Short days ago, Jason Kenney boasted to a right-wing podcaster in Washington, D.C., that he’d never lost an election.
That changed yesterday with the result of a vote that, ironically, Alberta’s premier technically won by a hair.
But while Mr. Kenney had said in the lead-up to the United Conservative Party’s leadership review vote that 50 per cent plus one would be good enough to call a victory and keep his job, it obviously wasn’t in the light of an actual 51.4-per-cent vote in which half the party’s eligible members didn’t bother to mail in a ballot.
That obviously didn’t bode well for the party’s performance in a general election, if it could even hold together as a united entity with the divisive Mr. Kenney still at the helm.
So Premier Kenney, the former federal cabinet minister and lieutenant to Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper who reunited the political right in Alberta in the fall of 2017 and led it to a crushing victory over the NDP in the spring of 2019, said soon after the vote result was announced yesterday that he would resign the party leadership.
“The result is not what I hoped for or frankly what I expected,” he said in Calgary to shouts of “no” from supporters. “While 51 per cent of the vote passes the constitutional threshold of a majority, it clearly is not adequate support to continue on as leader.”
“That is why tonight I have informed the president of the party of my intention to step down as the leader of the United Conservative Party,” he said.
But if you thought that meant there was nothing to do but hand the man his hat as he went out the door, late last night Don Braid of the Calgary Herald reported that Mr. Kenney plans to stay on as interim leader until his replacement is chosen.
And remember, nothing in the party’s rules technically prevent Mr. Kenney from running again to try to get his old job back.
Well, perhaps Mr. Kenney remembered last night how Pierre Trudeau became prime minister for a second time in 1980. Or perhaps he was worried about the fate of some of his unpopular ideological hobbyhorses that an interim leader might be tempted to chuck over the side to improve the UCP’s chances in the next election.
The list includes:
– The disastrous school curriculum that’s been almost universally rejected by the province’s schoolteachers
– Health care privatization plans, sure to cost a fortune now and hasten the trend toward a two-tier system
– Expensive court challenges with little change of success aimed at Mr. Kenney’s political rivals from his days in federal politics
– Replacing the RCMP with a provincial police force
– Getting the government’s paws on Albertans’ contributions to the Canada Pension Plan
If Mr. Kenney sticks around now that he’s worn out his welcome, though, it may be be a boon to the NDP Opposition, for whom the premier is a powerful argument for moderate Conservatives to hold their noses and vote to bring back Rachel Notley, and for the UCP’s radical right to sit at home on general election day or throw their vote away on fringe far-right parties, of which Alberta has plenty.
Well, that will be something for the UCP Caucus to talk about this morning when it gets together in Calgary.
As for potential candidates to replace Mr. Kenney, there is no shortage.
Brian Jean, of course, the former Wildrose Party leader defeated by Mr. Kenney in 2017 and since the Ides of March he UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, has vowed to run to replace the premier.
Danielle Smith, another former Wildrose leader and former journalist who lately has disappeared down a rabbit hole of COVID-19 theories, scheduled a news conference for 11 o’clock this morning. She will likely announce her intention to run too.
From the UCP Caucus you can add as possible candidates the names of Ric McIver, MLA for Calgary-Hays and minister of municipal affairs; Jason Nixon, Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, Government House Leader and environment minister; Travis Toews, Grande Prairie-Wapiti, finance minister; Doug Schweitzer, Calgary Elbow, minister of jobs, economy and innovation; Rajan Sawhney, Calgary-North East, minister of transportation; Nate Horner, Drumheller-Stettler, agriculture minister and a scion of the famous Horner political clan, and Sonya Savage, MLA for Calgary-North West, oilpatch lawyer and minister of energy.
Labour Minister Kaycee Madu – reshuffled out of municipal affairs and justice after various misadventures – is also said to have expressed interest in the premier’s job. As MLA for Edmonton South-West, he was the only UCP member elected in the city of Edmonton.
You want more? Well, there’s always Rona Ambrose, former MP and interim federal Conservative leader, a perennial favourite among oddsmakers, although why she’d want the job is a question worth asking. Even Jim Dinning is still touted from time to time. The former PC finance minister will be a youthful 70 in time for Christmas.
Meanwhile, in the other battle of Alberta, the Calgary Flames beat the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1 of their NHL division playoff series last night.