Jason Kenney in what he thought was his heyday, at the Calgary Stampede in July 2021, soon after he announced Alberta was about to have the Best Summer Ever ™ (Photo: Chris Schwarz, Government of Alberta).

Looking back over the Alberta political stories of 2022, one theme dominates all others: the fall of Jason Kenney.

What may have been Mr. Kenney’s worst moment of 2022, the self-serve nozzle stuck in his truck and without a clue how to get it out (Photo: Screenshot of Facebook video).

Mr. Kenney, the former federal cabinet minister who had united Alberta’s fractious right and seemingly restored the Tory Dynasty to power in 2019, may have entered the year with serious political problems caused principally by his own mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his tendency to pick fights with everyone, but his cause was far from lost.

Indeed, notwithstanding the rumblings from the anti-vaccine crusaders in the United Conservative Party’s rural base and the then mostly marginalized rural MLAs who supported them, it was hard to believe in January 2022 that Mr. Kenney wouldn’t still be leader and premier a year later with a better-than-decent shot at winning the election scheduled for the following spring. 

Now nobody even knows where he is, let alone cares. Danielle Smith is the premier and the real crazies, by and large, seem to be in charge. 

Yet it remains your bloggers’ opinion that had Mr. Kenney stayed on as premier after the underwhelming 51.4-per-cent support he received in the party’s leadership review last May, he could not only have beaten the NDP Opposition, but might well have done so handily. 

At the time, the prevailing opinion in the UCP’s legislative Caucus was thought to be that Mr. Kenney had a real chance of losing to the NDP’s Rachel Notley in the provincial election scheduled for May 29, 2023.

Danielle Smith, the real accidental premier now in charge of Alberta (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

But while cause for concern among UCP MLAs was justified, last spring’s conventional wisdom did not account for the fact that a virtual palace coup of the party by the Q-adjacent Take Back Alberta anti-vaccine political action committee was under way, as it continues to be at the riding-association level. 

With benefit of hindsight, the UCP would have been better off if Mr. Kenney had stuck to his guns and insisted that a vote of 50 per cent plus one was good enough for him to remain on the job. Instead, he threw up his hands and immediately announced he would resign. 

TBA then successfully engineered the second stage of its coup and imposed Ms. Smith, long a vaccine skeptic and enthusiastic conspiracy theorist during her career as a right-wing talk show host, as its most ideologically acceptable choice to run the UCP. 

Any of cabinet minister Travis Toews (Mr. Kenney’s obvious first choice), minister Rebecca Schulz, or party rebel Brian Jean, who won a by-election in March by campaigning to dump Mr. Kenney and like Ms. Smith was a former Wildrose Party leader, would have done better against Ms. Notley and the NDP than Ms. Smith is likely to do. 

The decline of Mr. Kenney’s control of his caucus and party can be tracked through the months. 

Kenney rival and unsuccessful UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean, now a member of Premier Smith’s cabinet (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In January, he all but gave up trying to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 – too late to weaken the rabid anti-vaccine faction in caucus. 

In February, anti-vaxxers, emboldened by the stumbles by then federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and the occupation of Ottawa and border blockades by the so-called Freedom Convoy, set their sights on unseating the premier. 

In March, Mr. Jean won his by-election, campaigning to replace Mr. Kenney; Ms. Smith announced she’d run to lead the UCP if Mr. Kenney was rejected by party members in the leadership vote; and Mr. Kenney, in an accurate but unfortunate Basket of Deplorables Moment, dismissed the UCP’s anti-vaxx fringe as “lunatics.”

In April, in a sign of weakness and fear of the anti-vaxxers, Mr. Kenney sacked Alberta Health Services’ capable president and CEO, Dr. Verna Yiu. That same month, in the year’s funniest Alberta political moment, Mr. Kenney, a former Ottawa bigshot, was caught on video not knowing how to gas up the Big Blue Dodge Pickup he drove around in to demonstrate his Albertan credentials. 

