It appears that the UCP will allow Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner to enter the leadership race, if she chooses, even though she has not had a current party membership for the full past six months as required (there is no doubt she is a committed Conservative partisan).
A similar request for an exemption by former Liberal Party leader Raj Shermanwas denied.
Kenney’s caretaker cabinet shuffle
Outgoing Premier Jason Kenney announced a cabinet shuffle to fill in the spots left by ministers leaving to run in the race to replace him.
Changes to the caretaker cabinet, which will be in place until a new Premier takes office after the October 6 UCP leadership vote, include:
Minister of Environment and Parks and Acting President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance Jason Nixon becomes President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance.
Associate Minister of Status of Women Whitney Issik becomes Minister of Environment and Parks.
Calgary-South East MLA Matt Jones becomes Minister of Children’s Services.
Minister of Infrastructure Prasad Panda becomes Minister of Transportation.
Calgary-Currie MLA Nicholas Milliken becomes Minister of Infrastructure.
Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville MLA Jackie Armstrong Homeniuk becomes the Associate Minister of Status of Women.
Deputy Government Whip Brad Rutherford becomes Chief Government Whip and Minister without Portfolio.
Unsurprisingly, everyone on the list is considered a loyalist, and a few, notably Issik, Milliken, and Rutherford, are considered vulnerable to strong NDP challenges in the next election.
Issik, Jones and Armstrong Homeniuk have publicly endorsed former finance minister Travis Toews for the UCP leadership, who is widely considered the establishment favourite in the race.
The cowboy hat wearing former Finance Minister from Beaverlodge, Travis Toews, launched his campaign last week with endorsements from 23 UCP MLAs, including Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro.
Savage and Grande Prairie-Mackenzie MP Chris Warkentin are co-chairing his campaign.
Toews is seen as the establishment favourite, which isn’t always a blessing.
Former Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney launched her campaign yesterday with a whistle-stop tour down the QEII, starting with media events in Edmonton, Penhold and Airdrie before ending at a +700-person rally in north east Calgary.
It was a strong kick-off.
Sawhney’s campaign is being run by well-known political strategist and conservative thinker Ken Boessenkool, who worked as an advisor to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former BC Premier Christy Clark.
Her former chief of staff (and former Daveberta Podcast co-host) Ryan Hastman is her deputy campaign manager.
Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt is Sawhney’s campaign chair.
It’s an odd fit for a leadership candidate who appears to be trying to position herself as a political moderate (no word if South Tyrol-like autonomy for Alberta will be in her platform).
Pitt endorsed Brian Jean for the UCP leadership 2017, and even have him credit for her entry into politics.
This time she’s backing Sawhney.
Jean is launching his campaign at a hotel in west Edmonton tomorrow.
Autonomy for Albertans is Jean’s slogan, not Anatomy for Albertans, as this writer first thought he read.
The former Wildrose Party leader launched his second political comeback in last year’s Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election with the singular purpose of defeating Kenney in the leadership review and run to replace him.
He’s met half his goal so far.
Another former Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith is also trying for her second political comeback after a short and disastrous stint on the Calgary Board of Education in the late 1990s and as Wildrose Party leader from 2009 until she infamously abandoned her party to join Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives in 2014.
For many conservatives, especially those of the Wildrose-variety, it is a betrayal that will live in infamy.
The leadership is only one-half of Smith’s comeback attempt.
She’s also challenging MLA Roger Reid for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod, which appears far from a safe-bet.
First-term south Calgary MLA Rebecca Schulz stepped down as Children’s Services Minister to jump into the race.
Schulz wants to take on what she describes as “the boys club.”
She has the backing of Calgary City Councillor Dan McLean, Health Minister Jason Copping, UCP MLAs Michaela Frey and Jeremy Nixon, MPs Laila Goodridge and Stephanie Kusie, former federal Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose and former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall.
The Wall endorsement might seem odd, but he endorsed Schulz in her bid to win the hotly contested Calgary-Shaw UCP nomination race back in 2018.
The Saskatchewan native was a spokesperson in Wall’s government before moving to Alberta in the mid-2010s, and her husband, Cole Schulz, was a ministerial chief of staff in Regina (he’s now the Vice President, Communications for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in Calgary).
Northern Alberta UCP MLA-in-exile Todd Loewen also jumped into the race, as did Village of Amisk Mayor Bill Rock, another former Wildrose Party candidate.
But one of the big potential contenders, Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, is playing coy.
