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Reanimated rebellion in UCP caucus ranks

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The Sky Palace dinner. Image credit: @TheBreakdownAB/Twitter

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's pandemic patio party at the Sky Palace and his chuckleheaded response to the inevitable criticism that followed seems to have once again loosed the spirit of rebellion in some of the Wildrosy corners of his United Conservative Party caucus.

Responding to constituents who mistook her for one of the political aides at the boozy rooftop dinner Wednesday evening in photos of the affair (snapped by a mystery paparazzo) featuring Kenney and three of his senior ministers, Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt openly contradicted the premier's repeated denials he broke any rules.

"Looking at these photos it seems clear to me that several health restrictions were violated," Pitt boldly stated on her Facebook account.

Noting online that there had been speculation she was at the meeting -- she bears a passing resemblance to Kenney's Deputy Chief of Staff, Pamela Livingston -- Pitt reassured her constituents it wasn't her.

"Much of the public concern about this incident has been about the hypocrisy of senior officials breaking their own rules," she stated. "I can certainly understand these concerns."

"I'm with you, Angela," Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson soon chimed in, also on Facebook. "Albertans are angry, again, and rightly so, disappointing."

Three weeks ago, Premier Kenney seemed to have put a lid on the uprising inside the UCP caucus when he managed, after a day-long argument with his caucus mates, to turf two dissident rural MLAs with Wildrose Party roots who had openly challenged his leadership and response to COVID-19.

Kenney looked and acted as if he were firmly in control after Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen, who had called for the premier to resign for imposing too many COVID-19 restrictions, and Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, a thorn in the premier's side for months on similar topics, were banished to sit as independents in the legislature.

Referring yesterday to Premier Kenney's threats to caucus members after Loewen and Barnes were booted out, Hanson observed that the rule breaking at the premier's catered dinner party was "surprising since he told us we would all be ejected if we were caught violating the health guidelines."

So what will Kenney do now?

He'd almost certainly encourage more dissidents to come out of the woodwork if he throws former Wildrosers Pitt and Hanson out of the UCP caucus for their defiance.

If he lets them stay, he would probably embolden more internal dissent from other former Wildrose members who, like them, think most COVID-19 restrictions should never have been imposed in the first place.

There are thought to be 14 other MLAs sympathetic to Barnes and Loewen still in the UCP legislative caucus.

Either way, the rift in the UCP looks deeper and the premier looks weaker -- not images he should want to project if he hopes to get the UCP out of its current slump in the polls.

Perhaps Kenney could threaten to sue his rebel MLAs, as he blustered at NDP Calgary-McCall MLA Irfan Sabir in the legislature on Thursday for essentially saying the same thing Pitt has now stated publicly in writing.

"Will the premier, the health minister, the finance minister and the House leader commit to paying a $2,000 fine for breaching the public health orders?" the NDP justice critic asked during question period.

"You all owe Albertans $8,000 and an apology."

The premier responded: "If said outside this space, that would be considered defamatory, Mr. Speaker."

Well, now it's been said outside that place, and by a member of Kenney's own party, no less. What's he gonna do?

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image credit: @TheBreakdownAB/Twitter

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