Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, now somewhat more firmly entrenched as leader of the United Conservative Party, addresses the party’s AGM. Credit: United Conservative Party of Canada / Facebook

The agenda for the final day of the United Conservative Party annual general meeting yesterday showed “Catholic and Protestant Service” at 9 a.m., followed by election readiness training for the rest of the day.

Presumably, delegates who took part in the devotions prayed hard for providence to smile on their troubled party at least one more time. It wasn’t clear from the schedule whether they petitioned the Almighty together or separately. 

If the UCP managed to hold a single ecumenical service that papered over 500 years of differences between Catholics and Protestants, perhaps Premier Jason Kenney’s advisors deserve some of the credit they’re giving themselves for the state of discontented unity in which the party emerged after its three-day AGM at the casino hotel on the Tsuut’ina Nation across Glenmore Trail from southwest Calgary. 

Probably more significant, though, was the full day of election readiness preparation that followed, which as befits a convention held in a hall next door to a casino suggests that Premier Kenney, his grip on the party’s reins now secure for the time being, may be contemplating rolling the dice on an early election call in the event he sees a bump in the polls. 

As predicted here last Friday, media forecasts of a huge fight over Kenney’s future at the three-day AGM largely failed to materialize. 

On Friday evening, Kenney’s supporters couldn’t muster enough votes to enact a constitutional amendment that would have raised the number of constituency associations required to demand a quick leadership review. But since the premier got pretty well everything else he wanted out of the AGM, that will probably not turn out to be all that meaningful. 

In the aftermath, though, the punditocracy saw lots of problems for Kenney in the post-AGM state of the party.

For example, former Edmonton Journal political columnist Graham Thomson, nowadays writing for the CBC and others, emphasized Kenney’s lousy polls, and the interest of the two former leaders of the Wildrose Party, Brian Jean and Danielle Smith, in his job. As for the upcoming leadership review, Thomson opined, “it’s hanging over his head like a Sword of Damocles. And a significant number of party members want to cut it loose.”

The vultures, he concluded, are starting to circle. 

Calgary Herald columnist and disillusioned Kenney booster Rick Bell expressed wonderment that the premier’s staff were so jubilant and confident on the final day of the party clam bake.

“For those who cling to Kenney and believe the future’s so bright we gotta wear shades, their man is great,” Bell wrote. “He’s really great and Albertans will embrace his greatness once again.”

“In fact, the closer people are to the premier, the more they think their man hit it out of the park,” Bell continued, wonderingly. “Go figure. They feel he had the party members with him.”

Here’s the thing, though. Kenney’s strategists may well be justified in their confidence, at least in the short term — and so what if the party’s membership is not particularly united in its support for their boss?

With lots of help from deep-pocketed Conservative political action committees, a pro-Kenney slate of candidates now controls the UCP’s new board. That was the principal goal of Team Kenney’s strategists. 

So the UCP really is Kenney’s party now — just like the Republican Party south of the Medicine Line is Donald Trump’s.

As a result, the premier is in a position to ensure the leadership review, whether it happens soon or even sooner, will be not much of a threat. It is virtually certain it will anoint Kenney to lead the UCP into the next election, whenever that may be. 

So Albertans appalled at what the UCP has been up to can’t count on the party’s members to do their work for them. If they want Jason Kenney gone, they’re going to have to do it themselves at the ballot box. 

“It’s certainly within the realm of possibility,” Mount Royal University political scientist Keith Brownsey speculated yesterday, that if things look promising for the UCP, Kenney could call an election “as early as this April.”

And if the planets don’t align for him, or if UCP members and MLAs grow restive again, Brownsey added, an election might play out just the same. “If Kenney feels threatened, he’ll pull the plug. He’ll take everyone down.”

And if the premier somehow wins, Brownsey predicted, “it’s going to be full-blown austerity again as soon as they think it’s feasible.”

So the NDP Opposition, and Albertans who don’t like what the UCP is doing to their province no matter what their politics are, had better stay on their toes.

They can count on the UCP to play dirty when the time comes.

Jason Kenney isn’t going to go quietly, and he’s more secure now than he was a week ago. 

David J. Climenhaga

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 with the Globe...