How the United Conservative Party strategic brain trust apparently sees MLAs who criticize Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Image: The Simpsons/Youtube).

A house divided against itself cannot stand. 

That goes for political parties too, I daresay. 

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

And I’d say the United Conservative Party led by Jason Kenney is getting perilously close to the point it’s so divided against itself that if nothing changes it’ll have to have to be folded up like a tent, thrown in the back of a blue pickup truck, and driven out of town!

It’s been apparent for a while there are serious divisions within the UCP – COVID deniers versus public health affirmers, Progressive Conservatives versus Wildrosers, neoliberals versus social conservatives, rural MLAs versus urban MLAs, possibly even climate change deniers versus “green conservatives,” to borrow a phrase from Preston Manning.

It looked for a spell as if the UCP – cobbled together in 2017 to restore the Progressive Conservative dynasty created by Peter Lougheed, who led the PCs to power in 1971 and created the big-tent model that kept them there until 2015 – might actually have cast out the demon of division animated in 2009 by the advent of the Wildrose Caucus in the Alberta Legislature, and its near miss with power in 2012.

Whether it was principally the superb campaign run by NDP Leader Rachel Notley or the divisions that bedevilled the Conservatives will forever be debated, but the rift in the conservative movement unquestionably contributed to the NDP victory in 2015 that ended 44-year PC Dynasty, and eventually the PC Party itself. 

Postmedia political columnist Rick Bell (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Mr. Kenney was anointed leader in a somewhat-tainted UCP vote in 2017. He seemed to lay to rest any doubts about the unity of the new conservative party, though, with his convincing electoral victory in 2019. 

There were lots of Albertans, on the right and the left, who concluded then Mr. Kenney was the saviour of the right, who had resuscitated the indivisible Alberta Tory coalition of old. 

But that ole Demon Division was not so easily cast out. Disagreement over how to respond to COVID seems to have been the catalyst, and Mr. Kenney’s own inclination to use polarization as a political tool certainly contributed.

That led to the party referendum on Mr. Kenney’s leadership now being conducted through a controversial – and itself divisive – mail-in vote, with allegations of cheating in the wind and Mr. Kenney himself calling members of his own party “lunatics” and implying that without him at the helm, bigotry would run wild in the UCP. 

By the end of last week, no politically alert Albertan could miss the fact the UCP has become a public snake pit, with MLAs, party members and political staffers mud-rasslin’ on social media and in the press. 

Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

On Friday, Postmedia political columnist Rick Bell quoted eight sitting UCP MLAs publicly assailing their leader in a single column! In addition, he tossed in two Independent MLAs exiled from the UCP Caucus by Mr. Kenney for disloyalty to raise the total to 10. 

Quoting Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer, Mr. Bell wrote: “With the NDP, people had concerns about certain policies. ‘With us, they’re concerned about corruption.’”

Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie, from the party’s COVID-skeptical right, called Mr. Kenney “a federal Ottawa elitist.” Richard Gotfried, the moderate former Progressive Conservative from Calgary-Fish Creek, told Mr. Bell the premier is beholden to a small circle with “very little skin in the game in Alberta.” Same thing? Sure sounds like it. 

Brian Jean, Mr. Kenney’s chief leadership rival in 2017 and victor in a recent by-election in Fort-McMurray-Lac La Biche on a platform of replacing the premier, made it clear that, this time, he won’t stand for cheating by Mr. Kenney’s supporters. 

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The same day, Mr. Kenney’s interim issues manager, Bryan Rogers, called the MLAs quoted in Mr. Bell’s column “just the same old crew” with a clip of clowns from an episode of The Simpsons.

The intramural mudslinging on social media got so bad and so public the Canadian Press reported on it. 

“An internal feud battering Alberta’s governing party took a new twist after Premier Jason Kenney’s issues manager went on Twitter to compare Kenney’s United Conservative backbench critics to clowns,” wrote CP’s Dean Bennett in the deadly serious tones to which the national news service defaults. 

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, another of the UCP MLAs quoted by Mr. Bell, took to Twitter to fire back: “This is exactly the kind of bullying and intimidation that happens every day from the Premier’s staff. MLAs provide dissenting opinions and they are ridiculed like clowns or called insane.”

Members of the UCP, which under Mr. Kenney has edged very close to the Christian right in Alberta, should be familiar with the metaphor about what happens when houses are divided against themselves. 