Maybe she’ll run. Maybe she won’t.
Her text message reply to Press Gallery Dean Don Braid was “hahahaha!”
And the hot gossip in political circles today is that erratic former Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman is thinking about joining the fray.
Sherman was first elected as a PC MLA in 2008 but was driven out of that party and scooped up the Liberal leadership in 2011. He left politics in 2015 and returned to being full-time ER doctor.
He also donated $4,000 to the Alberta Party last year.
So it’s a scramble. It’s a dog’s breakfast.
And there could be more.
We’ll know soon enough.
July 20 is the deadline for candidates to pay up if they want to stay in the race.
The high-entry fee will quickly weed out candidates who can’t raise enough money.
August 12 is the deadline to buy a membership.
No time for the two-minute Tories who wreaked havoc against the establishment candidates in the old PC Party leadership races.
The party is also organizing debates and attendance by all candidates is mandatory.
Stragglers will risk be fined or disqualified, or both.
It’s no Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, but it’s bound to be entertaining to watch.
Liberal Party seeks new leader
The Alberta Liberal Party also announced that it will be holding their own leadership vote and choosing a new leader on September 25, 2022.
Former party leader David Khanstepped down in November 2020 after failing to win a seat in the 2019 election, marking the first time since before 1986 that the provincial Liberals not represented in the Legislature.
Travis Toews: Finance Minister since 2019. MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti since 2019. Former president of the Canadian Cattleman’s Association. Looks comfortable in a business suit or Carhartts. Sounds like the adult in the room but is connected to a northern Alberta Bible college with some fairly backwards views about yoga and same-sex relationships. Probably one of the more hardline fiscal conservatives in the UCP cabinet. Grand champion of the 1976 4-H calf show in Hythe. Likely UCP establishment favourite.
Brian Jean: Leader of the Wildrose Party from 2015 to 2017. Target of a kamikaze campaign during the 2017 UCP leadership race. MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche since 2022. MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin from 2015 to 2018. MP for Fort McMurray-Athabasca from 2004 to 2014. Toyed with COVID skepticism and Alberta separatism. Jason Kenney’s worst enemy. Lawyer, businessman and Golden Boy of Fort McMurray.
Danielle Smith: Leader of the Wildrose Party from 2009 to 2014. MLA for Highwood from 2012 to 2015. Crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservative Party in 2014. Calgary public school trustee from 1998 to 1999. Alumna of the Fraser Institute, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Calgary Herald, Global TV, and Chorus Radio. Current President of the Alberta Enterprise Group. Running for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod. Embraced COVID conspiracy theories.
Todd Loewen: MLA for Central Peace-Notley since 2019. MLA for Grande Prairie-Smoky from 2015 to 2019 and Wildrose candidate in the riding in 2008 and 2012. Resigned as UCP Caucus chair in 2021 after calling on Kenney to resign and was kicked out of caucus the next day. Formed a UCP Caucus-in-exile with fellow ousted MLA Drew Barnes. Drove his motorhome in the Freedom Convoy to Ottawa. Renowned in the UCP Caucus for his pancake cooking skills.
These four have registered others are expected.
Transportation Minister and Calgary-North East MLA Rajan Sawhney has tapped longtime conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool to run her exploratory committee.
“[W]hat this race needs right now is just not more of the same,” Sawhney told reporters in a statement.
Children’s Services Minister and Calgary-Shaw MLA Rebecca Schultz isn’t in the race yet but already has an endorsement from former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. Schultz worked for Wall’s government before she moved to Alberta in 2016.
So are former cabinet ministers Leela Aheer and Devin Dreeshen.
And Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner is rumoured to be testing the waters. She would be an interesting addition to the race, though recent history has not been kind to federal politicians jumping into provincial politics in Alberta.
The party has appointed a committee that is expected to release rules, entry requirements and timelines for the leadership race before the beginning of summer.
UDPATE! Village of Amisk mayor Bill Rock has registered with Elections Alberta to run in the UCP leadership race. Rock was the Wildrose Party candidate in the Wetaskiwin-Camrose riding in the 2015 election. He was parachuted into the riding after previously nominated candidate Gordon Hatch withdrew from the race and endorsed PC MLA Verlyn Olson following Danielle Smith‘s floor-crossing.
Note: Registering as a candidate with Elections Alberta does not mean automatic approval as a candidate by the UCP. Registering with Election Alberta allows the candidates to fundraise under Alberta’s current political finance rules.
