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.
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.
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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