NDP Opposition Leader and former premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It was famously used by Jesus of Nazareth himself in his memorably clever defence against Pharisaical accusations he’d been working on the sabbath by, among other things, casting out demons. 

It was used again by the first Republican president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, to describe the state of that Union in 1858, on the brink of the U.S. Civil War. 

“I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided,” Mr. Lincoln added on June 6 that year at the Republican State Convention in Springfield. The Springfield in Illinois, that is, not the one in The Simpsons

At the risk of channeling President Lincoln, I don’t expect the UCP to fall either, at least before the next general election. 

But after the result of the party’s leadership review vote is announced on May 18, it’ll have to be either all Jason Kenney or no Jason Kenney at all!

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27 Comments

  1. Jason Kenney (by the way is he the one in the orange jumper) cannot win on May 18. Not unless he is above 65.

    I believe that if Mr. Kenney is below 65 he will quickly call an election.

    The bigger question is what will he do if he is below 50. Call an election? Have a temper tantrum? Blame it all on the other guys, collect his marbles, and go home to Ontario?

    He is such a buffoon. He continues to embarrass himself. A lot like Preston Manning in that regard.
    I cannot imagine anyone but the paid acolytes on his team voting to keep him on, er um…rather to keep their employment.

  2. When I read the quote from Richard Gotfried I was reminded of another issue from the past in Canadian politics – Brent Rathgeber left Stephen Harper’s CPC caucus complaining about the boys in short pants in the PMO’s office setting and enforcing government policy.

  3. With Jason Kenney’s history of cheating on the first leadership vote, I think it is safe to say that if Kenney wins the review, there will be a lot of people who will have no confidence in the legitimacy of the outcome.

    As a progressive, I can’t even decide what to hope for! I have disliked Jason Kenney since his days with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, so the image of him being soundly turfed from his perch in three weeks has a lot of appeal. At the same time, I am also loving the anticipation of watching him futilely trying to crack down and impose party discipline on a large group of MLAs who both dislike the guy personally and have no confidence in the procedure that let him stay in the leadership chair.

    1. I think it’s fair to say that this is not just an Alberta problem. The appearance of electoral impropriety is very, very serious (look at the US if you need evidence). By all appearances, it seems that Mr. Kenney was permitted to cheat to win his election. What assurance do we have that he will not be permitted to cheat to win his re-election? If an election can be stolen in Alberta, can it also be stolen in other provinces? What about nationally? Why was Elections Alberta so limp-d… wristed… in its response? Speaking of limp wrists… what the heck have the RCMP been up to for the last 3 years? They claim they are investigating, but as near as I can tell, the only new information has come through the media, and given the well-established problems with the media, being out-investigated by them is a pretty shameful thing for the RCMP IMO. I understand the RCMP can’t always be as transparent as I would like them to be, I am sure this issue is more difficult for them than it seems to me, but I can’t, for the life of me, even find a statement from anyone in the RCMP explaining why nothing has been done. I did go on yet another google search before posting, if anyone can provide me any kind of evidence that the Police are even attempting to do their jobs I would be very grateful, this has been a very frustrating issue for me to follow.

      I would have liked to see the RCMP trying to weed out the obviously innocent people as early and publicly as possible. If I were an elected public servant, I would want the cloud of suspicion lifted from me and my party ASAP so that we could focus on governing instead of PR damage control. Failing that, I would have liked to see the RCMP do anything at all. I go on google searches every few months, and have seen nothing to indicate the RCMP are doing anything about this issue.

      Our civilian oversight of our Police is, IMO, a sham. The cops do what they want to who they want and those of us who are lucky enough to be white and not poor can count ourselves fortunate to not be specifically targeted by them, unless we get uppity by getting involved in trying to combat climate change, or opposing systemic racism, or homelessness, or various other unofficially forbidden actions.

      https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/ottawa-truck-convoy-protest-public-complaints-dismissed-2022-oiprd-1.6427797

      Some folks may remember the yobs and yahoos who attempted to overthrow our government? Perhaps the most spectacularly public instance of Police officers either being unable or unwilling to do their jobs in Canadian history. 275 complaints issued to the civilian organization “overseeing” Police, 263 were not investigated. What a farce.