Unsuccessful UCP leadership candidate Travis Toews, now a member of Premier Smith’s cabinet (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In May, setting himself up for the 60-plus per cent leadership review victory he is said to have expected, Mr. Kenney went to Washington, hobnobbed with Democrat-in-Name-Only Senator Joe Manchin (now also irrelevant, as predicted in this space), and returned to that 51.4-per cent vote. He announced he would quit, sealing his own fate. Ms. Smith announced her intention to run for the UCP leadership. 

In June, while the government was obviously transitioning to something, the belligerent communications style Mr. Kenney brought to Alberta politics continued. UCP social media “issues managers,” and press secretaries – always inappropriately aggressive in their responses to anyone who dared to criticize the government for any reason, ordinary citizens and political partisans alike – seemed to get worse. True to form, ignoring his new lame duck status, Mr. Kenney took personal credit for the sudden surge in world petroleum prices. 

In July, with the premier having clearly established his own irrelevance, Ms. Smith took the UCP leadership campaign down a dark Trumpian road – from which, really, the party has never returned. She promoted conspiracy theories about AHS management conspiring against the government. Other candidates shamelessly jumped on her vaccine denial bandwagon. 

Unsuccessful UCP leadership candidate Rebecca Schulz, now a member of Premier Smith’s cabinet (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In August, Ms. Smith’s ridiculous Sovereignty Act idea was picked by on the provincial political radar. Mr. Kenney dismissed the idea as “nuts” – but few paid attention to him. By the end of the month he was rambling on about subjects that really mattered to him – John A. Macdonald’s and Winston Churchill’s historical legacies. 

In September, in what had to be the year’s weirdest political moment, Mr. Kenney went to London and lined up to pay obeisance at Queen Elizabeth’s coffin, live tweeting all the while. If it hadn’t been so strange, no one would have paid attention. He also went to Toronto, stood in a subway station, and touted Alberta as a great place for yuppies to move, a pitch greeted by passers-by with yawns.

In October, with Ms. Smith sworn in as premier, Mr. Kenney became a garden variety MLA again. Premier Smith appointed every candidate who ran against her for the leadership but one to her massive cabinet. Mr. Kenney fell silent.

Alberta Health Services President and CEO Verna Yiu, fired by the Kenney Government in April (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In November, he resigned his seat in Calgary-Lougheed

In December, about all we’ve heard from him is crickets. It is not known if anyone has filed a missing-person report or sent out a search party. 

But fear not, Alberta, he’s bound to resurface one of these days, if only in an unsatisfying role as the member of a corporate board or two, or the author of a pious op-ed. 

But for a man who once stood astride Alberta in triumph, Jason Kenney has become utterly irrelevant, and all but invisible.

Who saw that coming? 

NOTE: Some revisions were made to this story this morning to correct typos and minor errors that crept into the narrative last night. Things always look different in the light of day. Happy New Year, everyone! DJC

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27 Comments

  1. Where did he come from? Where did he go? The Covid virus sure did a number on Jason Kenny. It’s almost like his political career had an averse reaction to the vaccine forcibly injected into him, doing more damage than the actual virus itself.

    1. Except that no one in alberta has been forced to get the vaccine and you’re a lunatic, just like the maniacs who have seized control
      Of the UCP and are driving it straight into the ground.

    2. Okay, the vaccine was NOT forced into Jason Kenny, or anyone else for that matter. I am sick and tired of the over the top rhetoric from the anti-vacc, anti-mandate, and convoy crowd. Move on already! The rest of us have. For better or for worse we are in the endemic stage of the virus and we all do whatever we feel comfortable doing to mitigate the risks and live a normal life.

      1. I think that if you interpret Mr Ronmac’s post to be metaphorical rather than literal, it has some validity. The COVID vaccine did indeed have serious adverse effects on Mr Kenney’s political career, since it — or rather, policy surrounding it — was one of the proximate causes of his ouster as UCP leader.

