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Pat Rehn welcomed back to jittery UCP caucus after being booted last January

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Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn during his mid-pandemic holiday in Mexico. Image: Facebook/Pat Rehn

On the morning of Jan. 14, a day after an Edmonton researcher revealed Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn had spent almost all of April, May, June and July in Edmonton while constituents complained he was never seen in the riding 250 kilometres to the north, Premier Jason Kenney kicked the missing MLA out of the United Conservative Party caucus.

In a Facebook post published that January morning, the premier said Rehn "has made no meaningful effort to work in his constituency, or properly to represent his hard-working constituents."

Moreover, Kenney stated, "I have repeatedly asked Mr. Rehn to be more present in his constituency. He has ignored calls from me, UCP caucus leadership, and his constituents to do so." There was also the matter of Rehn's mid-pandemic Mexican winter vacation, and the angry assertions of local business people he spent more time in Texas tending to a business he owned there than he did in the riding.

Accordingly, the premier said, "I have made the decision to remove Pat Rehn from the UCP Caucus, effective immediately. MLA Rehn will sit as an independent MLA. He will not be permitted to run for a future UCP nomination." (Emphasis added.)

That certainly sounded decisive.

Well, that was then. This is now. Apparently something has changed.

Yesterday, the prodigal MLA was welcomed back into the UCP fold. The welcoming wasn't done by Kenney, of course, for consistency's sake, one supposes. UCP caucus chair Nathan Neudorf extended the warm hand of renewed friendship to Rehn.

"Since his removal from caucus," said a news release from the UCP, "Rehn has worked tirelessly to rebuild trust with local families, businesses, elected officials and Indigenous leaders. As a result the United Conservative Caucus was presented with letters of support -- including from several municipalities and the Lesser Slave Lake Constituency Association -- requesting Rehn be allowed to rejoin caucus."

It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall at some of the meetings that led to those letters being sent -- seeing how unhappy locals in the rural riding north of Edmonton were with Rehn's underwhelming performance. The CBC said it asked for the letters, but was given a list of names of folks favourably disposed toward Rehn instead.

Not so long ago, the Lesser Slave Lake UCP constituency association was said to be seeking nominations for a candidate to replace Rehn. Is that still on?

Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman, one of the local politicians calling for Rehn to be fired at the end of last year, told the CBC neither he nor his council was consulted about the decision. Nor did they send a letter of endorsement, he said.

What could have changed, you ask? Well, the United Conservative Party and Premier Kenney himself are not exactly riding high these days, no matter how many times they proclaim this to be the best summer ever.

So there was, presumably, some danger Rehn might join exiled Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes and Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen, sent packing for daring to criticize the premier in mid-May, in some kind of right-wing opposition bloc.

A couple more defectors from the unhappy former Wildrose ranks of the UCP caucus, and they could almost have had a viable third party in the legislature!

Kenney's troubles were obviously seen as serious enough to bring Stephen Harper out of his recent obscurity yesterday to give the UCP Caucus a talking to about how they mustn't be mean to their premier and what's more, if they don't all hang together, they just might hang separately -- metaphorically speaking, of course.

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: Facebook/Pat Rehn

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