try to convince other stupid Albertans to join him. I bet a lot have already have forgotten what a great liar he was as leader of the Wildrose, it got Kenney elected as leader of the UCP.

  9. I suppose whether Kenney staged a leak or not will truly be academic when it arrives at its comemootnance in just less than a fortnight (Johnson’s prescribed period to focus the mind wonderfully), but if advantage —any little bit, in his desperate straits—can be purchased by pulling a ‘Cool-Hand-Luke’ neath the bush, we can be sure Kenney KeKangaroo with jump on it. In this case, I think proclaiming himself “mainstream” champion against the lunatic fringe within his own creation does set an anchoring bias of primality which, he probably hopes, implies his main rival is stuck with the party’s hindmost reactionary teat by default. For Jean to parry in kind merely puts him in second place which, there being only one party leader, comes without cigar.

    Besides, Jean has already committed to a platform: ‘I can save Alberta from the NDP better n Jason Kenney!’ Nota bene: K-Boy did not bite at this metrics’s second-place by countering that he himself can lead the charge against the Loyal Opposition NDP better than Jean can. The UCP record compares so poorly to the NDP’s, Kenney would rather not mention it, rather preferring party unity as the dominant issue instead, he in the “mainstream” corner versus Jean in crazies’ corner—faites vos jeux!

    Comparison between UCP and NDP also contrasts more starkly than two contesting parties normally do because, at the next campaign, both will have governed for a single term, both as first-time governments, one immediately after the other. A seeming trivial fact next to the many challenging issues Alberta has experienced since this political curling match began to ‘hurry hard’ in 2015: NDP with the lead stone and UCP with the hammer. Yet the easy comparison is sure to remind many Albertans how much more like the PCs the NDP was during its single term than the UCP has been in its own—at least so far (and an early election will make the UCP’s ‘so far’ so much shorter—perhaps better, in the ‘stop -digging’ sense).

    The equation between Dipper and ProgCon, especially the Redest of Tory variety practiced by Premier Peter Lougheed’s first Alberta PC government back in 1971, has potential to place K-Boy so far to the right as to obscure or nullify the mainstream-fringe dichotomy he’s chosen to cultivate with regard divisive UCP party politics. He will of course avoid that inter-party sizing up as much as possible, but if it does come up whilst he’s still in the running, he’ll be forced to blame his popularity catastrophe on Covid, a very dangerous corner to get boxed into for fairly obvious reasons. That’s probably why his first sparring match threw out an uncharacteristic confession that “mistakes were made” —but notably ambivalent since either side of the UCP bloodied brow he’s working can take it in totally different—indeed, diametrically opposing—ways. Scratch thin skin, however, and duplicitous caginess beams out veeeeeeery characteristically. The Bluest of Dipper parties will doubtlessly capitalize on such things. The question is whether Brain Jean can—or anybody else that might contest the leadership if Kenney loses it in thirteen days from today, for that matter.

    Whoever’s at the UCP helm will still have a seriously divided party to mend before taking on a rival with a measurably and memorably superior track record. Mr Jean had better mind he doesn’t get the cart too far ahead of the horse by fighting the next election before the UCP schism is adequately addressed.

    At the bottom of the plea barrel is the irrefutable fact that the UCP has never lost an election—yes, trite, I know, because it’s only ever won one: the last one. Neither the NDP nor the PCs can say that. The other important difference, though, is that parties of the right take losing so poorly they often blow apart in defeat. The NDP is the complete opposite, while the UCP looks like the most unstable party of the right Canada has seen for a long time—for at least two decades (when an independent conservative caucus —the “Democratic Representative Caucus”— hove off of Stockwell Day’s Reform-a-CRAP-a-Con Alliance in the federal parliament). I can only hope UCP prospects will be like its federal-equivalent CPC: its first majority was its last.

    There seems a fascinating trend: arguably, the NDP 2015 victory was largely about Albertans punishing the 43 year-old PC government, not NDP policy, but, plainly, enough erstwhile ProgCons were impressed with the NDP government (and likely distrustful of the upstart UCP) to allow the NDP to retain 24 seats and become Loyal Opposition in 2019 despite Kenney winning almost 60% of the popular vote; as mentioned, the UCP’s maiden mandate compares very poorly with its predecessor’s, as polls seem to corroborate; the many opportunities Covid provided for the kind of political reflection Albertans are still somewhat unfamiliar with will likely Ockham-shave the choice to its simplest question: which is preferable, a reasonable, responsible, Red Tory-like Dipper government or one like the UCP government Albertans elected last time— dogmatic, lacklustre, divisive—only now more riddled with reactionary schizophrenia than ever before?

