A photo of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and UCP Caucus Chair Nathan Neudorf at a recent event in Lethbridge.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and UCP Caucus Chair Nathan Neudorf at a recent event in Lethbridge Credit: Alberta Newsroom / Flickr

Heeeeere’s Kenney! 

One night after saying he was quitting, Alberta’s premier is back by unpopular demand.

You have to admit that, by any yardstick, Jason Kenney’s announcement he would be resigning as leader of the United Conservative Party (UCP) and premier of Alberta followed hours later by word that he would be staying on as the UCP’s “interim” leader and premier, was one of the epic flip-flops of political history. Kenney won a slim 51. 4 per cent of the vote in a leadership review, the results of which were announced on Wednesday, May 18.

If you’re an Albertan who was feeling disoriented by this turn of events yesterday, imagine how the members of the UCP Legislative Caucus felt after their one-hour pre-lunch meeting in Calgary to discuss the party’s next moves ended seven hours later with Kenney still in the captain’s chair on the bridge of their mutinous ship of state!

Whip-sawed? Beaten? 

After the meeting, the UCP issued a press release quoting Caucus Chair Nathan Neudorf, the MLA for Lethbridge-East:

“Today, the United Conservative caucus had a vigorous discussion and debate about the future of our party and our government,” he said. (I’ll bet it was vigorous!) “We agreed that we must remain united, focused on the best interests of Albertans, and committed to doing the job Albertans elected us to do.

“In that spirit, we have affirmed Premier Jason Kenney’s continued leadership of our caucus and government until such time as a new leader is chosen, the timing of which will be determined by the United Conservative Party.”

That was all.

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting!

Kenney announces he’s sticking around . . . for now

For his part, Kenney yesterday posted to social media a brief letter dated Wednesday to UCP Party Secretary Janice Nett stating that he was writing “pursuant to Section 4.2 of the United Conservative Party of Alberta Governance Manual to advise you of my intention to resign as leader of the United Conservative Party upon the election of a new leader.” 

That shuts the door on a UCP rule that would have allowed an immediate leadership convention to be called in the event Mr. Kenney failed to formally notify the party. 

This, in turn, will give Kenney much more scope to ensure the next leader is someone he approves of and who is likely to continue to ride his ideological hobbyhorses, most notably the UCP’s widely scorned rewrite of Alberta’s school curriculum.

What’s more, as a number of pundits have pointed out, there’s nothing in the rules to stop Mr. Kenney from running again – so the possibility, albeit slim, is nevertheless real that UCP leader Jason Kenney, disdained by the members of his own party, could be helped by Interim leader Jason Kenney to become the UCP’s new leader, Jason Kenney. As he was, is now, and ever shall be…

Party won’t be happy to see him stay

It’s very hard to believe that most backbench UCP MLAs, even those who have some time for Kenney, can be very happy about him sticking around. It’s certainly unlikely to do their re-election chances much good. 

After being stuck in a room with Premier Kenney and his core supporters for seven hours, maybe they just wanted the yelling to stop. If they think that’s going to soothe their political post-traumatic stress disorder, though, they’re probably deluding themselves. 

Or maybe they just lack the intestinal fortitude to put up a fight when they’re cornered by Kenney’s hard core supporters, the ones who shout the loudest and who the premier listens to in cabinet.

Kenney’s powers are diminished, but not vanquished

MLAs who called before the meeting for Kenney to leave his post immediately, didn’t seem to have much to say afterward. 

For this reason, it may be a mistake to call Kenney a lame duck, as some commentators were suggesting yesterday.

Still, if the accord holds, at best it means months more of a party focused solely on its political survival without much thought given to the well-being of the province and the people who live in it.

Former Kenney political aide Blaise Boehmer doubtless spoke for many Conservatives when he tweeted yesterday that “the leader could end this chaos in a minute by doing what he pledged to do last night … This province needs a functioning govt right now—not petty games.”

So the peace in our time the UCP Caucus imagines it bought yesterday has the potential unravel quickly. 

Kenney’s internal enemies are doubtless plotting right now how to get him, the advisors he listens to, and the party apparatchiks who are his administrative allies to move along as soon as possible.

And Kenney and his advisors are unlikely to change their tune and suddenly start treating backbench caucus members with more deference and respect. 

So for those of us who follow this stuff, the next few weeks and months are going to put the fun back in dysfunctional! 

Danielle Smith’s announcement: Was it a news conference or a parole hearing? 

Meanwhile, with former Wildrose Party leader and recently elected UCP MLA Brian Jean clearly in the upcoming leadership race, the other former Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith, made it official with a virtual news conference yesterday that she’ll be seeking the leadership of the UCP too. 

Her chances, it’s said here, are marginal. 

Never mind her recent fringy interests in COVID quackery and cryptocurrencies. Those would probably be just fine with the UCP of 2022. 

It’s that time in 2014 when she led Wildrose MLAs into Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservative Caucus for which she’s unlikely ever to be forgiven.

Making her news conference sound more like a faint-hope parole hearing than a political announcement, Smith admitted, “it’s very clear that Jim and I made a big error in how we tried to bring the conservative movement together.”

She’s not the same person she was back then, she insisted, and said she hopes voters won’t judge her on her past. 

Well, good luck with that!

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the AlbertaPolitics.ca blog, is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald....