Short days ago, Jason Kenney boasted to a right-wing podcaster in Washington, D.C., that he’d never lost an election. 

Likely UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

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.”

Likely UCP leadership candidate Danielle Smith (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“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

Rumoured UCP leadership candidate Jim Dinning (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

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. 

Rumoured UCP leadership candidate Rona Ambrose (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

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. 

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37 Comments

  1. I suppose it is possible Kenney sticks around until they choose a new leader. After all, at this point being UCP leader does seem a thankless and difficult job, so perhaps few good candidates or maybe even none will be eager to step forward as interin leader.

    It is a bit puzzling that Kenney, who so clearly recently said 50 plus one was good enough, would now step down when he actually got slightly more than that. Maybe he didn’t want to reveal his true threshold, which I am guessing was more than what Klein got. However, by that point he must have realized that was even a stretch.

    So in a way this may be the worst outcome for the UCP. A narrow majority just supported Kenney and he still steps aside despite saying he would stay given such a result. So, it will be harder for the UCP to distance itself from Kenney. It may have been a lot easier if the party was a bit braver and handed him a clear loss.

    We will see who runs for the leadership. Some seem too right wing for the mainstream, some too moderate for the right wing, some with a history of disaster or failure and some who spend more time in Ottawa than Alberta.

    Getting the Premiership is a prize that will surely attract some semi credible candidates, but few if any may be up to all the challenges of putting this fractured party back together again.

  2. I wish I was a cartoonist. This would be my panel.
    Steven Harper crouched behind a refrigerator box ‘Punch & Judy’ style theatre. The audience is impatient. His favourite but soiled Jason sock hanging loosely from his left hand. Harper’s vaguely reptilian visage gazes with contemptuous speculation at a box of redolent, ill-fitting alternates.

    Alas, I am not a cartoonist.

  3. I was right. Yesterday, I was grocery shopping, and I picked up a copy of The Sun. The Battle Of Alberta was on the front page. A minor space above that mentioned the leadership review for the head honcho of the UCP. Today is a new day, and I’ll get a copy of The Sun and see what it says about the results of this leadership review. Where will it be placed? The UCP has done so many very pricey shenanigans, that cost us billions of dollars, racked up a massive debt for Alberta, and did a horrendous job of looking after the Covid-19 pandemic in Alberta, because the case numbers have confirmed that. The elderly, A.I.S.H recipients, those in the public education system, including the students, and their teachers, the entire public health care system, including the nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers in it, were trampled on by the UCP. Will Albertans say they have had enough of these pretend conservatives and Reformers? The UCP are like a reincarnation of the Liberal turned Reformer, Ralph Klein. Ralph Klein’s policies were very bad, very costly, and harmful. We never saw this level of stupidity with the true conservative, Peter Lougheed. These pretend conservatives and Reformers who would replace the head honcho of the UCP, will inflict more damage. When will Albertans come to their senses and say enough is enough?

    1. Boy have you got it right. The only support we are seeing is from gullible seniors hurling their sarcastic comments at us for not being as stupid as them. It must break their hearts that Kenney will be gone. Dad was right they vote for the word conservative and aren’t smart enough to care or to do any research on the fool hiding behind the conservative name.

      1. Alan K. Spiller: What’s also unfortunate is that these seniors then influence the younger people to support these pretend conservatives and Reformers, and we are no better off.

  4. I don’t believe one thing that is happening.

    Kenney has no intention of (un)gracefully stepping aside, while the UCP decides its leadership woes. There are too many interests that want Kenney to remain.

    Among the potential candidates, none strike me as interested, interesting, or even willing to lead this train wreck of a party.

    Rona (Rosa) Ambrose’s name has been tossed into the mix and I don’t see that happening. She is enjoying a sweet gig in Washington, thanks to the patronage of PMJT and Chrystia Freeland, whom she faithfully served during the negotiations for the ‘New NAFTA’. It’s very likely that Ambrose has gone over to the dark side, and there is the consideration that she’s not about to ruin a good thing trying to lead an asylum pretending to be a political party. While the UCP’s O & G interests may find Ambrose desirable because of her ties to the Liberals, the purplish hue of her ideology maybe something of a distraction in a leadership contest. Oh, and she’s an unmarried woman, living in sin, and without children, so nada.