        Mr Kenney couldn’t seem to decide whether he wanted to be the kind of party leader and Premier that took effective action against anti-vaxxers in his Cabinet and Caucus – à la Doug Ford — or the kind that would pander to them. As a result, he ended up between two stools, and fell into the maelstrom between them.

    3. Ronmac- Red Deer Advocate:April 23/ 2021 , shows a picture of J.Kenny getting his vaccine shot, and boy she must have had one heck of a grip on him to” force ” him to take it….even with a mask on he looks totally relaxed, but I assume you’ll say that somebody out of sight was forcibly holding the Premier of the province down, am I understanding your premise right?
      And Sept 23/2021 (post) where he is quoted as saying ” for the love of God ,please get vaccinated now. If you are unvaccinated it is urgent that you protect yourself. It’s now–literally –worth your while. ” This is in relation to the $100 incentive*that he was giving Albertans to get vaccinated, not counting putting their names in for the million dollar lottery…
      *bribing (imho)tax payers with their own money. Now there’s a cause you should get behind ..you know just like Danielle is doing.

      And just as a side bar…Calgary Sun Dec 29th —Alberta plan to use it’s own portal for processing $100 affordability cheques is risky- NDP….. now what could possibly go wrong?? I mean that Danielle is really good at looking after people right? she was doing a grand job New year’s eve, posting from her restaurant (conflict of interest be darned) …the only conflict was the people calling her out for the ” OMG “betrayal of saying they were counting down from Eastern time….and not holding with the special Albertan’s status ….
      I readily admit, that illicited a few chuckles from the family…must be those elf shoes….

  2. Yes, Kenney had quite the humpty dumpy political fall starting in 2021 and ending in 2022. His downfall was long in coming, so was not that unexpected for me. I think it will be quite hard to put all the pieces back together again, particularly for the UCP, because it chose Smith to peplace him. Ironically, lest we forget, she didn’t get much more than his 51.4%, so their support for her was not much more enthusiastic than for Kenney.

    What is worse, is that they didn’t chose the sometimes polished and reasonable sounding 2012 version of Smith, but the 2022 version who spent too much time hanging out with and taking in the kookier elements of alternative reality from her talk radio show days. For me, the recycling of Smith is the biggest political surprise of 2022. It says something about the UCP – when faced with several viable leadership candidates it chose the very worst possible one.

    Kenney did the UCP no favours with the long drawn out battle for almost a year to hang on and then sniping at Smith after that. Perhaps he is now working on his Churchill like memoirs, maybe timed to come out shortly after the next provincial election, that could be titled “I told you so”. He is most effective when quietly organizing behind the scenes. I suspect he is ready for his come back, but I am not sure if anyone else is yet. Perhaps that may be the biggest surprise for 2023 or after. However, I think it may be in Ottawa, not in Edmonton – best not to return to the scene of the crime.

    Kenney may have not been great, but the current crop of conservative leaders that came in with a flash may be even more underwhelming. He is also above all an opportunist, willing to travel to step into whatever political vacuum exists and work on multi year projects. So Poilievre better watch out. He may still now be the political golden boy in conservative eyes, but that can eventually lose its lustre. Just ask Kenney.

    As for Alberta it will be better off without Kenney, and the UCP too, if that part also comes to pass.

  3. What would cause a man who once stood on his hind legs astride Alberta to tuck his tail between his legs and scuttle away? Were the chickens coming home to roost? Surely nothing would ever come of that RCMP fraud investigation after half a decade. No, it must have been something else….

  4. Watching the demise of Jason Kenney has certainly made Alberta politics entertaining to watch; thanks for the column, David.

