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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks after the United Conservative Party annual meeting in Calgary on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press

Alberta’s United Conservative Party is more than a month away from declaring the results of its leadership review, but the validity of the outcome is already under scrutiny.

Jason Kenney, Alberta’s Premier and the UCP’s leader, is facing a deeply divided caucus and party membership. A special general meeting, convened to determine his future as leader, kicked off this past weekend with what amounted to a campaign rally for him in Red Deer. UCP members have until May 11 to return their ballots by mail, and the results are scheduled to be announced on May 18.

Mr. Kenney must secure more than 50 per cent support to avoid being ousted from the UCP’s top job. But the party’s board has changed the rules of the vote multiple times in the past month, leading critics within the UCP to question whether the results can be trusted.

“At this stage, unfortunately, that’s the case,” said Jack Redekop, who served as Mr. Kenney’s chief financial officer when the Premier was a federal politician. “Because he’s made so many changes, there’s no way.”

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Mr. Redekop is the UCP’s constituency association president for Calgary-Fish Creek, but he noted he was speaking as a member rather than as a local executive. He declined to say whether he supports Mr. Kenney.

The vote was originally supposed to take place in person on April 9, but a surge of members registering for the meeting prompted the party’s executive to switch to mail-in ballots and extend the voting period. Last week, the UCP told local media that party members who preferred not to mail the ballots could drop them off at riding offices, sparking criticism that the move would create opportunities for ballot tampering.

“It has been a gong show by party executive every step of the way,” Mr. Redekop said.

Patrick Malkin, the UCP’s constituency association president for Red Deer-South, caught wind that people were gathering at the city’s Cambridge Hotel and Conference Centre on Saturday for Mr. Kenney’s speech. He went to the hotel only to be told he was not among the invited and registered attendees.

Mr. Malkin watched the speech online and approved of much of what Mr. Kenney said. But when the leader talked about unity, Mr. Malkin was left wanting.

“Where’s the unity in turning away members at a special general meeting?” Mr. Malkin said. “That’s not unifying; that’s divisive.”

It could also cause technical problems, he said. If members were not allowed at the special general meeting, he argued, perhaps the gathering was actually a private function.

The UCP can’t conduct party business in such a setting, Mr. Malkin said.

Dave Prisco, a spokesperson for the UCP, argued that the in-person gathering was not the real special general meeting.

“No in-person component existed, but there was a small studio audience made up of volunteers who were invited to watch the speech,” he said in a statement.

In his speech, Mr. Kenney cautioned that removing him would spark a leadership race that would further divide the UCP, as would-be candidates relitigated COVID-19 policies. This, Mr. Kenney told a group of supporters, some of whom were waving campaign signs, would give the New Democratic Party a chance to coast back into government.

“I truly fear that if we choose the path of division, it will drive a wedge right down the middle of our party from which we may never again recover,” he said Saturday. “And there’s only one person who wins from that and her name is Rachel Notley.”

Erika Barootes, the founding president of the UCP, supports Mr. Kenney. The UCP executive, she said, would have faced questions about the integrity of the vote no matter how they decided to handle the influx of registrations.

“The party ultimately got to the best way, which is one member, one vote,” she said. “But there’s going to be people that will criticize the process or try to position themselves to benefit from any decision.”

Ms. Barootes, who is no longer a UCP executive member, said that, regardless of whether Mr. Kenney wins, the party has work to do internally.

“A close vote means it is divided,” she said.

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