“We will not believe that result. We will not accept it, but we won’t even believe it, because our own polling here within our constituency is 72 per cent against Premier Kenney,” Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills president Rob Smith told CTV.
There’s a whole cabal of UCP MLAs who probably share Smith’s cynicism.
If Kenney wins he’ll have to decide the fate of his biggest critics in his own party.
What happens to Brian Jean? Leela Aheer? Angela Pitt? Jason Stephan? Peter Guthrie?
Cast them out and they’ll form another conservative party.
And then the UCP might as well drop the U.
So there’s the problem. Even if Kenney wins he still loses.
It’s a win-lose or lose-lose scenario.
It’s going to be a wild ride.
The UCP leadership review is probably going to take up most of the political oxygen in Alberta over the next few days, so I just wanted to note a few candidate nomination developments:
Former federal Liberal candidate and provincial Liberal leadership candidate Kerry Cundalis running for the Alberta Party nomination in Calgary-Elbow. She ran for the Alberta Liberal Party leadership in 2017 and joined the Alberta Party shortly afterward. A nomination meeting is scheduled for May 28, 2022.
Former cabinet minister David Eggen will be acclaimed as the Alberta NDP candidate in Edmonton-North West on May 18. Eggen is the second longest serving MLA currently in the Legislature, having represented Edmonton-Calder from 2004 to 2008 and 2012 to 2019, and Edmonton-North West from 2019 to the present.
“Hey Dave, is Jason Kenney going to win the leadership review?”
It’s a question I get asked a lot these days.
I don’t know.
Anyone who tells you different probably has a personal or career stake in the game.
What was supposed to be a big in-person vote in Red Deer back in April turned into a province-wide mail in vote. And that loud swooshing sound you heard wasn’t the sound of a late winter Chinook but the sound of the goal posts moving.
And there’s strong feelings on both sides of this fight.
But commentary by out-of-Alberta conservatives, who probably have fond memories of Kenney’s two decades in Ottawa, almost always omit how intentionally and aggressively divisive he has been since stepping into the Premier’s Office.
Albertans who oppose, or even just dare to criticize, his government’s policies have been routinely derided and attacked by Kenney.
Are you an Albertan who opposed closing and selling provincial parks?
Then you’re a radical urban eco-marxist.
Did you oppose open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains?
Then you must be a radical urban eco-marxist who votes NDP (can you imagine telling that to a 5th generation cattle rancher from southern Alberta?).
You get the drift.
So, do Albertans see Kenney as the conservative philosopher king that his out-of-province admirers do?
Do normal UCP members?
Will Kenney win on May 18?
Will he get more than 50 per cent of the vote?
Your guess is probably as good as mine.
Will the deep divisions inside the UCP be healed?
Not a chance.
As veteran political columnist Graham Thomson signed off in a recent column, “No matter what happens that day, Alberta’s already wild politics will just get wilder.”
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Two-term MLA and vocal Kenney-critic Leela Aheer has filed her intentions with Elections Alberta to run for the United Conservative Party nomination in Chestermere-Strathmore. Aheer was first elected in 2015 as a Wildrose Party candidate and was re-elected with 68.5 per cent of the vote in 2019 in the riding.
Aheer is being challenged for the nomination by Chantelle de Jonge, a former political staffer to former Calgary-Skyview Member of Parliament Jag Sahota and recent graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Philosophy from the University of Calgary.
Jeremy Nixon running for re-election in Calgary-Klein
UCP MLA Jeremy Nixon has also signalled his intentions with Elections Alberta to run for his party’s nomination in Calgary-Klein, the riding he has represented since 2019.
Nixon currently serves as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Community and Social Services for Civil Society. He was removed from a previous role as parliamentary secretary for civil society in January 2021 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.
The riding was home to one of the closer races in Calgary in the 2019 election and is expected to be strongly contested by the NDP in the next election.
Marie Renaud running for re-election in St. Albert
St. Albert NDP MLA Marie Renaud announced her plans to seek her party’s nomination to run for re-election in when the provincial election is called.
“I will continue to champion public healthcare, public education and economic security for St. Albert and Albertans across the province,” Renaud wrote in a tweet announcing her candidacy. “We cannot build a prosperous future by continuing to pass on costs to municipalities like St. Albert and, in turn, to Albertan families.”
Renaud was first elected to represent the suburban city located just north of Edmonton in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019 with 46.2 per cent of the vote. She was the first NDP MLA elected in St. Albert since 1986.