    What I want to know, is whether Jason still has his Blue Truck. I have long thought that the blue truck really did not do him any favours. He bought it thinking it would make him look like an instant Albertan, but I can’t believe many people really thought that driving a Dodge Ram made the pudgy, soft-handed politician seem like the rugged Alberta individual he sought to emulate. Then, when it came out that he wasn’t even competent filling it up, people willing to give him the benefit of the doubt lost faith too.

    1. Soft pudgy guy! Hahaha! Remember when he was “camping around Alberta”, sitting around a fire pit, etc photo op’s and then left his posse to sleep in that RV (in the parking lot, no doubt!)while he was booked into a nice hotel?? Outed by photos taken by tourists & grateful hotel staff that wanted a record of his stay. Prestigious to have Alberta’s Premier book a room, y’know!

  5. If the MLAs I got to know when Lougheed’s energy minister Bill Dickie was a brother in-law of one of my uncles were alive today they would be saying “I told you so”. They certainly had these fake conservatives figured out. There is nothing conservative about any of them. The truth is that when they used the name Reform or Alliance they fooled no one, yet now that they changed their game plan and started calling themselves conservatives all the ignorant fools who vote for the name conservative began supporting them and look at the mess they have created. Who do we see dumb enough to support them? Rural Albertans and ignorant seniors believing every lie they feed them. Oddly enough even Ralph Klein accused Jason Kenney of spreading lies and stealing from seniors, as a member of the Harper government, but these reformers are still doing it and these rural Albertans and seniors are too stupid to understand it.

    1. Mr. Spiller, a.k.a. “Fed-up Conservative” in the Lethbridge Herald comments section, I have addressed your comments before, and seeing your same refrain here again, I’m compelled to point out how much it sounds like another conspiracy theory, something conservatives in particular seem to have an unusual affinity for. The right wing IS where they all come from, every single one, and it’s also where Trump and “trumpism” came from, which now threatens democracy itself. So I’m sorry, but the right wing has officially lost its mind, and now clings to what can be rightly called a suite of stupidity and “the big lie.” Truth.
      So 50 years ago the PC government, led by Peter Lougheed, was indeed a vast improvement on the religious guys, and I voted for them; he was classy, urban, and still relatively progressive, but the rural, parochial contingent fired up the grievance factor against Ottawa Liberals that has sustained the cons ever since. And that’s absolutely what they are now–pure “cons” who will do and say anything to get in power; the worst among us and shameless purveyors of “bozo eruptions,” which have continued apace. This despite the majority in Alberta living in cities, and the majority supposedly being relevant in a democracy, something conservatives blithely ignore now, playing to that “base” that has truly given new meaning to the word.

  6. Make no mistake friends, Queen Dani has been installed as UPC leader and (unfortunately by extension) our Premier by dark forces that operate beyond our reach. Her ascension to the throne was not due to luck nor her expert politicking. Almost as appalling is how easily her leadership competitors folded like a cheap suit to get behind Smith’s (and her political handlers’) kooky agenda for little more than career advancement. All to Alberta’s detriment, of course.

    That said, I’m sure we have not seen the last of Jason “Randy” Kenney. One prediction you don’t see floated around much is that he’ll swoop back in on his white horse to save Alberta once the Queen’s reign goes down in a fiery blaze. Sounds far fetched? Not so much now that the Kenney era is somehow looked back upon fondly as dark days approach us. I’m sure Albertans would except his neoliberal policies with much zeal if he’s seen as an alternative to the evil queen.

    All I can add at this point is that the NDP better step up their game because if they don’t we can be sure that many predictions from this blog will come true and none of them bode well for this province

  7. During Covid, Kenney’s biggest mistake was he didn’t show an ounce of empathy. He has no soul and I don’t recall him every saying he was sorry to the families who lost loved ones. He had this cold, uncaring personality like a barbed wire fence.
    Kenney spent his life in politics and thought he was the smartest politician but couldn’t read a room . Kenney was not a leader type and thought he was all knowing. Its sad that one can spend their life in one career and be this bad at it.

