Whatever happens to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in the weeks and months ahead, the smart money’s on him winning every fight at the United Conservative Party annual general meeting that starts tonight near Calgary.
So don’t get your hopes up that the AGM will turn into a battle royale that’ll make the great Canadian Liberal Party war between Jean Chretien and Paul Martin look like a hotdog-eating contest.
This is hardly a bold prediction. Kenney has a track record.
Nobody’s better at rigging a party machine to work in his favour than he is.
He’s already proved it with his justly renowned double reverse hostile takeover of the Progressive Conservative and the Wildrose parties in 2016 and 2017, and his subsequent assumption of the leadership of the Franken-party he created to succeed them — the UCP.
Kenney may be low enough in the polls right now to frighten his MLAs into thinking they could lose it all in the next election to Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party — and to persuade gullible NDP supporters they have an easy win ahead of them in 2023.
But his fight this weekend isn’t with the NDP. So this suggests his 22-per-cent approval rating with Albertans in recent polls generally won’t count for as much as you might think.
What’s more, we’re not talking about a general election where at least some rules exist to ensure fairness. It’s an AGM where Kenney and his minions hold most of the strings.
Right now his fiercest intramural opponents appear to be with a group of mostly rural MLAs, some of whom act as if they’ve just fallen off a turnip truck that bumped into town last night.
They’ve managed to get the 22 constituency association boards to hold votes calling for an early leadership review for the premier. Under the UCP constitution, that should be enough to make it happen.
But a motion to amend the constitution brought by the Edmonton-Northwest Constituency Association president Dave Prisco, the party’s communications manager and therefore in effect Kenney’s employee, is likely to come first.
Chances are good Kenney will sweep aside his hayseed opponents as easily as he ran off his naïve Progressive Conservative leadership competitors in Nov. 5, 2016. That was the night the mysterious boys on the bus in camo Kenney caps rolled into Red Deer, voted for their candidate, got Stephen Harper’s autograph, and rolled out again, reputedly back to a Bible school somewhere in the hinterlands.
Ask former MLA Sandra Jansen, one of the candidates for the PC leadership that year, about how that worked out.
Earlier this week, we learned about Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie’s complaint that PACs supporting the premier have been paying the $349 AGM fee and offering other favours for members willing to support Kenney’s wishes. Guthrie wants an investigation. The NDP and exiled former UCP MLAs Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen all maintain the practice is illegal.
But that question should be moot long before anything gets investigated. Because Kenney will have won the vote.
Yesterday, Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid reported on plans by Kenney supporters to keep the premier’s opponents from getting close to the microphones. He also said he’d read a letter that shows an Alberta oil company is rounding up and paying for new members to support the premier — in return for future favours.
If they lose every vote, will Kenney’s disgruntled rural opponents have the cojones to quit the UCP and sit as independents or form another party? Don’t count on that either.
And as for Brian Jean, who wants to contest the UCP nomination in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election and then challenge Kenney for the leadership, don’t put money on his success either, deep as his pockets may be. Roadblocks can be expected to appear suddenly in the path of the former Wildrose Opposition leader and UCP leadership contender.
Kenney may depart before the next election if there’s no miraculous recovery from the party’s horrible polls.
But it is unlikely to be on Peter Guthrie’s, Drew Barnes’s or Brian Jean’s timetables. And there’s no guarantee it’ll happen at all.
The AGM, the UCP’s first in-person mass meeting since the onset of the pandemic, will open at 5 p.m. today at the Grey Eagle Casino on the Tsuut’ina Nation adjacent to Calgary’s southwest. Debate and voting on governance questions are scheduled to take place between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Policy debates will be held Saturday. It looks like the effort to ensure the results suit Kenney is also well in hand.