Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried is the latest member of the United Conservative Party Caucus to publicly criticize his party’s leadership.
According to a statement and comments on Facebook, Gotfried resigned as chair of the UCP’s Calgary Caucus last Thursday so that he can have “even more latitude to speak unreservedly on matters of principle, ethics and government/caucus operations…”
“I call upon all elected representatives at all levels of government across our province to show leadership, to act responsibly and to avoid the hypocrisy that makes a mockery of the tough decisions we have to make and the sacrifices/responsible behaviour we have been asking of each and every Albertan for the past 15 months,” Gotfried wrote in a post on his MLA Facebook page.
Gotfried’s statement was written in a very respectful tone and didn’t name Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Finance Minister Travis Toews or Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon, who were pictured in the photos of the boozy Sky Palace patio party that circulated on social media last week, but reading between the lines it was pretty clear who his message was directed to.
Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt and Bonnyville-Cold Lake-Two Hills MLA David Hanson, and cabinet ministers Leela Aheer and Rajan Sawhney have publicly called on Kenney to apologize for violating the government’s own COVID-19 public health rules by hosting the boozy patio party on the 11th floor balcony of the Federal Building in Edmonton.
Kenney and his staff continue to deny he broke any rules.
In a clear contrast to what is happening in the UCP Caucus, delegates to the Alberta NDP convention this past weekend gave Rachel Notley’s leadership a huge endorsement. When the ballots were counted, 98.2 per cent of NDP delegates endorsed Notley’s leadership in the mandatory leadership review vote held at every NDP convention.
A handful of UCP MLAs, including two cabinet ministers, are now publicly calling on the Kenney to apologize for breaking COVID-19 public health restrictions by hosting a boozy Sky Palace patio party that was caught on camera.
The photos of Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon and Finance Minister Travis Toews, and senior political staff dining at a booze filled table atop the penthouse patio of the notorious Sky Palace circulated on social media this week.
Kenney and company were clearly breaking the government’s own public health restrictions. But, instead of admitting they made a mistake and moving on, the Premier’s political staff jumped on social media to aggressively attack anyone who criticized their leader, claiming they did not break any rules.
Kenney’s comments were incredibly insensitive in light of the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at a former Residential School in Kamloops. Kenney’s comments prompted strong responses from the Confederation of Treaty Six First Nations and the Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta.
Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney, the UCP MLA for Calgary-North East, also called on Kenney to apologize for his boozy Sky Palace patio party.
“If they have committed a mistake, they must accept it openly. (The) photo clearly speaks,” Sawhney said on RED 106.7 FM in Calgary.
Meanwhile, Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan is calling on the Kenney government to launch a public inquiry into the cost of its public health restrictions.
In this case, the attempted coverup was probably worse than the crime. Most Albertans would probably have accepted a quick apology from Kenney and his senior cabinet ministers for the rule breaking that so obviously occurred in the photos.
Kenney’s inability to admit that he made a mistake, and his staff’s overly aggressive attacks on anyone who pointed out what was clearly happening in the photos, has only given his opponents in the UCP caucus another reason to publicly criticize him.
Dani Paradis and Chris Henderson are back on the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the recent blow-out in the United Conservative Party caucus, the expulsion of Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen and the ongoing challenges to Premier Jason Kenney’s flailing leadership.
We also discuss recent developments in Edmonton’s mayoral election, Michael Oshry launching into the race, and Amarjeet Sohi’s expected entry into the campaign.
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United Conservative Party MLAs voted to expel Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes and Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen from the governing party’s caucus after an afternoon virtual caucus meeting that spilled into the evening.
The vote came more than two years after Barnes began his unofficial role as chief-caucus-thorn-in-Kenney’s-side. After being overlooked for a cabinet role when the UCP formed government in 2019, the third-term MLA representing the southeast corner of Alberta publicly toyed with separatism and climate change denial and became an open critic of the government’s response to COVID-19 (claiming the mild public health restrictions went too far).
Both were former Wildrose MLAs, with Barnes being the only original Wildroser from that party’s 2012 breakthrough still sitting in the Legislative Assembly.
Kenney had no choice but to appeal to his caucus to kick Loewen out after being directly challenged. Barnes was the icing on the cake for Kenney. (Noticeably missing from this list was Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson, who posted his support for Loewen’s letter on Facebook).
But this is a short-term solution to a bigger problem for the UCP.
One of the main problems is Kenney. He remains deeply unpopular with Albertans and conservatives, a reality reflected in dropping support in the polls and his party’s dismal fundraising returns over the last six months. His divisive style of politics has alienated many Albertans, including many influential people of communities who would otherwise be traditional supporters of the governing conservative party.