      1. Mr Lore: Jason Kenney did not cheat to win an election. He cheated to win an internal party vote, the 2017 UCP leadership. Elections in Canada are very clean and above-board, with non-partisan electoral machinery running every step of the voting process. This is not the United States, with its primary system that lends the state to political parties to run their nominations and leaderships.

        Will he cheat again to win this leadership review? Perhaps. But don’t call this an “election”; that just tarnishes the reputation of our non-partisan Elections Alberta & Elections Canada staffs.

        1. Had a good long laugh at myself just now. I just spent an hour doing research and was about to post when I realized that Elections Canada is only in charge of federal elections and leadership reviews. To my surprise, each province has their own elections laws and enforcement, which does not seem like a very responsible practice to me, but there must be a reason for it I guess.

          If it had been a federal leadership campaign I could tell you which laws were allegedly broken and who is responsible for enforcing them. No disrespect intended to Albertans, but I don’t really think their government is competent to pour water out of a boot or worth trusting for the time of day, and any time I spend researching their laws is pretty much wasted.

          I now have less faith in provincial elections, though, both leadership races and actual elections. Every province can set up whatever rules they want, and can put whoever they want in charge of enforcing them, and can fire that person at a whim with no accountability? I am very skeptical that this is in the public interest, and am now more outraged and alarmed at the UCP firing the elections officer who was investigating them. Seems to me that any province could follow these easy steps:

          1)Cheat to win your election.
          2)Fire the officer looking into it and replace them with someone obedient.
          3)Start planning how to cheat on the next election.

          I see this as the UCP’s most likely route to re-election.

  4. Almost there, David 😉

    IMO It’s Jason Kenney and his thugs vs everyone who isn’t part of the Kenney kult. David Hanson and Richard Gotfried represent the full spectrum (urban, rural, anti-lockdown, pro-health measures etc.) of UCP dissatisfaction with the top-down arrogant leadership style of this current premier.

    It’s a remarkable degradation of the premier’s office to see unelected staffers mock and bully elected MLAs in their own party in such a public manner.

  5. The former MLAs I got to know certainly had it right. Reformers don’t create jobs they destroy them and if any of them had a ounce of intelligence they would have continued to carry on where Lougheed left off and continued to collect proper
    Oil royalties and taxes and continued to run this province properly, like Alaska and Norway are doing after they studied what Lougheed was doing. Instead they are helping their rich friends steal our wealth in hopes of buying votes and don’t care gets hurt by their stupidity. However unlike the Klein, Stelmach and Redford stupidity the young people aren’t going to accept it anymore and they will be kicked out.

    1. Damnedest thing – the more I learn about abuse and how it works, the harder it is for me to watch the NHL. Have been an Oilers fan since I was 3, I would never, in a million years, have guessed that learning about abuse would ruin the experience of watching hockey the way it has for me.

  6. So, the UCP’s concerns have moved from those that were concerned about the NDP’s policy decisions to the blatant and wild corruption of Kenney and his mob of hacks and gombas. There are pivots and then there’s neck-breaking shifts.

    Now, it seems that the social media buzz is that Kenney expects to win the review, he expects to win by a substantial margin, leaving no doubt that he is the one chosen by the Lord All Mighty to make Alberta the new Zion. While it seems that Kenney is showing his usual wild confidence in himself, it also telegraphs that there is no stopping him because (A) he has cheated and assured that he can only win the review; and (B) he intends to call an election if he doesn’t get his way. This sounds very much like Kenney is trying to stop the vote in its tracks before the ballots can be counted.

    Crazy Rob Anders, in a recent video post on the Canada Strong & Free website (and posted prolifically on Telegraph) has declared that, because the leadership review vote has moved to a mail-in ballot, Kenney has already made his intention clear that he intends to steal the vote. Anders has put it out there many times that mail-in ballots are frauds and vote rigging and should never be allowed by any citizens that what to live in a true democracy. He then went further to call Kenney authoritarian and in league with PMJT and the globalist elites, like Klaus Schwab.

    It appears that the UCP’s leadership drama is fast turning into a heated civil war, fueled by conspiracy allegations and the usual QAnon baffle gab. And I need more popcorn…or chips…

  7. Here’s a thought – maybe the clown car is the whole UCP! So, then to mix metaphors, a clown car divided against itself can not stand.