  8. I definitely saw this coming. In Alberta, it’s a trend for politicians who used to be in the federal political area, to not have staying power in the Alberta provincial government. It’s nothing new, given what happened to Jim Prentice, and others. Hopefully, the UCP will meet their demise in 2023.

  9. Do you throw public billions into a dead end pipeline without a little “wink/nod see ya on the flipside”?
    Well it is flipside time.
    Was public office ever more than the channeling of public money ? The dispensation of treats? The handing out of plums?
    Rape the resources, shave the public and bet heavy on your friends. Treats, plums and shenanigans. Best job ever.
    Argue what you will the 6th great extinction couldn’t have started without them.

  10. Yes. I think you’re exactly right. I imagine a room full of mirrors where Stephen Harper and Preston Manning tell each other how wonderful they are as they wait for dark money and instructions from their US based Evangelical Christo Fascist Overlords.

  11. I remember it was just three short years ago that Jason Kenny was proclaimed by many to be the “Second Coming” “Saviour” and the “Last best hope for the best of everything to come.” Postmedia does have a neat turn of phrase when it comes to promoting their favourite CONs. But it’s even funnier when their icons are found to have feet of clay or are, even worse, found to be responsible in their behaviour. Kenny, for whatever reason, had a Damascus conversion and decided to act like an adult. Of course, he paid an enormous price for it, as the rise of Danielle Smith proves. No matter. The rumours were flying fast and furious that PMJT gave him a better offer to betray Alberta. It’s not like Kenney hasn’t treated Alberta as little more than a convenient parking spot to take advantage of, where he could score easy wins by pumping up the crazy among the voters, with the usual conspiracy tropes. The best part is that those who were diehard Kenney supporters in 2019 are now calling themselves victims of some vast conspiracy, orchestrated by Trudeau. Seriously, these guys have got to get their narrative right: Trudeau is either an idiot or a brilliant mastermind. Make up your brain-dead Alberta minds, already.

    As for Jason Kenney, I suspect that his little trip to London to see whatever was left of ER2 was potentially duplicitous. Meeting up with former colleague Ralph Goodale should be very instructive. Kenney believed firmly that the world is a transactional universe — everyone has their price. Goodale is Canada’s High Commissioner to London, so why should Kenney let mere partisan differences between him and Goodale get in the way of the next stage of his public life? Who knows? Maybe Trudeau can see past all the acrimonous bluster of Kenney’s years as premier and see him as a useful associate? Rona Ambrose buried the hatchet and got a sweet gig from Freeland. Doesn’t Kenney deserve to have it that good?

  12. I imagine Kenney had promised himself that one day he would meet the Queen as the Prime Minister of Canada. The closest he could get to fulfilling that dream was to view her coffin as the Premier of Alberta
    He was a poor leader and a bad premier and he paved the way for Smith who is even worse.

  13. The scary part is he’s now being inducted into the ranks of former conservative leaders who now appear moderate in light of who succeeded them.

  14. The K-Boy made himself disappear—again. From anti-abortion/anti-gay rights crusader to young Liberal, on to anti-tax exec, then parliamentarian, cabinet minister, provincial Opposition leader and, finally, Alberta premier, he has interceded each step with a kind of pupation, leaving observers to wonder, each time, what kind of instar, imago, or moth will emerge and fly away from the darkness toward the brightest light.

    He’s only a politician—meaning, he only does politics, not academics, not marriage, not parenthood, not even any hobbies that we’re aware of. The policy basis of his politics is fairly consistent, too: he is perhaps more social-conservative than neoliberal, yet an abiding fundamental of his politics is to get natural resource to market and appease the Magnates of the Bitumen Mines of Albetar so that the politics of power is rewarded. Now that he’s been ignominiously dumped by the party he created not much over three and a half year ago, and the fact that he’s still young, we wonder what his next metamorphosis will produce.

