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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.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 81: Taking ideas and turning them into action. An interview with City Councillor Michael Janz.

Edmonton City Councillor Michael Janz joins the Daveberta Podcast to talk about the recent municipal election, his experiences during his first month on City Council, what he hopes to accomplish in the years ahead, and how ordinary Edmontonians can have an impact on decisions at City Hall. We also dive into provincial politics and what might lie ahead in the future for Premier Jason Kenney and Alberta’s 2023 election.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by the talented Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Recommended reading/listening

Categories
Alberta Politics

A look at this weekend’s UCP AGM as the formerly One-Big-Happy-Conservative-Family gathers for its first in-person convention since 2019

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s good news week ahead of this weekend’s United Conservative Party annual general meeting was largely overshadowed by a slow motion rebellion in his party.

While the Premier wanted to talk about childcare and the economy, a disgruntled group of UCP constituency presidents announced Monday morning that they had convinced 22 constituency associations to pass identical motions calling for a review of Kenney’s leadership to be moved before March 1, 2022.

The leadership review had been pushed to April 2022 from fall 2022 after Kenney averted a caucus revolt over the summer.

a map of the United Conservative Party constituency associations that have passed motions calling for a review of Jason Kenney’s leadership before March 1, 2022.
a map of the United Conservative Party constituency associations that have passed motions calling for a review of Jason Kenney’s leadership before March 1, 2022.

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.

Jason Kenney and Leela Aheer, UCP MLA Chestermere-Strathmore
Jason Kenney and former UCP deputy leader Leela Aheer in happier time (source: YouTube)

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.

Peter Guthrie MLA Airdrie-Cochrane UCP Communism
Peter Guthrie

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.

Independent MLA Todd Loewen , who was kicked out of the UCP Caucus earlier this year for calling on Kenney to resign, and Edmonton-South NDP MLA Thomas Dang wrote letters to the Chief Elections Officer asking his office to investigate the allegations.

Albertans, and UCP members, are angry at Kenney, but aside from former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean who is running for the UCP nomination in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election, there is no obvious heir apparent inside the UCP for his opponents to rally around.

Cynthia Moore has been acclaimed as President and Sonia Kont acclaimed as Vice President of Fundraising, but there are races for the Secretary and Vice President of Communications positions.

Central Peace-Notley UCP President Samantha Steinke, who has publicly called for an early leadership review, is challenging incumbent Ruven Rajoo for VP Communications. Red Deer-South constituency President Janis Nett and Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo President Vicki Kozmak-LeFrense are running for the Secretary position, which was made vacant when former Secretary Cathy Smith resigned earlier this year.

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.