    Kenney seems determined to remain a big fish in a small pond, the problem is the pond keeps on shrinking for him. Just a while ago, he was talking about unity, but that was brief, then talk turned to getting rid of the rebels if he wins and now its back to name calling and derision. One of the biggest problems, is unity is not Kenney’s forte, it is division. For instance, in 2017 a more magnanimous leader would have managed to keep his rival on board, like Mulroney kept Clark, Chretien kept Martin or more recently how Doug Ford kept some of his leadership rivals in caucus and cabinet.

    One of the people leading the opposition against Kenney recently noted that no leader who received under 80% in a review previously remained as leader for more than a year after. Even if he gets over 50%, I doubt Kenney will receive get anywhere close to that level. So, I suspect, if the party does not resolve its leadership problem now, the voters soon will.

    Its even not so much the division itself that is harmful. It is just a reflection of the unpopularity of Kenney and his reluctance to accept the message that it is time for him to leave. Parties can be very loyal to their leaders, so they tend to stick with them especially if there is no obvious better alternative. However, when the leaders start to lose that loyalty and support it is a sign things have very badly gone wrong.

  8. I wonder how many of those UCP MLA’s that we’ve heard basically nothing from over the past 3 or so years are looking ahead. Looking to retain that nice job, with the nice perks. Maybe they see the writing on the wall. How many have stood silently by as THEIR party, the UCP, attacked Doctors, Nurses, Health care workers, Public schools and education, Universities, etc, etc. ? How many of them stood up and opposed the give away of billions of dollars to unaccountable foreign owned O&G companies? How many stood by well the transfer payments to Municipalities were cut? None? And on and on and on….. Their stance now appears to be just a weee bit self-serving and cynical, to say the least. (Ummm, I wonder – how many of them used the ear plugs that J. Kenney handed out on their first day in the Legislature?) /s

  9. Blink once for yes …….*blink* ………yes
    And blink twice for no ……*blink* …*blink* …..yes …yes

    Welcome to third world Alberta
    one man on the ballot
    one man issuing the ballots
    and that mans’ minions doing the counting
    Then on TV he is “confident” of his own success?
    Quelle suprise!

  10. At this point, I’m not betting either way on the outcome of the Utterly Chaotic Party’s leadership review. If Kenney squeaks by, the one thing I’m sure of is that Brian Jean won’t sit quietly in the back benches for very long. The Resistance will move underground, forcing the Leader to cover his rear. Whether a glue-and-patch job will be enough to convince the loyal peons to vote UCP again–I don’t know. They might end up “clinging close to Nurse, for fear of Something Worse.”

    If Kenney loses, will he step down gracefully? He SAID he would. Will he quit, or decide it’s better to fight? The man must be tired of the constant sniping, especially from the rear. It must make herding cats seem like an easy gig (even if the cats are tigers).

    Picking a new leader will bring out even more Old Tories, various Leader-wannabes and right-wing retreads. Brian Jean and Danielle Smith are only the first wave. It would take a charismatic leader who can speak well, can display (or fake) both passion and compassion, who can both attract rural voters AND reassure (a.k.a. “stroke”) business elites.

    So—any guesses who might replace Jason Kenney? The floor is open….

    1. Mike J Danysh: Good points, and a good question. Whomever replaces the head honcho of the UCP, could be worse. Worse isn’t going to make things any better than the problems we have now.

      1. I have two opposing thoughts with regards to a new leader for the UCP. My worry is that he/she will still be in the honeymoon period when next year’s election comes, and the UCP sees a resurgence.

        Countering that is the hope that, just like we see in the CPC leadership contests, the leaders knock themselves out going after the nut job vote and leave moderate voters disgusted.

        Personally I think the NDP motto for the next election should be ‘Government for Grown-ups.’

        1. I’ve seen precious little evidence of grown-ups anywhere in the West this past decade or so. It’s like people decided that they don’t have responsibilities anymore, they have rights, there are no facts anymore, there are only fashion statements which are required if you want to belong to a certain social group, there is no right and no wrong, there is only moral nihilism, there is no accountability to anyone they like, there is only poverty, homelessness and incarceration for anyone they dislike.

          Feels like our species will go extinct in the next generation or two. At least we’ll die like Pharaohs – by taking as many people (or, in this case, other species) with us as possible!

  11. I think the UCP is going to implode. It just has to. Preston Manning’s latest experiment is going to end up failing. Albertans won’t be better off, because of what these pretend conservatives and Reformers have been doing to us.

