Alberta Politics

Kenney walks away from UCP AGM largely unscathed. Next up: defeating Brian Jean.

Premier Jason Kenney appeared to walk away mostly unscathed from last weekend’s United Conservative Party Annual General Meeting in Calgary.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney United Conservative Party AGM
Jason Kenney

Kenney delivered a much-watched keynote speech to more than a thousand UCP delegates that appears to have been generally well-received, though sounded like it might have been more appropriately aimed at a Chamber of Commerce or business crowd luncheon than a room of partisans hungry for more partisanship.

Kenney’s speech and it’s focus on the economy, and not his government’s fumbling response to the COVID-19 pandemic and failed “Open for Summer” plan, gives an indication of the direction the Premier and his inner circle believe they need to shift their message in order to salvage his embattled leadership and the party’s chances of winning re-election in 2023.

Regardless, Kenney tried hard to present an upbeat appearance, but as anyone who follows politics will know – party conventions are all production and all a show.

Leela Aheer ALberta MLA
Leela Aheer (Source: Twitter)

Kenney commanded the support of the convention, though he lost a critical vote on a special resolution that would have increased the number of constituency associations able to trigger a leadership vote from 1/4 of 87 to 1/3 of 87.

The motion received support from 57 per cent of delegates but fell short of the 75 per cent required to make the constitutional change.

This small defeat came less than a week after 22 UCP constituency associations announced they had passed an identical motion calling for an already scheduled April review of Kenney’s leadership to be moved to before March 1, 2022.

Cynthia Moore United Conservative Party President
Cynthia Moore

The new UCP President, Cynthia Moore, has said the newly elected party board will review the motions, though conservatives I’ve spoken with suggest that Kenney’s supporters are energetically searching for a technicality to disqualify the motions for an earlier vote.

Recent public opinion polls have shown Kenney with a 22 per cent approval rating among Albertans and his party has trailed Rachel Notley‘s Alberta NDP in the polls since November 2020, which has led to a growing number of UCP MLAs, including former UCP deputy leader Leela Aheer, willing to publicly criticize his leadership or call for his resignation.

Even MLAs who are reluctant to publicly criticize Kenney are reluctant to publicly defend him.

Maclean’s columnist Jason Markusoff tweeted from the convention that reporters “asked Fort McMurray MLA Tany Yao how many members here want Kenney as leader. Half, he said. Does he want Kenney as leader? Sighed, said “you’ve put me in a tough spot,” then a minister’s press secretary whisked him away.”

Daniel Williams UCP Peace River
Daniel Williams

But perhaps the most interesting part of the convention was the vote by UCP delegates to pass a motion in support of conscience rights for health care professionals, which critics say could lead to the denial of access to women’s health and abortion services. A private members bill supporting conscience rights introduced into the Legislature by Peace River MLA and Kenney acolyte Dan Williams (now a parliamentary secretary – see below) failed at committee last year.

The passage of the policy at the UCP convention might provide an idea of how strong the different parts of the conservative coalition dominate the UCP right now, in this case – social conservatives.

Support for conscience rights for health care professionals stirred up quite a bit of controversy and backlash against the Wildrose Party during the 2012 provincial election.

It is unclear in what ways health professionals are being denied freedom of conscience at the moment,” penned the Globe & Mail editorial board on April 9, 2012.

Are doctors being required to perform abortions against their will? If so, no public complaint has been made that we are aware of. Would doctors have the right to swear off treating patients of the opposite sex? Would family physicians be entitled to refuse to prescribe birth control pills, or could they insist, when faced with a teenage girl, on counselling abstinence only?

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC
Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Premier Jim Prentice on December 17, 2014.

And speaking of the Wildrose Party, former party leader Danielle Smith was at the AGM and publicly mused to a reporter from Derek Fildebrandt‘s Western Standard website that she would run for the leadership of the UCP if Kenney’s stepped down.

Smith was quick to clarify to subscribers to her weekly email newsletter that she was merely musing and that she is not planning to run because the job is already filled. But that Smith could so casually make a comment like that to a reporter while standing in the same convention ball room as the current leader is embarrassing for Kenney.