As Edmonton-based strategist Chris Henderson wrote of Kenney on Twitter, “[h]e is clearly a very exceptional political lieutenant, but doesn’t have the requisite skills/temperament to sustain leadership in a complex governing environment.”
“There’s no shame in that, some people are incredible college QBs and flame out in the NFL. It happens. Time to go.,” wrote Henderson, who managed many of Don Iveson‘s successful political campaigns in Edmonton.
Kenney may have been successful in imposing caucus discipline today, but he still faces critics within his own party who are calling for his resignation.
In more normal times, this could just be argued away as growing pains for a relatively new political party, but the UCP includes some unruly groups of conservative activists who spent most of the last decade at each others throats. These ideological and regional divides are easier to mend when the party is high in the polls and flush with cash (or the price of oil is high), but when the party’s fortunes began to nosedive more than a year ago the ideological cracks instantly started to appear.
In a statement released after the meeting,, UCP Caucus Whip and Calgary-West MLA Mike Ellis said “There is simply no room in our caucus for those who continually seek to divide our party and undermine government leadership.” But that the breakdown of the vote wasn’t released suggests that it wasn’t near unanimous and that opposition to Kenney still exists inside the UCP Caucus.
The United Conservative Party already didn’t appear completely united, and now, with a growing number of former UCP MLAs sitting in the opposition benches, it appears even less united.
Kenney made an example of Barnes and Loewen by having them kicked out of the UCP Caucus, but when the other 59 UCP MLAs wake up tomorrow morning, the problems that led them to make this decision today will still remain.
Update: Drew Barnes issued a statement on social media following his eviction from the UCP Caucus.
UCP constituency presidents and activists have signed a letter calling on Kenney to resign and for a leadership review to be held, and there have been rumblings of major unhappiness in the UCP caucus for months, but this is the first time a UCP MLA has called on the Premier to step down.
There is now an open rebellion against Kenney in the UCP caucus.
The Premier has no choice but to now remove Loewen from the government caucus. If he doesn’t, it will show that he has clearly lost control of his caucus and the loyalty of his MLAs.
As I have written before, the UCP Kenney helped create is an institutional mix of former Progressive Conservatives, who do not tolerate leaders who look like they are going to lose, and Wildrosers, who just don’t want to be led.
Now we wait to see how Kenney reacts.
Update: David Hanson, the UCP MLA for Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul, has posted on Facebook that he supports Loewen’s letter calling on Kenney to resign. Hanson was first elected as a Wildrose MLA in 2015 and was one of the 18 UCP MLAs who publicly criticized the government’s COVID-19 health restrictions. He also endorsed Brian Jean in the 2017 UCP leadership race.
Update: The UCP Caucus virtual meeting, which was scheduled to take place at 9:00 a.m. today has been cancelled.
In this episode of the Daveberta Podcast, Dave Cournoyer and Ryan Hastman discuss the latest news in Alberta politics, including Premier Rachel Notley’s response to the quashing of approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, how rumours of an early federal election could impact Alberta’s 2019 election, and Ryan’s favourite topic, the Alberta Party.
Having a high-profile nomination challenger like Millions unseat an incumbent in a nomination contest, especially as she is one of two women MLAs in the UCP caucus, would be embarrassing for the UCP.
Pitt’s caucus colleagues are rallying with support. Thirteen UCP MLAs (Nathan Cooper, Tany Yao, Jason Nixon, Mike Ellis, Todd Loewen, Rick Strankman, David Hanson, Scott Cyr, Glenn van Dijken, Prab Gill, Dave Schneider, Mark Smith and Wayne Drysdale) and Calgary Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie have publicly endorsed Pitt’s nomination bid through videos on her Facebook page.
It is unusual for an incumbent to garner so many endorsements in a nomination contest from other MLAs unless that incumbent is in danger of being defeated. It is also not clear if the endorsements will have an impact on the outcome of the nomination contest.
I am told that Pitt is fairly popular among her UCP MLA colleagues, but that she might not have laid the ground work needed in Airidrie to fend off a nomination challenge from someone as high-profile as Millions.
Controversy arose earlier this month when a member of the local UCP board of directors resigned after disagreeing with the local association’s decision to donate the $16,000 remaining in the bank account of the defunct local Wildrose Party association to the Alberta Fund political action committee.
The Alberta Fund PAC was created to supportBrian Jean‘s candidacy in the 2017 UCP leadership race and is run by former Wildrose Party president David Yager. Pitt endorsed Jean in the leadership race.