She currently serves as the Official Opposition critic for Community & Social Services, and Francophone Issues.
A nomination meeting is scheduled for March 24, 2022.
Former Alberta Party candidate running for UCP nomination
Beaver County Reeve Kevin Smook announced on Twitter that he plans to seek the UCP nomination in the Camrose, the riding currently represented by UCP MLA Jackie Lovely.
“I’m not here for the photo ops — I intend to roll up my sleeves and work for you and for the people of the Camrose Constituency,” Smook tweeted, in an apparent shot at Lovely.
Smook was first elected to Beaver County Council in 2013 and served as Reeve from 2014 to 2017 before starting his current term in 2021. He was the Alberta Party candidate in Camrose in the 2019 election, where he placed third with 12.8 per cent of the vote.
“I ran for the Alberta Party in the 2019 provincial election,” Smook told the Camrose Booster. “And while there was a conservative connection with them, I know that the strongest conservative movement is the United Conservative Party and I feel much more aligned here.
Tik tok, tik tok, the countdown to Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche
The countdown continues as Jason Kenney now has 6 days left to call the by-election in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche. The by-election needs to be called by February 15 to choose a successor to former MLA Laila Goodridge who resigned nearly six months ago on August 15, 2021.
UCP candidate Brian Jean, who led the Wildrose Party from 2015 to 2018, has called on Kenney to resign and is openly organizing and fundraising against his party’s leader ahead of the April 9 leadership review. There has been chatter in some political circles that Kenney may be delaying the by-election until the last possible moment in order to replace Jean and appoint a UCP candidate who will demonstrate more loyalty to the leader.
Outside the UCP drama that has enveloped this by-election are NDP candidate Ariana Mancini , who was joined by Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Richard Feehan on the campaign trail last week, and Wildrose Independence Party leader Paul Hinman, who has been spending a considerable amount of time campaigning in the northeast Alberta riding.
The Alberta Party has not yet named its candidate.
Airdrie resident Steve Durrell has announced his plans to seek the Alberta NDP nomination to run in the Airdrie-Cochrane riding in the next provincial election.
“This coming election is one of high stakes. From education to our economy, from healthcare to respect for a person’s self-identity, Jason Kenney and the UCP have failed Albertans at every turn,” Durrell said in a statement posted on Facebook. “It’s time for change and to get Alberta back on track, and that is why I am seeking the nomination to run for the NDP, and support Rachel Notley on her road to once again being Premier of Alberta!”
Durrell is an organizer for United Steelworkers Local 1944.
If nominated, this will be Durrell’s second time as a NDP candidate in the riding. He ran in 2019 and placed second with 25.2 per cent of the vote behind United Conservative Party candidate Peter Guthrie.
Durrell became a target of Premier Jason Kenney in the 2019 election, when the UCP leader mocked him for being a 19-year old. He was actually 29-year old father of three at the time.
Rumble in Chestermere-Strathmore
Postmedia columnist Don Braidpenned a column about a showdown in the Chestermere-Strathmore riding, where Kenney loyalists are alleged to have mounted a hostile takeover of the local UCP constituency association.
The previous, or current riding association (depending on who’s side of the story you believe), is loyal to two-term UCP MLA and former UCP deputy leader Leela Aheer, who has called on Kenney to resign after a former political staffer filed a lawsuit against the Premier’s Office alleging sexual harassment, defamation, and toxic workplace culture at the Legislature.
Ahreer is popular among her UCP MLA colleagues so Kenney probably does not have the support to remove her from the UCP caucus like he did Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen last summer, so removing her local support (and access to the local UCP bank account) is a more indirect way of ensuring she does not seek re-election in 2023. If Aheer still has political ambitions, she will probably need to find a new party to run for.
As first noted on this website in May 2021, former federal Conservative staffer Chantelle de Jonge is already challenging Aheer for the UCP nomination to run in the next election. de Jonge worked in the constituency office of former Calgary-Skyview Member of Parliament Jag Sahota and recently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Philosophy from the University of Calgary.
Confirmed UCP candidate and future UCP leadership hopeful Brian Jean is continuing to fire shots across Kenney’s bow ahead of the leadership review and the impending by-election in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche.
Jean called on the UCP executive board to commit to holding an in-person vote on April 9 rather than moving to an online vote in response to the fifth wave of COVID-19 that is sweeping across Alberta. It was largely assumed that the Kenney loyal executive board chose to hold an in-person meeting in Red Deer to give the Premier more control of the process, but the rise in COVID-19 cases would justify moving the vote online.