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede Alberta
Brian Jean

After leading the party from obscurity to the brink of forming government, Smith famously crossed the floor along with a dozen other Wildrose MLAs to join Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservative Party in 2014 – a move that ended up gutting both parties and helping pave the way for Notley’s NDP to win the 2015 election.

And, continuing the blast from the past theme is another former Wildrose leader, Brian Jean, who is weeks away from potentially being selected as the UCP candidate in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election – that is, if he is not stopped by Joshua Gogo, a Fort McMurray economist.

Jean is probably Kenney’s main target now.

Trying to defeat him in the nomination vote, which is set for December 11 according to the Elections Alberta website, is likely one of the first steps the Premier will take in trying to reconsolidate his support in the UCP ahead of the next year’s leadership review – whether it be held in April or February.

Joshua Gogo
Joshua Gogo

Kenney has recently criticized Jean and questioned his political record after resigning before finishing his elected terms as a Member of Parliament and MLA for Fort McMurray, criticisms that were echoed by the Premier’s political staff on social media.

Also hanging out there is the Kamikaze campaign that Kenney’s closest advisors helped manufacture as part of the effort to defeat Jean in the 2017 UCP leadership race and the ongoing RCMP investigation into alleged voter fraud.

If he is not able to stop Jean from winning the nomination, Kenney will probably a harder time pretending he’s in an upbeat mood.

Kenney names five new parliamentary secretaries

Premier Kenney announced that five UCP MLAs have been appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries, roles that do not bring any additional salary but are a sign of which backbenchers could be on track for promotions to cabinet in the future – and which backbenchers a party leader in trouble is trying to solidify support from.

Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Parks for Water Stewardship. He also serves as UCP Caucus Chair.

Peace River MLA Dan Williams is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Culture and for la Francophonie. Before returning to Alberta to seek the UCP nomination, Williams worked in Ottawa for Kenney while he served as a federal cabinet minister.

Both Neudorf and Williams also sit as the MLA representatives on the UCP Board of Directors.

Camrose MLA Jackie Lovely is Parliamentary Secretary to the Associate Minister of Status of Women. Lovely was first elected as MLA for Camrose in 2019 and previously ran for the Wildrose Party in Edmonton-Ellerslie in 2012 and 2015.

Calgary-Klein MLA Jeremy Nixon is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Community and Social Services for Civil Society. Nixon was first elected as MLA in 2019 and previously ran as a Wildrose Party candidate in Calgary-Klein in 2012 and 2015. Nixon was removed from his previous role as parliamentary secretary for civil society after disregarding COVID-19 restrictions and traveling to Hawaii for a hot holiday in December 2020. He is the brother of Environment & Parks Minister and Government House Leader Jason Nixon.

Spruce Grove-Stony Plain MLA Searle Turton is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Energy. A former Spruce Grove City Councillor, Turton was widely rumoured to have been a potential pick for Minister of Municipal Affairs following Tracy Allard’s demotion in Jan. 2021. Turton also serves as the private sector union liaison for the Ministry of Labour and Immigration.

6 replies on “Kenney walks away from UCP AGM largely unscathed. Next up: defeating Brian Jean.”