  12. Mr. Keney has been burning up the Twitter for weeks. Rubbing every lucky rabbit’s foot and booing all the villains. Putin’s Ukraine invasion and the 1915 Armenian genocide, boo to those! Sharing the good news: Calgary’s downtown foot traffic is recovering! Alberta businesses don’t plan to lay off any workers! The Oilers Foundation is giving $2 million to KidSport!

    A couple of bucks and optimism will get you a cup of coffee. You bring the Twooney, he’ll bring the optimism. But I guess the laptop class supposedly eats that up.

    All the while the Alberta New Democrats are thinking why is quiet competence so unpopular?

  13. Kenney put a brave face on it when he said, “I don’t need this job…” the truth is, he really, really needs this job a lot. His politician ambition has only been whetted by the two brightest rosebuds of a sole career: first, with the slog of winning a CPC majority finally over, and (hopefully) done with, he surveyed his arc from the lofty vantage of a powerful federal cabinet minister whom many speculated would be PM someday when Stephen Harper stepped down; second brightest was becoming premier of Alberta at the helm of the United Conservative Party which he himself crafted —though he walked through the Valley of Dipper.

    Ever since that abortive attempt at student politics at a California Catholic university (when he got that “Return-To-Sender” response from the Vatican), he’s carefully taken nothing but right steps and thus come full circle after the many campaigns and countless skirmishes he’s won, one after the other, right up to his last one only three years ago.

    He learned a lot over the decades since being one of the youngest members of the federal parliament, as he deftly showed everybody when he entered provincial politics, won the Alberta ProgCon leadership, merged with the Wildrose party, won the resulting UCP leadership, and then whooped the incumbent NDP—in just two years, an ambitious schedule indeed! He’ll need to be as driven and lucky to avoid getting his appeal back unopened—like it was, once, so long ago before his impressive string of successes began.

    And he can’t very well miss a single step, either—not if there’s gonna be PM at the end of the trail. There’d still be a long ways to go, of course, but supposing he does lose his bid to remain leader: does he stay on as MLA or run for CPC MP (assuming a safe seat), then for party leadership, and then for top chair? Or does he, quick-like, resign his Edmonton job, jump right into the current CPC race, and then (phew!) win a by-election seat? Elaborate, maybe, but not impossible. The permutations are endless in ways seldom seen on the political stage.

    Did any voters support Kenney’s UCP because they believed it would help him become prime minister some day? The odds of that happening have just about evaporated because of his handling of the Covid file.

    So, is this this it, then? Is this the zenith of Kenney’s career—his “peter principle” demonstration, as ‘t were? Premiere of Alberta—for a time.

    Or opposition MLA?

    And so we wait…

  14. @Mike J. Danysh: I’m not sure if there are any Old Tories who might try a leadership run. As one them – Thomas Lukaszuk – said in an uncharacteristic fit of honesty (paraphrasing) “the reason we got defeated is the Alberta public got tired of us, and won’t reelect us until they forgive us”. I’m certainly not in a forgiving mood.

    @Anonymous: I think the chance of the “Utterly Chaotic Party” (thanks Mike!) fissioning is a certainty. Only questions are when and what trigger.

    @Alex C. Polkovsky: I suspect the NDP are following Napoleon’s adage “don’t interfere with your enemy when he is busy destroying himself”.

  15. The entire existence of the UCP is to one goal: to hold off the “socialist hordes” of the NDP. The pre-2015 divisions between the PC Party & Wildrose were real, and not easily papered over. But Kenney tried to replicate the political feat of the BC Liberal Party, which is in fact a conservative party that emerged walking through the ashes of the old Social Credit Party in 1991 to consolidate the “free enterprise”, anti-NDP vote in that province. Or, perhaps, Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party, which merged the old PCs & Liberals after a corruption scandal enveloped the PCs under Grant Devine.

    But Alberta politics is different. Alberta was the most uncompetitive political jurisdiction in Canada from 1971 to 2015. The NDP’s win in 2015 surprised everyone, not least of whom the NDP itself. And under Rachel Notley and her predecessor as leader, Brian Mason, the NDP is as far from being a “socialist horde” as it is possible to be and still remain left of centre.

    Meanwhile, the provincial Liberal Party — not that long ago a credible contender for government — has descended into irrelevance, and the identity-challenged Alberta Party isn’t in much better shape.

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