    Danielle Smith has already expressed interest in running and maybe considered a strong contender to the leadership. Except that her nutty talk-radio personae, while may score her the insane day-drinkers in the UCP’s voting block, could make her potentially toxic for those looking for a reasonable mind to lead the party. Oh, and she did cross the floor to the PCs while she was Wildrose leader, thus, breaking her pact with ‘Berta’s legions of rubes. So, nada.

    This leaves Brian (Ginger Kenney) Jean as the heir apparent to the leadership, as he has made it clear that he wanted to oust Kenney from the very beginning of the resurrection of his political career. But Jean has a reputation to be prickly with those who disagree with him. Worse, he maybe considered by many as the reason that the right in Alberta was divided in the first place. He is a high risk option, who has a strong tendency to walk away when the going gets tough. So, a highly qualified nada.

    This leaves the literal 800 pound gorilla in the room, Jason Nixon, as a potential successor. He is a Kenney loyalist, favourite gomba, and slavish adherent to the UCP’s current record, however, stupid it maybe. But he is also high-risk, as he has a tendency to throw his weight and his mouth around. Oh, and he’s very close to Kenney, so shenanigans will be in the offing. So, nada.

    Since Kenney intends to stick around as an interim leader (an ousted leader remains the leader?) is high comedy and I don’t believe anyone trusts him to walk away quietly.

    There’s matters to be taken care of, like approving a sweet transition payment as Kenney exits. Allison Redford scored a multi-million dollar payout with her departure, so I’m sure Kenney wants an equally fat gratuity. There also the matter than he wants to return to Ottawa’s big pond, so waiting for the opportunity to do so will keep him around for a while.

    I suspect that Skippy Pollivere’s leadership potential may begin to flounder, now that his exultation on the miracle of cryptocurrency as the panacea for Justin-flation are proving to be as disastrous as the crashing cryptocurrency market. And Pollivere’s tendency to dog whistle to the PPC crowd may embolden the Laurentian Elites to kick him to curb that much faster, this maybe the time for Kenney to head back to Ottawa and save Pollivere from himself?

    I’ve already noticed that social media is buzzing with accolades for Kenney as the Dear Leader, as though the CPC is fluffing him to make the big leap back to Ottawa.

    Trudeau must be laughing himself stupid at his incredible luck.

    1. Just Me you do know that Smith was kicked off the radio station because of all the complaints they got about her. She just won’t give up and some how doesn’t get it.
      (1) fired in 1999 as trustee of the Calgary Board of Education by the conservatives. Other members stated she wouldn’t shut up about wanting to force Albertans into more of Ralph Klein privatization stupidity.
      (2) Lost the election as a Reformer when conservative Allison Redford won.
      (3) Lost the election when her and Jim Prentice created the walk the floor so we have a lot more power stupidity.All nine got defeated in the next election.
      (4) Lost the election when she tried to become leader of the conservatives in High River. No one wants her but she still thinks she is a lot smarter than the rest of us. You would have be a damn fool to want to elect any of these Reformers who are hellbent on privatizing our health care and education systems, while they help their rich friends steal our oil and tax revenues, wouldn’t you?

  5. Fasten your seat belt and get ready for an extended period of even crazier chaos in Alberta politics (the thing, not the blog).

    But, speaking of the blog, DJC, you really know how to crush what little jubilation at Kenney’s defeat people might be feeling. Not your fault of course. You provide an analysis based on the best available information.

    I woke up this morning trying to find the good news in all of this, for example, thinking that an interim leader might ditch some of the most unpopular policies, such as the new curriculum, in an effort to give the party an immediate short-term boost in the polls.

    It had not occurred to me that Kenney would try to stay on as interim leader, if selected, by caucus. Why would he? I get that, if he wants to rehabilitate his political reputation, he will not want to leave the scene abruptly with an angry FU like Prentice did. But, to stay on as interim leader? That didn’t make sense.

