Jason Kenney appears to have quelled another challenge from within his own caucus.
A vote of non-confidence against the Alberta Premier was withdrawn on Wednesday, but he committed to an earlier-than-planned leadership review, to be held well in advance of Alberta’s 2023 general election.
Mr. Kenney is facing fierce criticism from within his own party, as well as low polling numbers among Albertans. His government has struggled to control a COVID-19 capacity crisis in the province’s hospitals, and his party and caucus are divided on COVID-19 measures, including the province’s new vaccine passport system. He shuffled his long-standing health minister out of his portfolio on Tuesday.
During a Wednesday meeting in Calgary, a member of Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party caucus triggered the non-confidence attempt by introducing a non-binding motion, according to one UCP MLA.
The MLA said said the motion called for a secret ballot vote on whether the caucus should continue to support Mr. Kenney’s leadership. The Globe is not naming the MLA because they were not authorized to publicly discuss internal party matters.
During the caucus meeting, some MLAs spoke supportively of the Premier, while others offered stories of their constituents’ lack of trust in his leadership, according to others who were present.
The Premier spoke in a conciliatory manner, according to the MLA. Mr. Kenney said he understood his leadership was at the centre of concerns about his party’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. But he also said he would not step down right now, because the next UCP leader will face the same turmoil, and he wants to give any new leader a fresh start.
There was a debate as to whether or not the vote on the motion should proceed by secret ballot. Then some caucus members, citing the importance of re-establishing trust with Albertans, said the question of leadership should be put to members of the party, the MLA said. The Premier agreed to an early leadership review. The motion was withdrawn.
A leadership review, in which party members will vote on whether to begin the process of selecting a new leader, will now be held early next year. A review had originally been scheduled for fall of 2022.
Brock Harrison, executive director of communications and planning for Mr. Kenney, said the Premier “spoke to the party president today and asked that they hold the AGM and the accompanying review in the spring.”
A letter from UCP president Ryan Becker, sent to constituency association presidents, said the change in timing would allow the party to “deal with any leadership issues well in advance of the next election.”
“We are all aware that recent government decisions on responding to the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused anger and frustration among some party members and there is a growing desire to hold a leadership review,” Mr. Becker wrote late Wednesday.
UCP constituency associations have been circulating a separate motion, asking that a leadership review be held before March 1.
This is not the first time the Alberta Premier has faced dissent from within. In May, Mr. Kenney fended off open criticism from backbench MLAs. Two of the dissenting MLAs, Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes, were kicked out of caucus.
Two Alberta cabinet ministers spoke out against Mr. Kenney’s actions following the release of photos that showed him dining with other government officials on the patio of the “Sky Palace,” a government office. The ministers alleged that the meeting was in violation of the province’s COVID-19 health restrictions.
Speaking to reporters after Wednesday’s caucus meeting, Spruce Grove-Stony Plain MLA Searle Turton said that his priorities are to make sure Alberta’s “health care system is not put overcapacity, our ICUs are looked after and the families that have placed their trust in me as an MLA know that someone’s in their corner. I think caucus is unified in that same approach.”
“There was discussion about the party, about unity, about how we got here, about COVID,” he added, referring to the meeting.
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.