A Leger poll released in December 2021 showed that 73 per cent of Albertans believed the province would be better off with a new premier.
In the background of this, as Jean noted, the RCMP are continuing to investigate allegations of voter fraud in the online vote for the UCP leadership in 2017. Kenney defeated Jean in that vote.
Jean defeated Kenney-backed candidate Joshua Gogo in the UCP nomination contest held in Nov. 2021. He will face NDP candidate Ariana Mancini and Wildrose Independence Party leader Paul Hinman in a by-election that needs to be called by Feb. 15, 2022. The other parties have not yet announced their candidates.
The Alberta Party is expected to make an announcement soon.
The Independence Party of Alberta has not announced a candidate, but announced in Nov. 2021 that their local constituency association board had been formed.
Best Alberta MLA: Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highands-Norwood
Always a fan favourite, for the second year in a row Janis Irwin has been voted Best Alberta MLA. Irwin is a hard-working MLA in the Assembly and in her constituency, and her sense of humour (and her social media star cat, Oregano) has endeared her to politicos on both sides of the aisle.
Best Alberta Cabinet Minister: Leela Aheer, Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women
Nurturing a reputation as an affable politician, Leela Aheer proved herself to be on the right side of public opinion in Alberta when she spoke out against Premier Jason Kenney and called on him to resign. The MLA for Chestermere-Strathmore was booted from cabinet for speaking out against Kenney, but that probably only further endeared her to the growing majority of Albertans who disapprove of the Premier’s performance.
That Aheer remains a member of UCP Caucus after openly calling on Kenney to resign is also a testament to how well-liked she is by her UCP MLA colleagues.
Best Opposition MLA: Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona
For the third year in a row, Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley has been voted Best Opposition MLA. Notley continues to be her party’s greatest asset and, if the polls and party fundraising returns are any indication, might stand a good chance at leading her party to form government when the next election is held in 2023.
If Notley’s party is successful in 2023, she would be the first former Premier to return to that office in Alberta’s history.
Up and Coming MLA to Watch in 2022: Rakhi Pancholi, MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud
A tireless advocate for childcare since she was first elected in 2019, Rakhi Pancholi has been voted Up and Coming MLA to Watch for a second year in a row.
Pancholi is smart and well-spoken, and has been tough and tenacious in her calls for affordable and accessible childcare for Alberta families.
Best Political Play of 2021: Jyoti Gondek‘s election as Mayor of Calgary
Jyoti Gondek defied public expectations and a motivated conservative establishment to win Calgary’s mayoral election in October 2021, becoming the first woman to be elected mayor of Alberta’s largest city.
With hundreds of submissions made to the Best of Alberta Politics 2021 survey, your choices have been sorted and you can now vote in each category. Voting is open until Dec. 22, 2021 at 6:00 pm and the winners will be announced shortly after that.
2. Who was the best Alberta cabinet minister of 2021? – VOTE
Leela Aheer, Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women
Ric McIver, Minister of Municipal Affairs
Rajan Sawhney, Minister of Transportation
Honourable mentions to runners-up Minister of Health Jason Copping and Minister of Finance Travis Toews. It is also worth noting that a large number of people chose to submit various versions of “none of the above.”
3. Who was the best opposition MLA of 2021? – VOTE
Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona
Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West
Honourable mention to runners-up Edmonton-City Centre MLA David Shepherd and Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi..
4. Who is the up and coming MLA to watch in 2022? – VOTE
Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
Brian Jean, (potentially future) MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche
Rakhi Pancholi, MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud
Honourable mentions to runners-up Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner and Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang.
5. What was the biggest political play of 2021 in Alberta? – VOTE
Brian Jean’s political comeback
Jason Kenney’s “Open For Summer/Best Summer Ever” COVID-19 plan
Jyoti Gondek’s election as Mayor of Calgary
What was the biggest political issue of 2021 in Alberta?
In some past years this category has been a dog’s breakfast, but like last year, this year your choice was clear. COVID-19 was the clear choice of the overwhelming majority of people who submitted in this category. The global COVID-19 pandemic defined Alberta politics in 2021, with the failure of Premier Jason Kenney’s “Open For Summer” plan and the fourth wave that followed garnering the most submissions.
Premier Jason Kenney appeared to walk away mostly unscathed from last weekend’s United Conservative Party Annual General Meeting in Calgary.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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?”
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.
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.
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 Neudorfis 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 Lovelyis 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 Nixonis 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.