The UCP nomination vote in Airdrie-East will be held on June 20, 2018 from 11:00am to 8:00pm at the Town and Country Centre in Airdrie.
NDP nominate Phillips and Sabir
Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips has been officially nominated as the New Democratic Party candidate in Lethbridge-West. Phillips was first elected in 2015, earning 59 percent of the vote and unseating Progressive Conservative MLA Greg Weadick. Community and Social Services Minister Irfan Sabir was expected to be nomination as the NDP candidate in Calgary-McCall at a meeting on June 12, 2018.
Former PC MLA runs for Alberta Party nomination
Dave Quest is running for the Alberta Party nomination in Strathcona-Sherwood Park. Quest represented the district from 2008 to 2015 as a PC MLA. He served as Associate Minister for Seniors from 2013 to 2014. He briefly planned to run for municipal office in Strathcona County ahead of the 2017 elections but withdrew before the nomination deadline.
Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock – Monty Bauer, a grain farmer from Thorhild, is challenging MLA Glenn van Dijken for the UCP nomination. Bauer has been endorsed by former Westlock-St. Paul Conservative MP Brian Storseth.
Brooks-Medicine Hat – Conservative activist S. Todd Beasley is seeking the UCP nomination. Beasley was an organizer for the anti-NDP Alberta Wide Rallies held in 2016 and is the organizer behind the ‘Stop the Shock‘ group, which opposes the closure of dirty coal-fired power plants in Alberta.
Calgary-Edgemont: Prasad Panda was nominated as the UCP candidate in this district. Panda was first elected as the Wildrose Party candidate in the 2015 by-election in Calgary-Foothills.
Calgary-Shaw Brad Leishman is seeking the UCP nomination. Leishman was the Wildrose Party candidate in this district in the 2015 election.
Cypress-Medicine Hat – Drew Barnes has been acclaimed in the UCP nomination in this district covering the southeast corner of Alberta. Barnes was first elected as a Wildrose MLA in 2012 and was re-elected in 2015.
Edmonton-Meadows – Sant Sharma is seeking the UCP nomination.
Edmonton-Manning – Manwar Khan is seeking the Alberta Party nomination.
Edmonton-South – Pramod Kumar is seeking the Alberta Party nomination. Atul Ranade is seeking the UCP nomination. Ranade was a declared candidate for Mayor of Edmonton in 2017 but did not enter the race on nomination day.
Edmonton-Whitemud – Payman Parseyan has withdrawn from UCP nomination contest in Edmonton-South and is now seeking the UCP nomination in the neighbouring Edmonton-Whitemud district.
Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland – Dale Johnson is seeking the UCP nomination.
West Yellowhead – Maryann Chichak announced on her Facebook page that she has withdrawn from the UCP concest. Chichak has served as Mayor of the Town of Whitecourt since 2013 and was the Wildrose Party candidate in Whitecourt-Ste. Anne in the 2012 election.
Here are the latest updates to the list of nominees running to become candidates in Alberta’s next provincial election:
Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul – United Conservative Party MLA Scott Cyr has dropped out of the nomination contest in this district. Cyr was first elected to represent Bonnyville-Cold Lake in the 2015 election, and, due to electoral boundary changes, was forced to face off against his UCP caucus-mate David Hanson in the next election. Hanson has represented Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills since 2015.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Cyr said “I am at one of those cross-roads in life and over the next couple of months will pray for direction, sit and discuss my future with my wife and daughters and continue working hard for our constituency of Bonnyville – Cold Lake as I have always done.”
Calgary-Currie – The New Democratic Party has scheduled a nomination meeting for May 12, 2018. NDP MLA Brian Malkinson is seeking re-election and is expected to be nominated. Malkinson was first elected in 2015, earning 39 percent of the vote.
Calgary-East – Matthew Dirk is seeking the UCP nomination. The district is currently represented by NDP MLA Robyn Luff, who was elected in 2015 with 39 percent of the vote.
Calgary-Elbow – Chris Davis is the second candidate to join the UCP nomination in this district. Davis is a lawyer and past Calgary municipal election candidate. He placed second in City Council’s Ward 8 in 2017 with 32 percent of the vote behind incumbent Councillor Evan Woolley.
Edmonton-South – Tunde Obasan is seeking the UCP nomination in this new south Edmonton district. Obasan previously announced plans to run in Edmonton-Whitemud but withdrew from that race in January 2018.
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Photo: Culture Minister Ricardo Miranda, Education Minister David Eggen, Premier Rachel Notley, Community and Social Services Minister Irfan Sabir and Finance Minister Joe Ceci walk out of the Legislative chambers following the Speech from the Throne. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)