Alberta Politics

Some Assembly Required: Wildrosers make for a raucous caucus

Alberta’s Legislative Assembly is back in session next week after a weeklong Constituency Break that immediately followed last Thursday’s budget announcement. While Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro have been testing out their new health care friendly talking points this week, pandemic politics inside the United Conservative Party caucus threaten to derail the Premier’s Spring agenda.

An unofficial “end the lockdown caucus” inside the UCP caucus, which originally included outspoken MLA Drew Barnes and Deputy Speaker Angela Pitt – but now appears to have expanded to include former Wildrose MLAs Todd Loewen, Ron Orr, Dave Hanson and rookie MLA Michaela Glasgo (according to Postmedia columnist Rick Bell) – is causing problems for Kenney.

The group of disgruntled backbenchers are unhappy they are being kept out of the loop on public health decisions and want COVID public health measures lifted more quickly and on a regional basis. That most of the six-pack of UCP dissenters come from the former Wildrose caucus is not surprising. The former opposition party was notoriously raucous and unwilling to bow to the kind of centralized party leadership that Kenney would have become accustomed to during his many years in Ottawa.

But they aren’t alone. I’m told that there may be another 10 to 20 UCP backbenchers who are supportive of the six-pack but haven’t said so publicly and number of them are agitating for a leadership review to happen before the 2023 election.

Barnes in particular continues to play a game of chicken with Kenney, almost daring the Premier to kick him out of the caucus. After he was overlooked for a cabinet spot following the 2019 election, Barnes has been outspoken on his support for Alberta autonomy from Canada, has called on Kenney to appoint him as Minister of Autonomy, and most recently declared that he has not yet decided whether he will endorse the budget tabled by Finance Minister Travis Toews last week.

Kenney has been very cautious not to alienate the right-wing of his party, which explains why he hasn’t come down hard on Barnes in the past, but with more UCP backbenchers speaking out against the Premier it is beginning  to look like he’s losing control.

That Barnes remains in the UCP caucus today is a sign that Kenney is desperate not to have another conservative party represented in the Assembly – a split that would immediately undermine the entire “United Conservative” project that Kenney helped spearhead four years ago.

Already 1 Independent

Already outside the UCP Caucus is Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn, who is sitting as an Independent after he was removed from the UCP caucus following a chorus of calls for his resignation by local municipal leaders and the revelation of questionable expense claims. This all happened after a Christmas vacation to Mexico got him caught up in the hot holiday scandal.

While he now sits in the far corner of the opposition benches, Rehn has been acting on social media as if he is still a UCP MLA by regularity posting government press releases and statements.

New Municipal Affairs Minister?

And speaking of the hot holiday scandal, Kenney has yet to appoint a new Minister of Municipal Affairs following the resignation of former minister Tracy Allard after her unfortunate hot holiday in Hawaii.

Transportation Minister Ric McIver has been serving in a double-role as Municipal Affairs Minister, and there is some speculation that that Spruce Grove-Stony Plain MLA Searle Turton might be up for a promotion. The affable former Spruce Grove city councillor i chair of the UCP Capital Regional Caucus and Kenney’s special envoy to private sector unions.

Rodeo is back

Calgary-North UCP MLA Muhammad Yaseen has introduced a private members’ bill that would make rodeo the official sport of Alberta.

This is not the first time this idea has come up in the Legislative Assembly. Another UCP MLA introduced a private members’ motion calling for this last year and way back in 2008, outgoing Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft did the same (I worked on the caucus communications support for Taft’s motion).

The naysayers may claim it is just a distraction, that it would be controversial, and just play into outdated stereotypes. They are probably correct, but I say go for it. Yahoo! Yeehaw! Saddle up!

(Photo source: Travel Alberta)

8 replies on “Some Assembly Required: Wildrosers make for a raucous caucus”

I for one am disappointed by your support for the rodeo bill. Rodeo is nothing but an organized animal abuse spectacle put on to entertain the masses. It’s the modern equivalent of gladiatorial games, except with four-legged victims.

Unless you were being sarcastic …

Barnes has been liking tweets issued by the Official Opposition that are critical of Jason Kenney’s UCP cabinet.

That Kenney would allow Barnes to stay in caucus, despite those sorts of actions, speaks to how completely inept Kenney is as a leader.

Jason Kenney commands no authority over anyone at this point, in case AlohaGate didn’t already make that completely obvious.

This whole circus government will implode shortly. Expect a new Premier in 2021 and a general election next spring.

Another great column, Dave. Thanks for writing & researching it.

I found Rick Bell’s column quite disturbing, especially his criticisms of Dr. Tam. While criticizing politicians is what political commentators do, I have a problem with them criticizing public health officers in the middle of a pandemic. What end is accomplished with such criticism? Its not like they can influence their readers to vote for a different Chief Medical Officer of Health. All such criticisms to is undermine their effort to make us safer.

We are blessed to have a right to free speech in Canada, but that right does have limits, such as yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre, or inciting hate. I do wonder if, when this is over, if questioning a CMOH will be included in that grouping.

When I think of how critical the right wing media was of the Notley government when the NDP was in power, I shudder to think of how they would have undermined any health measures the NDP government imposed. It also makes me wonder what kind of measures Jason Kenney would have been calling for if he was the Leader of the Opposition.

The CBC story linked below reports the huge problems the Czech Republic is having with Covid because of unwise reopening:

“Yahoo! Yeehaw! Saddle up!”
I’m with you. Rodeo is a terrific family event. Even rodeo animals are treated like family.
My dad used to chase us down the street, throw his lasso, give our necks a stiff snap, pick us up, slam us to the ground, knock the breath out of us, and tie our feet together.
My dad was a real sport.
When I was small, my mum let me ride her piggyback around the garden.
Sadly, she stepped in a gopher hole and twisted her ankle.
So my dad stepped up and shot her on the spot — to spare her any pain.
Now there’s compassion for you.
My dad was real sorry to lose his wife.
Come to think of it, he went through quite a few wives that way.
Them were the days.

What would be easier to do? Ride a bucking bronco for 8 seconds or try to manage the UCP caucus these days? I am not sure that is an easy question to answer. I suppose a bucking bronco might at least provide a distraction for some in the unruly UCP caucus. How about combining the best of both worlds, maybe instead of a leadership review they can have a ride a bucking bronco as a test instead. Now is our true blue Albertan truck driving Premier up to the challenge?

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