Alberta doesn’t need anymore pretend conservatives and Reformers in power in Alberta. That means the UCP. That also means the Wildrose Independence Party. We have had so much damage and very costly shenanigans done by the pretend conservatives and Reformers who replaced the true conservative, Peter Lougheed. Billions and billions of dollars were gone. Hundreds of billions, in fact. Now, we see the same thing with the UCP. More very costly shenanigans.
– $10 billion disappeared from corporate tax cuts, and never were there any jobs that came from this, like the UCP had claimed would happen.
– $7.5 billion was thrown away, on a pipeline, after the head honcho of the UCP made the mistake in thinking that Donald Trump would still be clinging to power.
– $4 billion of people’s retirement money isn’t there anymore, because the UCP lost it through a faulty pension manager, AIMCo. The head honcho of the UCP, and Brian Jean, were part of Team Stephen Harper, and $35 billion on people’s life savings vanished in the income trust fund shenanigan.
– Nearly $2 billion of the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, which Peter Lougheed created, is now gone.
– $1.6 billion is no longer there, because the UCP has faulty accounting practices.
– The UCP has a War Room, which is a waste of millions of dollars, and the person who runs it, never could make it as an MLA, but gets $195,000 per year to work in the War Room.
– The UCP has MLAs who flew here, there, and everywhere, at the taxpayer’s expense, and never showed any benefits from this.
– The UCP has panels stacked with their pretend conservative and Reformer pals, who get good money for these gigs, and the outcomes of pretending to listen, end up favouring the UCP.
The UCP engages in lawsuits, which they know the results won’t go in their favour, yet they do them anyways, and we foot a huge bill.
– Costly advertising, such as for Bigfoot kids shows, and in Times Square, in The Big Apple.
– Steve Allan gets a overly generous annual salary of $290,000, to procrastinate on a report, which costed millions of dollars, and ended up being a major flop, because it drew blanks, made no sense at all.
– The UCP bulked up their staff for their MLAs, and this has also cost us more money.
– Pretend conservative and Reformer pals of the UCP get overly generous annual salaries for redundant posts.
There is so much more than this. Waste, waste, and more waste is what the UCP does best. Also, the UCP have socked Alberta with its worst ever debt, that is going above the $125 billion mark. The environment, our elderly, AISH clients, our youngsters in school, those who teach, our medical employees, sure took a back seat to the UCP.

It is amazing how well things can go, if you stack the meeting with loyalists and control who speaks. It is even more amazing how many actually fell for the spin from this facade of unity.

The people who want Kenney gone, seemed to show some some discipline by not making a spectacle and by still allowing Kenney a possible graceful exit. The battle over leadership was not to be fought at this AGM anyways. A leadership review had already been scheduled and the date for it may even be advanced.

I suppose it remains to be seen how that goes, but if Mr Yao is correct and half want Kenney gone, that seems to be a very clear answer. How many leaders have even tried to carry on with under 2/3’s to 3/4’s support in a leadership review? Most just throw in the towel at that point. Would any leader really want half of their party to sit on their hands or possibly walk away?

So perhaps the fact that the effort to raise the number from 22 constituencies to try stop and earlier more open leadership review process, did not get 75% support, even in this stacked meeting, tells us something very important.

Out of curiosity I went and looked the UCP’s constitution and bylaws, looking for their leadership review criteria. If a leader fails to get 50%, a simple majority, a leadership contest is triggered.

I somehow doubt Kenney would “read the wall” if he gets > 50 % and < 75%.
For context, Ralph Klein left when he got 58%.

If the UCP board disqualifies the constituency association’s motions, what will those ridings do? Are they all represented by UCP mla’s (excepting Barnes/Loewen)?

UCP currently has 62 seats. 62 – 20 = minority government (44 needed for majority).

Gerald: Technically, Messrs Barnes and Loewen are still UCP members, just not part of their legislative caucus. Their party memberships weren’t revoked; had they been, they would not have been able to attend the AGM.

As for Brian Jean, I’ve gotten a chuckle from listening to a political podcast, the Herle-Burley, in which the panel has been suggesting pronouncing his surname in the French manner, i.e. “Zhahn” … as in, like former G-G Michaële Jean. Not sure how that would be received here …

jerrmacgp: I dug a little deeper; of the 22 CA’s, 1 (Edmonton-Decore) is represented by an NDP mla. Central-Peace-Notley is represented by Todd Loewen. Surprisingly, Drew Barne’s riding (Cypress Hills) is not one of the 22.

So 20 of the 22 are UCP mlas. Kenney currently has 60 seats (1 vacancy that Brian Jean wants to fill). Should 17 of those mla leave his caucus, then he is in a minority legislature.

This presents a problem for Kenney.

If he boots dissenters from caucus, he may trigger a mass exodus.
If he denies an earlier leadership review, same result.
If he ignores a low leadership review (>50<60%), I have no idea what fallout.

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