Former Alberta premier Jason Kenney resigned Tuesday as a member of the legislative assembly, an announcement he made while his successor Danielle Smith tabled a sovereignty act he vehemently opposed.
Mr. Kenney said his resignation brings an end to his 25-year career in elected service. He represented the riding of Calgary-Lougheed as a member of the United Conservative Party, which he co-founded and led until his resignation in May after winning a slim majority in a party leadership review.
Ms. Smith took over as party leader in October after a campaign that focused on fighting back against Ottawa and decrying COVID-19 public health measures. On Tuesday, she tabled the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, which aims to give the province the authority to disregard federal laws that threaten its jurisdiction.
Mr. Kenney had characterized the cornerstone of Ms. Smith’s leadership campaign as “catastrophically stupid” and a “full-frontal attack on the rule of law.” He said it would destabilize investor confidence and jeopardize the construction of pipelines, while offering a blueprint for separatism. He vowed to vote against it.
Mr. Kenney wasn’t in the legislature on Tuesday for the government’s Throne Speech and the first reading of the sovereignty act. The former premier didn’t mention the sovereignty act in his resignation letter, but pointed to political polarization that he said is undermining democracy.
“I am concerned that our democratic life is veering away from ordinary prudential debate towards a polarization that undermines our bedrock institutions and principles,” said Mr. Kenney, who took aim at both sides of the political spectrum.
“From the far left we see efforts to cancel our history, delegitimize our historically grounded institutions and customs and divide society dangerously along identity lines. And from the far right we see a vengeful anger and toxic cynicism which often seeks to tear things down, rather than build up and improve our imperfect institutions.”
During his career, he served in federal cabinet positions under former prime minister Stephen Harper and led the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party before its merger with the Wildrose Party to create the UCP.
Mr. Kenney was first elected as a Reform MP in 1997 and went on to serve in Mr. Harper’s Conservative cabinet in defence and immigration. After the Conservatives lost power in 2015, he turned his attention to Alberta politics with a plan to unite the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties, which happened in 2017.
He went on to win the inaugural United Conservative Party leadership race in 2017 and became premier in 2019 after defeating Rachel Notley’s New Democrats. His time in office was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic and he was ultimately pushed out in large part over internal divisions about his government’s use of public health restrictions.
In the resignation letter, Mr. Kenney said he was proud to deliver on the majority of promises he made when he was elected premier. Under his leadership, the COVID-19 pandemic deepened divisions within the party and province. He said during the campaign to replace him that the sovereignty act and Ms. Smith’s reign could split the party further.
“In the future, I hope to continue contributing to our democratic life by sharing some of what I have learned on a range of issues, including immigration, national security, Indigenous economic development, the state of the federation, economic growth, energy, and much more,” Mr. Kenney said.
“But for now, I close with this reflection. Whatever our flaws or imperfections, Canada – and I believe Alberta – are in many ways the envy of the world.”