    Conventional opinion presumed his objective was to return to federal politics, this time as leader of the CPC, his Alma Mater, and thence become prime minister where his SoCon/neo-right policies would be implemented, whatever Constitutional contortions might be required. But one has to wonder if his tendency to force issues hasn’t forced him to resort to serial pupation when, for one reason or another, his political projects are left incomplete. Again, it seems his return to politics is inevitable.

    Kenney cut short his degree when his appeal to the Pope to sanction his Roman Catholic university for allowing pro-choice activists free speech failed. Whatever political completion his former Liberal boss Ralph Goodale has set for himself, K-Boy didn’t stick around for the finish. His sojourn at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation didn’t reduce taxes much, and he was instrumental in the non-completion of the Reform Party. As federal MP and CPC cabinet minister, he, his partisan colleagues and his mentor, Stephen Harper, didn’t make Canada unrecognizable like Harper said they would (but might have if voters hadn’t snuffed it before it was too late). Postponing his prime-ministerial aspiration—which would have required at least one term in Opposition—he flew to the brighter light of Alberta where he terminated two parties of the right, perhaps his only completion so far, but, as is amply plain in 2022 as it will most certainly be in 2023, he did not completely unite them into a single political force. Naturally he eschewed sitting as an ordinary MLA and has recently vanished (conspicuously on his successor’s first day in the Assembly) to, we may reasonably presume, spin his next chrysalis.

    Speculatively, it would be truly remarkable if he ever became premier of Alberta again—that is, wait out Danielle Smith (whose tenure probably won’t be very long)—or if the UCP will still even exist after her. Considering the fate of new CPC leader Pierre Poilievre which, as we know of conservative leaders who fail to win power, there’s conceivably an opening somewhere in the not too distant future for K-Boy to take a shot at replacing him (which reminds how curious many found it that Kenney didn’t go directly towards the post-Harper leadership opportunity). Or maybe pundits had it all wrong and Kenney would have been satisfied with leading Alberta— which has been known to tolerate very long-lived dynasties of power. Or maybe he could run for premier of the Northwest Territories. Or maybe retire on Vancouver Island and become a sage crank like former Newfoundland premier Brian Peckford (I’m acquainted with some of his disciples right here on my little Island home—the ones who prefer his Freedumbite constitutional nostrums over expert legal opinion because he was signatory to the 1982 patriation of Canada’s Constitution and they weren’t. See, Jason? Plenty of hay to mow, even out here in skunkless skunkland).

    As 2022 winds down, it’s fair to say the demise of Jason Kenney overshadowed even Covid. But, given his undeniable determination, reports of his political demise just might be a tad premature. He can’t be done yet: he never has been.

    1. Scotty, N0 ,NO, NO , one ex pickle Premier on the island is one too many, and watching JK trying to plug in the EV would be too much of a good thing….how about NFLD….he can make friends with all of the former Fort Mac crowd, and he can get some ocean front property and stare longingly out at the ocean imagining he can see the Hibernia, or closer still the White Rose/ expansion project…..my apologies to all my Newfie acquaintances, but all’s fair in tar and feathers……just think how much fun they’ll have getting him to kiss the cod …now there’s a picture by ….

  15. I was watching a doc and one segment was about Jesuit explorers in the 16th and 17th centuries. They were successful by incorporating the language and iconography of the “natives” into their Catholic message. Fast forward a few hundred years and Kenney shines as Harper’s emissary in the 905 belt of ridings. He preached the gospel of low taxes, social conservatism and small government. Ah, these were the glory days for old JK. Where will he pop up next? Don’t know and frankly don’t care. He’s a damp squib imho. Happy 2023.

  16. I suppose being unvaccinated, I was expected to be dead already, but I am sure we will all be gone before the next election. Don’t worry, we won’t turn up in massive numbers to keep DS as Premier. I meant Danielle Smith, not the deep state…

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