    Or, it did not make sense initially. But, given that the shock of Kenney’s defeat is quite clearly the result of his own self-deception and the disinformation fed to him by the yes men sycophants who surrounded him, it is not hard to surmise that his delusional state might be difficult to dislodge. Like Ahab, perhaps he now sees AB as his white whale, as the object of his megalomaniac desire to overcome and vanquish — the province has certainly delivered him a significant injury. Let’s hope he is not trying to take the province on that path. That insane quest did not end well for the Ahab and good crew of the Pequod.

    Not that I see Kenney as tragic hero in any sense. He is still a dangerous, amoral, vindicative, puffed-up petty man, who lacks empathy and sympathy and is motivated by a misguided and narrow religious zeal that has not left him since he campaigned to keep dying Gay men suffering from AIDS in hospice care in San Fransico away from their partners. I can also see him hanging around to ensure that his critics, such as Ahern and Jean, are punished and that his sycophants, such as Nixon and Shandro, are protected. And, yes, he will want to cement a legacy, such as the new, backward-looking curriculum. That is also in character.

    Charles Adler referred to Kenney as a hollow man in a great Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/charlesadler/status/1527120232938033152?s=20&t=3zXF5su9XDudsPiN_mEFtg, putting me in mind of TS Eliot’s poem, The Hollow Men. Let’s hope that Kenney’s political life ends not with a bang, but a whimper.

    1. Phlogiston: Indeed, the first draft of this post expended considerable ink who the interim leader might be – Nate Glubish? – not to mention which of Kenney’s hobbyhorse policies were most threatened. That said, it’s the next leader, not the interim one, who will want the credit for dumping the most unpopular bad ideas. Braid’s column, which I found quite credible, forced me to rewrite. There’s bound to be internal dissent about how long he plans to stay on. The thing is, though, that the caucus members who hate him most are also the caucus members most likely to support his worst ideas. DJC

      1. Another thought occurred to me. The reason that Kenney might be unwilling to relinquish the post of interim premier is that, if he were not officially a grand poobah, he would not get to meet Pope Francis personally during the papal visit to AB. If true, this would mean that Kenney is again putting his personal vanity ahead of the best interests of the province. Completely in character.

      2. Glubish? Isn’t he the one who sabotaged the Land Titles registration system so land transfers and deals are taking weeks to be registered? All so he can privatize the system and give about $110 million in annual fees to his private sector friends. Not to mention putting landowners at risk of having their land stolen through private corruption of the Titles system. Kenney got one thing right: the “inmates taking over the asylum” really refereed to the UCP caucus. And nobody in the UCP caucus or Cabinet is fit to govern.

  6. I see two future career opportunities beckoning Jason Kenney.

    Such a great campaigner.

    Prosperity gospel televangelist. Ponzi scheme investment salesperson.

  7. Throughout Jason Kenney’s involvement with the UCP, his tenure has been characterized by lies, some of which reached the point of insulting people’s intelligence. How appropriate, then, that his final act as permanent leader is to make a lie of his promise to stay with 50% + 1.

  8. I think in two years ( age 55 ), JK will be eligible for his Parlimentary pension. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think it weighs in at $10,000.00 a month. This is the same pension all the CRAP party members made a big show of declining. They always land on their feet.

  9. So the kenneybot is staying on as interim leader. Huh. Presumably he’s hoping his party will see the error of its ways when the stumblebum candidates step up to battle for UCP leadership, and the masses will turn to him to triumphantly LEAD them again! Anoint his genius, as it were. That’s a sociopathic ego-driven outlook, but not beyond the hubristic fantasy world the man inhabits.

    I see Brian Jean has got himself a new haircut. Hope springs eternal.

    Meanwhile feast on tarsands royalties, I guess. So far as I can see nobody gives a ratsass about the environment any more, so it’s austerity-driven Bacchanalia for some with mounds of cash until the final curtain drops. Whether that be crop failures and food shortages, weather so desperate it ruins everything or Russia and the US decide to obliterate each other and the rest of us fighting over scraps — well, it’s hard to predict. But find me anyone with a rosy outlook on the future and I’ll call them a cock-eyed optimist.

