Alberta Politics

51.4% isn’t enough. Jason Kenney stepping down as UCP leader.

Premier Jason Kenney is done.

Kenney stunned political watchers by announcing he is stepping down as leader of the United Conservative Party after getting the support of only 51.4 per cent of members in the leadership review.

He had claimed last week that 50%+1 was enough for him to stay, but that obviously wasn’t enough.

It wouldn’t have worked.

It was the weakest of mandates.

UCP President Cynthia Moore speaking about the leadership review process.

Winning by such a narrow margin was probably the worst case scenario for Kenney.

With 51.4 per cent there is no way Kenney could have confidently walked into tomorrow morning’s UCP Caucus meeting and commanded the loyalty of the party’s MLAs.

There’s no way he could have demanded his opponents fall in line or leave the party. 

So, he’s resigning. 

The UCP is deeply divided and the leadership race was and acrimonious end to Kenney’s three years in the Premier’s Office.

But he might have been the biggest obstacle standing in the way of the party moving forward in any positive way with one year left before the provincial election.

The aggressive and in-your-face reactions from Kenney and his political staff to any criticism of his agenda has made him deeply unpopular with almost every single voting demographic in Alberta. 

And it dragged down his party.

UCP returning officer Rick Orman announcing the results of the leadership review.

Kenney leaving avoids the inevitably showdown between him and his opponents in caucus that would have likely divided the party even further.

He’ll leave that showdown to someone else.

Now the UCP will have to choose a new leader. 

It’s not clear whether Kenney will resign immediately and be replaced by an interim leader or whether he will stay on as Premier until a leadership race is held. 

We’ll find out soon. 

Names that immediately come to mind for potential interim leaders are Nate Horner, Sonya Savage, Nathan Neudorf, Ric McIver, Rajan Sawhney and Nate Glubish – all MLAs who probably won’t run for the permanent job.

And that’s where things get interesting, or troubling, depending on your point of view. 

While Kenney was unpopular across the board, his biggest critics inside his party come from the unruly political-right – and they are mostly unhappy with how he handled the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kenney called them “lunatics.”

Former Wildrose leaders Brian Jean and Danielle Smith and exiled UCP MLA Drew Barnes probably fall pretty neatly into this column. 

They both want the job. 

Then there’s the Kenney loyalists.

Doug Schweitzer endorsed Kenney last week. He’s expected to run.

Jason Nixon is Kenney’s chief lieutenant. He’s said to be eying the job.

Travis Toews is also in Kenney’s inner circle. He’s said to have supporters who have been quietly preparing a run for months.

And then there’s Members of Parliament Shannon Stubbs and Michelle Rempel Garner. They haven’t said they’d run, but their names get mentioned when you talk to UCP supporters.

There will be others.

Kenney didn’t specifically say he wouldn’t try to reclaim his job in a leadership race. But even if his political career isn’t over, it seems unlikely right now that he’d try to reclaim the UCP leadership.

It’s an unceremonious result for the popular former federal cabinet minister and darling of movement conservatives who jumped into provincial politics six years ago to build a new conservative party.

It is a big change from three years ago, when Kenney led the newly minted UCP to defeat Rachel Notley’s NDP and win a big majority government.

On that election night he looked unstoppable.

Long gone are the days when anyone in Alberta politics is unstoppable.

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3 replies on “51.4% isn’t enough. Jason Kenney stepping down as UCP leader.”

This is very, very bad news for anyone who wants to see the UCP gone in the next election. Whoever replaces Jason Kenney can easily make him the scapegoat for the party’s disastrous and intentionally destructive reign, and most people in Alberta will buy it. The UCP’s entire reason for existence is denying Rachel Notley and the NDP another crack at government, and that desire overrides all internal ideological disagreements within the party. The NDP’s entire strategy to this point has been relying on Kenney staying on as UCP leader, now they don’t have that option for campaigning. So far everything is evolving as I predicted when the leadership review was officially announced. Kenney’s resignation just handed the UCP a re-elected majority government., and I see absolutely no reason to believe otherwise.

Ex-Calgarian: The UCP aren’t going to be in power after 2023, because they have been an abysmal government. Pretend conservatives and Reformers aren’t helping Alberta. They destroy what true conservatives, like Peter Lougheed have done right for Alberta.

Well I guess we won’t have Jason Kenney to kick around anymore or something like that. Although, his political ghost may continue to haunt his party, in part because of the circumstances of his departure.

Technically, they actually did not vote him out although it was very close. Presumably too close for Kenney, although oddly he did clearly previously say he would stay on with 50 plus one percent. He must have either had a recent change of heart or maybe someone very influential finally convinced him it was time to go.

So, the UCP will have trouble distancing itself from the leader a majority, albeit narrowly, just voted for. Their most likely leadership candidates – Smith, Jean and Schwietzer have run before and don’t have the best history of of success. Two might be a bit too right wing for mainstream voters and one too moderate for right wing voters.

Of course there are also the CPC MP’s who might jump at being Premier for a while, although it didn’t work out that well for the last two CPC MP’s who tried that. There might be a bit more to Alberta politics than those who spend much of their time in Ottawa realize.

There might actual be a few select candidates who can pull the UCP out of its tail spin and put the U back in the UCP, but the list of potential candidates who probably can’t is probably much longer.

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