With Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s survival in the ongoing United Conservative Party leadership review vote far from assured, the spotlight was bound to shift onto some of his more obvious potential replacements.
It seems to have found the UCP’s No. 2 Jason, the towering Jason Nixon, MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, Government House Leader, minister of environment and parks, and Mr. Kenney’s de facto campaign manager in the premier’s effort to hang onto his job.
Mr. Nixon – 41 years old, six feet eight inches, and no stranger to eye-popping controversy – has long been rumoured to be the UCP politician most likely to replace Mr. Kenney if something goes terribly wrong for the premier.
Perhaps that’s why he’s popped up on Alberta’s political radar a couple of times in the past few days.
On Monday, Kenney rival and newly sworn-in UCP MLA Brian Jean gave his extremely unflattering opinion of Mr. Nixon to the editor of a rural newspaper.
And yesterday, a nasty recent scrap in the Legislature that saw Mr. Nixon drop an unparliamentary F-bomb on a fellow MLA was back in the news.
Mr. Jean told a rural Alberta newspaper editor that if he becomes leader of the UCP, he’ll immediately reopen the nomination process in Mr. Nixon’s constituency to give challenger Tim Hoven another kick at the can.
Mr. Nixon was acclaimed for the nomination after the party sent Mr. Hoven packing as nomination candidate, supposedly because the Eckville beef rancher had reposted messages on a far-right social media platform known for allowing white-nationalist sentiments and said bad things about the Mounties after the Coutts highway blockade at the U.S. border.
Now, notwithstanding his forceful denials, there’s no question Mr. Hoven could have turned into a juicy target for Rachel Notley’s NDP in an election campaign. The trouble is, regardless, almost everyone in the rural Central Alberta riding expected him to easily beat Mr. Nixon, whose reputation has suffered with his vaccine-sceptical rural constituents by being too closely identified with the government’s COVID-19 policies.
In an interview, Mr. Jean told journalist Danny Singleton that if Mr. Kenney is booted and he is chosen to replace him. “I will open up all the nominations that were not fair or were not under the rule of law. And the first one I would want to open up is Mr. Nixon’s.”
Anyway, Mr. Jean told Mr. Singleton, Mr. Hoven would be a far better candidate for the UCP.
“I would never trust Mr. Nixon for anything,” Mr. Jean said. “I know Mr. Nixon personally. I do not think he is a well-qualified individual for representing the people. I do not trust him. I worked with him before and I hope to never work with him again.” (Emphasis mine, of course.)
Meanwhile, yesterday, Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen, the MLA Mr. Nixon famously F-bombed in the Legislature on March 31, asked Speaker Nathan Cooper to sanction the minister for using the intemperate outburst to intimidate him from doing his work as an MLA.
Mr. Loewen, who like Mr. Nixon was first elected as a Wildrose MLA, was kicked out of the UCP caucus on May 13 last year for calling for Premier Kenney’s resignation. He has since sat as an Independent.
Mr. Nixon’s March 31 outburst took place after Mr. Loewen tabled documents to show he had not, as Mr. Nixon tendentiously claimed, called for Opposition Leader Notley to be seated at the UCP cabinet table during the darkest months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“On Monday, March 28 Alberta Hansard, page 427, the minister of parks again tried to dupe the House by accusing me of wanting the Leader of the Opposition in cabinet, which is absolutely false,” Mr. Loewen said. “So I’m tabling the 2019 election results showing that I ran as a Conservative against an NDP cabinet minister. In fact …”
At that moment, Mr. Nixon exploded out for his seat, rose to his full height, and shouted: “Mr. Speaker, the guy just called me a fucking liar in the middle of the damn Legislature!”*
Mr. Cooper, sounding out if his depth, responded squeakily: “Order! If the minister of environment and parks wants to call a point of order, he’s welcome to rise to his feet. Using language that’s unparliamentary, including an F-bomb directed at the Speaker, is wildly inappropriate. If you don’t like his remarks, call a point of order.”
Mr. Nixon: “Point of Order.”
The Speaker: “A point of order is called.”
Meanwhile, even Mr. Kenney’s supporters’ faith in his ability to hang onto the UCP’s leadership appears to be flagging.
Conservative apparatchik and Firewall manifesto signatory Ken Boessenkool seems to be trying to praise Kenney with faint damnation – arguing, in effect, that the premier is terrible, but everyone else who might take his job is even worse.
“As depressing as it all sounds, when you lay it out like this, perhaps Kenney has actually hit upon the only political strategy that has any chance of keeping him in office and holding the government together,” Mr. Boessenkool lamented in a Substack post. “The alternatives at this point seem bad, very bad, or non-existent.”
Well, any old port in a storm!
Mr. Boessenkool got one thing right, though, when he observed that, “I wager that what Albertans need more than anything right now is good, boring government.”
I can assure you, dear readers, that no one would deliver good government more boring than Rachel Notley!
*There is no exclamation mark in Hansard. I watched the video, though, and it was definitely there in real life. DJC