  10. So the UCP now finds itseslf in the same no-win position as the CPC: in order to become leader the candidate must court the nut-job vote, but in so doing render him or herself unappealing to the general electorate.

  11. It usually does not bring me pleasure to revel in the pain of others, but JK had this coming. His arrogance and contempt for the real people of Alberta makes him the worst Premier ever. Along with his thin bench of cabinet ministers, and his young and aggressive “issues managers”, they made a point of causing unnecessary pain. They never had a good idea that didn’t involve their friends and supporters getting rich on the taxpayer dime. They tried to steamroll anyone who they perceived as weak (and yet they lost often, either in the courts, or in public support). And when push came to shove, the Coutts free-dumb protesters demonstrated that the bully was easily bullied.
    I fear what shenanigans JK is going to inflict on this province until a new leader is chosen. He is petty, he is vindictive, and he seems to have a particular talent for irking a wide variety of Albertans.
    There are so many good people in this province who just want competent, drama free leadership. We have so many world class programs here. Why the right continually tries to blow it up is a mystery, and all I can come up with is their arrogance and contempt, and greed.

  12. I’m betting him and his pal Poilievre have created a scheme to get him back into Federal politics if Poilievre is elected. You can bet it will be a nice high paying job. Reformers always look after their pals at the cost of taxpayers. Letting Brian Jean and the rest of the party who wanted him gone take Notley’s heat would be a good plan to get even with them and save him the embarrassment , wouldn’t it?

  13. By managing to avoid a complete blowout, the pop and hiss of Jason Kenney’s front right tire is more anticlimactic than one might have expected as the great province of Alberta turns into yet another political skid and his maiden UCP party swerves back and forth across the asphalt to avoid rolling into a crash and landing back on the road in two separate vehicles with rubber hissing, three apiece.

    After nearly eight decades of government by only two parties of the right, one epoch right after the other, so much variety has stirred the bitumen bucket in less than the single, most recent decade that one wonders what epic blockbuster will precipitate next? The Seven Year Itch or, maybe, The Sun Also Rises?

    What’s ever gone be, undeniably it won’t be anticlimatic.

    Although statesman of more than one lost cause, the lead hand at the K-bar ranch has never personally lost a contest before yesterday. Short of resigning, there was nothing else to be done except save the brand. Well, you can have his girl, but don’t you dare touch his hat (I can tell from here it’s a one and a quarter). A stickler for technicality, the K-Boy didn’t actually lose his review and, offering interim leadership until he rides off into the reddening dusk is a kind of warning, all six inches of cannon drawing bead: just don’t nobody dare touch his saddle horn.

    What politics is left for this hombre who don’t know nuthin but? Well, how’s about ridin’ herd on his pet longhorns —the Zane Grey schoolhouse curriculum; bullet-to-bight-on healthcare (and a two-tear shot a whiskey fer them’s can afford it); High-noon challenges to Eastern hangin’ judges (and showin’ up late every time); tin-star deputization so’s to “protect” Albertans’ gold just before their stagecoach comes around the mountain—? Well, just like every buckaroo learns to say “well” before each jangle of wrangler wisdom from none other’n John Wayne n George Jones, the K-Boy learned how to rein in crazy, newfangled notions from his old, pommel-bender Pappy Harper (who also tried to hang around the OK Corral after his own resignation until, well, it wasn’t okay anymore…)

    But the UCP is bad hurt—gut shot, it’s plain—like Harper’s CPC wasn’t when he packed it in (despite bronco-whisperer Rona Ambrose’s remarkable calm droving for two years, almost immediately after which the new leader and runner-up had their spectacular schism). At a virtual tie, both sides of the UCP is itchin’ for a fight: there’s Rusty Jean n Li’l Miss Daniel Smith been holed-up ever since the Prentice gang got run outta town by that flaxen-haired gal, come ridin’ in on her red horse Tory, reins in her teeth, sixguns ablazin’ in True Grit style —but neither Smith n Jean was ever knowed to shoot too straight. Course, that Rachel Notley from Dipper-bar-none Ranch sure to be wantin’ ole K-Boy to join in the fun, show ‘em who’s boss—least ways, who WAS boss…