    Until Kenney’s April 9 leadership review, it’s probably too early to speculate how the federal CPC leadership contest, scheduled for September, will affect Alberta politics. Will as-yet front runner Pierre “le Pew” Poilievre’s brimstone rhetoric frustrate UCP attempts to mend itself? Would Jean Charest come to Alberta to kiss the UCP leader’s ring like O’Toole did to win the CPC leadership—but then assiduously avoid Alberta’s Covid pariah status in the subsequent federal election? So many questions—but they’ll have to keep for a few weeks yet (a long time in politics—maybe long enough to focus the mind wonderfully).

    Finally, with all the federal clutter in a Western province which either wants to be the boss of the entire federation or secede from it if it can’t, it’s worth noting that Rachel Notley is, like Peter Lougheed was, a native-born Albertan politician untainted by Ottawa. Neither Kenney nor Mr Jean can claim that. They cut their teeth at the feet of yet another ultra-partisan, federal interloper upon the beautiful Wild Rose province.

  10. Servant Leader? Observe the fruits of a tree to know it’s worth.

    At any rate, I don’t see Kenney as a shrewd strategist. Think about it. Calling the extreme right kooks etc. will drive them to vote, and likely not for JK. The big tent may well shred, as even right of centre voters chose to leave the Up Cup O’piss party for other more tasteful libations, er, sorry parties. As the old farmer told me, you dance with the partner what brung you. Sorry for all the mixed metaphors readers; I think you understand my point.

    Will Kenney win the leadership ballot, likely yes. But the ballot will be so plainly gerrymandered, and perhaps by a resultant small margin, that it may well cripple the UCP as a viable electoral vehicle.

  11. So while Trudeau and Singh show us that they do care about the well being of all Canadians and are willing to work together these conservatives and reformers are so busy infighting amongst themselves they don’t care what happens to the people. Bad mouthing anyone who isn’t dumb enough to support them is their only mandate.

    All of us should be demanding to see a list of the people who have bought a membership in the UCP supporting Jason Kenney to see if our names were used against our wishes, like they did last election.

  12. Even though Kenney has plan to solve world hunger, end the arms race, protect our freedoms and way of life, end climate change, and make every Albertan rich I can say with some degree of assuredness that I will not be voting UCP in the next election.

    I was in business all my life. We never rewarded failure. Indeed, those who were abysmal failures and caused financial losses or losses of opportunity were rewarded with a path to the door.

  13. Oh, Lord help us. Kenney’s trying to run on his record.

    Bill Kaufmann, in this Calgary Herald article ( https://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/jean-would-do-better-against-ndp-than-kenney-poll ), wrote:

    “Kenney noted he’s the best person to lead the UCP and Alberta given his track record in shepherding the province through the pandemic and economic downturn. ‘With that experience, I’m the best person to move this party and province forward,’ [Kenney] said….”

    We’ll see how long that lasts when the leadership review votes are counted.

  14. At coffee this morning my senior friends and I were noting that many of Kenney’s supporters seem to have gone into hiding. We don’t have the large numbers of them attacking us for not being as dumb as them like we were seeing in the past. Maybe they have finally woken up, but I doubt it.

    I see where Kenney is blaming all our problems on green energy, ignoring the fact that it was oil executives who wanted the Carbon tax implemented and shell oil is building a solar panel field to supple power to their Scotford refinery. I wonder if this guy even bothers to talk to any oil executives?

  15. You have to love how stupid this guy Jason Kenny is. He claims those supporting green energy are helping Putin. Apparently he isn’t smart enough to understand that his remarks includes oil executives who wanted the Carbon Tax implemented and Shell Oil who are planning to build a solar power field to power their Scotford oil refinery . You have to wonder if this fool even bothers to talk to oil executives. Notley , Trudeau, and Lougheed were working with them and not against them like he is.

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