The leadership review had been pushed to April 2022 from fall 2022 after Kenney averted a caucus revolt over the summer.
According to recent polling, Kenney is the least popular Premier in Canada, sitting at 22 per cent approval among Albertans, and his party has floundered in the polls and fundraising for the past year.
Rachel Notley would be Premier once again if an election were held today, which will surely be a future on the minds of many UCP activists this weekend.
Kenney’s fumbling response to the COVID-19 pandemic is part of the problem, but so to is his cabinet’s decision to wage a multi-front war against everyone from Alberta’s parks, nurses and teachers while trying to open the Rocky Mountains up to open-pit coal mining.
A party that famously promised “Jobs, Economy and Pipelines” in the 2019 election has delivered everything but.
When the business of the meeting begins, special resolutions will only be able to be brought to the floor of the AGM by Kenney and one resolution being introduced by the Kenney-friendly UCP association in Edmonton-North West would increase the number of constituency associations needed to trigger an early leadership review from 1/4 of 87 to 1/3 of 87.
A list of of the 22 constituency associations who passed the motion calling for an early review shows that this is largely a rural revolt against Kenney’s leadership, likely from the unruly rural Wildrose-side of the party, which has never been satisfied to subjugate itself to to the kind of centralized leadership that the Premier would have been comfortable with in Ottawa.
The first signatory of the letter from the 22 was a name that would be quite familiar to Kenney – Jack Redekop – the current president of the Calgary-Fish Creek UCP and former president of Kenney’s won former federal electoral district association in Calgary-Midnapore.
One of the common criticisms of Kenney is that he has become detached from the party’s organization and local leadership since his election as Premier in 2019. Wildrosers who don’t like a centralized party leadership are unhappy, as are former Progressive Conservatives, who might be accustomed to more attention and access to their leadership.
The two groups have also discovered that all the things they disliked about each others politics when they were two parties are still there, except now they are in the same party.
The revolt hasn’t been limited to the party membership.
Four MLAs – Chestemere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer, Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie, Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, and Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried – have either publicly called for Kenney to resign or have openly criticized his leadership. And while most of their colleagues have avoided making public comments about Kenney’s leadership, the unhappiness among UCP MLAs and their staff is palpable.
There has been a steady stream of high-profile political staffers leaving their positions in the UCP government for jobs in the private sector. This past month saw the departure of press secretary Blaise Boehmer, who levelled some pretty heavy criticisms against Kenney, and UCP Caucus executive director Brittany Baltimore, who both recently took jobs with government relations companies.
Guthrie levelled allegations to the UCP Caucus this week that Political Action Committees supporting Kenney were paying the delegate fees of supporters in order to stack the votes in favour of the Premier during the AGM.
Postmedia columnist Don Braid wrote in his most recent column that a private company was organizing to send delegates in order to curry favour with UCP cabinet ministers if Kenney survives his leadership challenges.
A number of candidates are contesting regional director positions, including Sundre-resident Heidi Overguard, who was appointed by the UCP government to the Board of Directors of Alberta Health Services in Nov. 2019.
Meanwhile, UCP members will be lining up at the microphone to debate policies about cancel culture, private health care, private schools, and hydrogen, among other issues. The CBC reported that Kenney’s office instructed staffers to vote down policies “introducing a provincial sales tax, relocalizing 911 dispatch, a moratorium on new coal exploration and development on the eastern slopes of the Rockies and creating a revenue-neutral Alberta carbon tax to replace the federal backstop.”
This weekend’s convention will be a much different affair from the party’s last in-person annual general meeting after it’s big win in the 2019 election.
Kenney will surely be focused on rallying the party to give him one more chance ahead of next spring’s review, but don’t expect to hear many of the celebratory rallying cries we heard two years ago. The party no longer feels like it is united and it is certainly not the one big conservative happy family that Kenney helped establish in 2017.
The UCP AGM starts at the Grey Eagle Resort & Casino in Calgary on Friday, Nov. 19 and will wrap up on Sunday, Nov. 21.
Former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean announced today that he plans to run for the job he quit three years ago.
Jean announced on Facebook that he plans to seek the United Conservative Party nomination in the upcoming Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election. The by-election to replace Laila Goodridge, who was recently elected as a Member of Parliament, needs to be called by Feb. 15, 2022. He is the second candidate to announce after Joshua Gogo entered the race last month.