    …and then, ‘ course, that he’d outdraw the rest of ‘em. But maybe that was Once Upon a Time in the West…a wistfully wishful mirage shimmering between the cacti and tumbleweeds…

    Ahhh, it all comes back to me now, when it used to be BC was called the “Wild West” of politics, back when all was quiet up to the high prairie (‘cept maybe down to Ranchman’s on a Sa’rday night). That was before Big John Horgan and them BC Dippers come in, brought law n order to the West Coast. All kinda nice n quiet here now, where a lady can walk down the street without fear of getting her mask tore off or hearing “freedom” studded profanity every where she goes.

    As highly as I can recommend this political tranquility, looks like my Alberta friends got a ways to go yet. Bet ole K-Boy gonna make sure a that! But who knows? Maybe an early election’ll shorten it up for y’all.

    Well, here’s hopin’ y’all the best in the meantime.

  14. What would the real numbers have been if the last minute gerrymandering of voting process and limits and wholesale purchases of ballots were excluded?
    I think a loss by 70% is easily reasonable.
    A con artist and charlatan to the end .

  15. The result was not what I hoped for, nor frankly what I expected. I expected Kenney to engineer a positive vote in the mid-60s, which would give him an excuse to lead the party to disaster next year. I hoped we, the people of Alberta, would have a chance to repudiate Kenney and the party he rode in on in a general election.
    Maybe he will run to retake the leadership, and my hopes will come true. (I can dream, can’t I?)

  16. Two comments. This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where the fellow keeps showing up for work after being fired. And Bumbles must have a huge ego not to realize he is now destroying his creation. Finally, Pierre Trudeau had the polls with him on his un-retirement.

  17. Since I suspect that it will require a vote of the UCP caucus to select the interim leader, and since that same caucus is slavishly loyal to Jason Kenney, there can be no doubt that Kenney will be the interim leader.

    I suspect that Kenney will carry on as he always has, doing his usual thing, taking credit for whatever successes come his way, and blaming PMJT for whatever failures to befall him. Such is the life of a happy genius.

    On the matter of self-coup d’etat, it strikes that what happened yesterday has all the hallmarks of such an action. Bear with me …

    Kenney said, to much skepticism, that 50% +1 was sufficient for him to retain the leadership; however, the volume of questioning the credibility of the stability of that leadership would be highly questionable. So, Kenney, while making his announcement repeats that 50% + 1 is a highly credible win, he decides to do what’s best for the UCP and step aside. Of course, he intends to stay on as premier and UCP leader, meaning that they are not going to get rid of him that easily. He’s already said he’s leaving, let him remain premier. You can trust him, of course.

    As the candidates step forward, they will all shoot their mouths in a nonsense-fest of noise and idiocy that will make none of them appear credible to be in leadership. Since the potential to continue division will remain high, once the leadership convention is called, likely in six months, Kenney will step forward as the great conciliator and get another kick at the leadership. He stole one leadership, so he’s not likely to pull that stunt again. Rather, he will point to the gang of idiots that make up the candidates and declare, “How do you like me now?”

    Thus, Jason Kenney, like the Almighty, will be resurrected.

    Stranger things have happened, but nothing surprises me anymore.

  18. I doubt he’ll leave a second before he absolutely has to. Outside of a very narrow far-right political niche, what job is this Grade 12 grad from a rural SK school for wayward boys fit for? How soon before he’s just another turd-polisher for Harper’s Society for Misunderstood Dictators?

  19. I was going to correct you and say the court cases don’t cost the government much if they’re argued by Attorney General of Alberta lawyers. But by gum, you’re right: four lawyers from Bennett Jones appeared in the reference on the Impact Assessment Act.

    1. David: Good point, though. Hiring expensive big legal guns seems to be standard operating procedure in Alberta, a practice that precedes the UCP. I have a suspicion the AG lawyers themselves sometimes recommend it. DJC

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