Brian Jean during his statement about the UCP leadership review voting process yesterday – judging from his bookshelf, he shares Jason Kenney’s obsession with Winston Churchill (Photo: Screenshot of Facebook video).
Brian Jean during his statement about the UCP leadership review voting process yesterday – judging from his bookshelf, he shares Jason Kenney’s obsession with Winston Churchill (Photo: Screenshot of Facebook video). Credit: Facebook video / Brian Jean Facebook Live

Alberta’s United Conservative Party hasn’t even held the vote yet in its review of Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership and his chief rival is threatening legal action.

On Wednesday, the party board, dominated by Kenney’s supporters, changed the rules for the Apr. 9 leadership review vote to make it easier for the premier to win. 

Soon after, an obviously agitated Brian Jean, MLA-elect and Kenney’s self-declared rival for the leadership of the UCP, read a prepared statement on Facebook in which he called the party board’s decision to change the voting procedure for the review from an in-person vote at the UCP’s annual general meeting in Red Deer to a mail-in ballot unethical, illegal, and “a travesty.” He threatened legal action. 

“We will be in discussions with our lawyers over what legal options party members may have to use either the party’s dispute process or the courts to make the UCP follow the law and its own rules,” vowed Jean, who as the UCP’s candidate won the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election on Mar. 15. He has not yet been sworn in. 

The former Wildrose Party leader promised more about his campaign’s legal plans today. 

“Make no mistake, a rushed mail-in ballot is a formula for fraud and cheating,” Jean said in the video statement, during which at times he was almost shouting. 

He accused Kenney’s campaign of purchasing memberships for thousands of people in Calgary and Edmonton, many of whom may not even know they are members. 

And he accused the party board of tossing rules to benefit Kenney. “The party rules don’t matter. The Societies Act which governs our party doesn’t matter. And the rights of UCP members to have a process that is fair and honest does not matter.”

“We will be calling on Elections Alberta to investigate this flagrant violation” of provisions of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act passed by the NDP government in 2017, he added.

Naturally, a Kenney spokesperson rejected such concerns and aimed a few accusations of his own back at Jean

What’s striking about this is how Kenney’s propensity for cheating is now so entrenched in the popular imagination of Alberta that nearly everyone assumes the vote will be shady, just as it is widely believed it was in 2017, the last time Kenney beat Jean in a contest to determine who would lead the UCP.

Indeed, more evidence of Kenney’s 2017 conduct emerged yesterday in a CBC story about the premier’s personal role in the “Kamikaze Candidate” scandal. According to people who said they were at a planning session attended by Kenney, the CBC reported, the UCP leader himself set key conditions of the scheme. 

What does it say about a person, a party, an electorate, and a province where the dishonesty of the leader is taken for granted by a large percentage of the people in his own party and yet many have no plan to change their votes as a result?

To me, it suggests an organization in which many members have already given up on democracy, and even more have lost the expectation of honest results from any election.

As cynical, entitled and arrogant as the old Progressive Conservative Party could be before its unexpected defeat by Rachel Notley’s NDP in 2015, it never gave up its pro forma obeisance to democracy.

But then, I suppose, it never really had to. It was mostly able to simply assume it would win, until suddenly it no longer could—a fact the PCs didn’t notice until too late.

Well, no one can accuse Kenney of that kind of inattention! 

While the UCP won the 2019 general election honestly enough—riding to victory on a wave of popular desire for change no matter what kind of shenanigans led to the selection if its leader—it is obvious that a troublingly large number of Albertans think cheating is OK, even virtuous, as long as it produces the result they desire.

Which brings us back to the scheme to tilt voting at Kenney’s leadership review in his favour. 

That the UCP’s announcement is unfair should be obvious to all, not just Jean’s supporters.

That it would happen anyway was assumed by virtually everyone who was paying attention. 

That it shocked virtually no one is, well, shocking.

This is important. Jean’s supporters were outraged. They were already furious about Kenney’s cheating in 2017, which remains the subject of an RCMP investigation that has gone on so long it’s starting to raise doubts about the administration of justice in Alberta. But they were not surprised. 

Like everyone else, they knew what was about to happen. 

So how is this different from some other quasi-democratic, quasi-authoritarian petrostate where the leader is widely assumed to be crooked but nobody really cares?

Surely this does not bode well for the future of democracy here in the land of “non-conflict ethical oil.”

Will we enter the next election campaign in Alberta next year—or perhaps sooner—with the same assumptions in place, with the same percentage of the population that doesn’t give a fig that one of the contenders to form government has no respect for the rules?

It seems likely. Very likely.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga 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. He left journalism after the strike...