Jean represented the predecessor riding, Fort McMurray-Conklin, from 2015 until 2018, when he quit after losing the UCP leadership to Jason Kenney.
This is Jean’s second political comeback. His first happened when he was a last minute candidate for the Wildrose Party leadership in 2015 after stepping down as a MP in 2014. He saved the party from the brink of oblivion in that election and became leader of the Official Opposition.
Since leaving the Legislature in 2018, he has become a vocal critic of the government, flirted with western separatism in online columns, and called for Kenney to resign as leader of the UCP.
“Something must be done or Rachel Notley will win the next election with an overwhelming majority,” Jean wrote on Facebook of the popular NDP leader who’s party has been leading in the polls since last November, once again publicly signalling his lack of confidence in Kenney.
Jean has every reason to dislike Kenney after an alleged Kamakaze campaign was organized against him during the UCP leadership race, and since quitting he has appeared to take pleasure in poking at his rival from the sidelines.
Jean was even spotted at a Calgary Stampede BBQ hosted by ousted UCP MLAs Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen over the summer.
There is little doubt that he could win the nomination and the by-election. He is a well-known and popular figure in Fort McMurray, and he comes across as affable and down to earth to anyone who meets him. His lack of stick-to-it-iveness should probably raise some concerns, but at this point local conservatives might just be hopeful to find a candidate who can reliably hold on to the seat.
The question is whether the increasingly unpopular Kenney will allow a rival who has openly called for his resignation to run under his party’s banner?
And if Jean isn’t allowed to run for Kenney’s party, will he run as an Independent or for another party, like the struggling Wildrose Independence Party.
Of course, Jean isn’t alone in calling for Kenney’s resignation.
No emergency caucus meeting was held to kick them out, and perhaps more notably, no Kenney loyalists in the cabinet or caucus stepped up to rebuke them and defend their leader. The silence was deafening.
So, Jean now wants his seat back, and he probably wants his party back too.
It is not uncommon for party leaders and politicians to spend time in ridings where by-elections are expected,
Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview NDP MLA Deron Bilous, who served as Economic Development Minister in the first Notley government, is in Fort McMurray this week and has posted a series of videos about his visit on Instagram.
The UCP Caucus was scheduled to hold its annual retreat in Fort McMurray on Sept. 15 and 16, but the event that would have brought most UCP MLAs to the northeast Alberta city ahead of the by-election was abruptly canceled on Sept. 10 after rumours that Kenney was facing a caucus revolt. Kenney also cancelled his scheduled Sept. 15 keynote speech to the annual Oil Sands Conference and Trade Show, which the UCP Caucus retreat was planned around.
On Oct. 26, 2021, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was having a rare good day. He got the result he argued he was looking for from the province-wide Equalization Referendum and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave him the gift of appointing long-time environmental activist Steven Guilbeault as Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
Kenney’s good day lasted less than 24 hours.
In what can only be described as a bombshell story, the CBC first reported today that a former ministerial Chief of Staff is suing the Premier’s Office, “saying she suffered from a toxic workplace culture and was fired as retribution for speaking out about the problems she saw there.”
The allegations in Ariella Kimmel‘s lawsuit include sexual harassment and heavy drinking by ministers and staff in legislature offices, as well as claims that senior staff in the premier’s office fabricated rumours about her contributing to her termination, reported CBC journalist Elise von Scheel.
The CBC reported that Kimmel has filed a lawsuit against the Kenney’s office for alleged sexual harassment and defamation.
Kimmel was Chief of Staff to Minister Doug Schweitzer until February 2021 and before that worked as Director of Community Relations in the Premier’s Office and as the United Conservative Party’s Director of Outreach before the 2019 election.
Kimmel had previously worked for Kenney during his time in Ottawa as executive coordinator for multiculturalism when he was Minister of Employment and Social Development and as an assistant during his time as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
The statement of claim, which is reported in detail by CBC, makes serious allegations against numerous officials and staffers in the UCP government, including Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen.
Responding to a question in the Assembly today from Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood NDP MLA Janis Irwin, Kenney said that his office was appointing an independent review to make recommendations to revise human resource practices for political staff.
Calgary-Fish Creek UCP MLA Richard Gotfried called on the government to not wait for a review and instead immediately adopt the Respect in the Workplace program promoted by Respect Group Inc.
While none of the allegations have been proven in court, the conditions described are probably not uncommon in political offices across Canada. Kimmel’s lawsuit shines a big spotlight on a toxic workplace culture in the Legislature that needs to change immediately.
Aheer is having none of it
Chestermere-Strathmore UCP MLA Leela Aheer responded to the allegations by calling on Kenney to resign and drawing comparisons to disgraced Calgary City Councillor Sean Chu. A A former cabinet minister and UCP deputy leader, Aheer was dropped from cabinet after criticizing the UCP’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Standing at a podium in the Legislature Rotunda today, Aheer refused to stand down and appeared to be daring Kenney and her MLA colleagues to remove her from the UCP Caucus.
UCP MLAs voted to remove Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA DrewBarnes and Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen from the caucus in June following Loewen’s call for Kenney to resign.
Kenney avoided a caucus revolt and non-confidence vote last month when he agreed to push up his leadership review from fall 2022 to April 2022. That move was successful in appeasing the disorganized opposition inside the UCP Caucus, but not the party, as numerous UCP constituency associations continue to push for Kenney’s review to be held before March 1, 2022.
Kenney’s approval rating dropped to an abysmal 22 per cent last month and leaked poll results showed that 75 per cent of Albertans disapprove of the UCP government, one of the strongest disapproval ratings for an Alberta government in recent memory.
Kenney swapped Health Minister Tyler Shandro with Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping in an apparent hope that this might salvage his leadership amid growing calls for his resignation.
Shandro has been a lightning rod as Health Minister, but that was by design. Every decision he made had Kenney’s stamp of approval. He was doing as he was told.
Swapping Shandro for Copping in the middle of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is more about politics than good governance.
The blow to Kenney’s leadership after the failure of his Open for Summer plan that led to a deadlier fourth wave of COVID-19 in Alberta is not going to be fixed with a cabinet shuffle.
Kenney’s plummeting popularity probably helped cost Erin O’Toole his chance of becoming Prime Minister in 2021. And the Premier almost certainly contributed to a sharp decline in Conservative support in Alberta that cost his federal cousins four seats in the province.
A few months ago it was almost unimaginable that the Conservatives would actually lose seats in Alberta in this federal election. But the NDP picked up an additional seat and the Liberals might have won two.
Calls for a leadership review are growing from UCP constituency associations and party executives like vice-president Joel Mullen. Even former deputy leader Leela Aheer has publicly questioned why he hasn’t stepped down. And the right-wing Western Standard website has reported on a rumour that country music star and two time Conservative candidate George Canyon might run for the party presidency on the platform of forcing a vote on Kenney’s leadership.
The UCP Caucus is holding a mandatory in-person meeting tomorrow, where, I imagine the growing number of disgruntled MLAs will have a lot to say about their leader’s future.
UCP waited until after the election to ask for federal help
Transportation Minister Ric McIver, who is in charge of Alberta’s Emergency Management Office, waited until the day after the federal election to send a letter to federal minister Bill Blair requesting help from the Ottawa to deal with the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UCP government waited until after Sept. 20 to request help because they didn’t want to embarrass the federal Conservatives during the election. Let that sink in.
The government’s plea for help from the federal government and other provinces will almost certainly undermine Kenney’s argument that Alberta is being treated unfairly by the rest of Canada, a key part of the reason for a province-wide referendum in October to ask for the equalization formula to be removed from the Constitution.
New Senate Nominee candidates
The nomination deadline passed at 12:00 pm yesterday for candidates to enter the Senate Nominee Election, which is being held in conjunction with two province-wide referendums and municipal elections on October 18, 2021.
Recent People’s Party of Canada candidates Ann McCormack, Kelly Lorencz, and Nadine Wellwood filed their papers to run as Senate Nominee candidates before the polls closed in the federal election in which they were defeated.
Also recently joining the Senate Nominee Election are Town of Ponoka Mayor Richard Bonnett, who ran for the Liberal Party in the 2004 federal election, and former Slave Lake Mayor and physician Karina Pillay.
Brian Jean’s favourite hobby is trolling Jason Kenney on the internet
With a provincial by-election expected to be called in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche in the next five months, Kenney’s arch-enemy, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, is musing online that he might run as a candidate. Jean asked for feedback from his followers on Facebook about whether he should run in the by-election in the area he represented as an MLA from 2015 to 2018.
Since leaving elected office in 2019, Jean has flirted with Alberta separatism and recently publicly mused about running for the leadership of the Alberta Party, which he did not. He has also called on Kenney to resign as leader of the UCP.
The by-election will be held to replace former UCP MLA Laila Goodridge, who was elected as the Conservative MP for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake in the Sept. 20 federal election.