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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney staved off a challenge from within his own caucus last week.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney will face a leadership review during a newly scheduled United Conservative Party annual general meeting in April.

This is earlier than the fall 2022 review that had originally been planned by the party. But it’s still not as early as some party members would like. With the province’s health care system overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases, the Premier is facing low approval numbers and open dissent from some members of his own party, including MLAs.

Last week, Mr. Kenney staved off a challenge from within his own caucus. A vote of non-confidence against him was withdrawn, but he committed to the earlier-than-planned leadership review, and also spoke to his MLAs about accepting responsibility for errors in the province’s handling of COVID-19.

“Premier Kenney remains squarely focused on responding to the fourth wave of COVID-19 by increasing hospital capacity and getting more Albertans vaccinated,” Brock Harrison, the Premier’s executive director of communications and planning, said late Wednesday.

“The UCP board has chosen a spring 2022 AGM date, as the Premier requested, and he will face a review from members at that time.”

A leadership review vote by members decides whether an actual leadership race should be held.

A message to members from party president Ryan Becker said that, while annual general meetings have traditionally been held in the fall, “given grassroots feedback” the UCP’s provincial board has decided on an earlier review. The AGM and leadership review will be held April 8 and 9 at the River Cree Resort and Casino in Enoch Cree Nation, just west of Edmonton.

“This will be our first AGM in Edmonton since our united party was established in 2017. We had hoped to be there in 2020 but had to go online instead due to the pandemic,” the message said.

The vote on Mr. Kenney’s leadership could happen even earlier if a review motion, which continues to circulate, is passed by enough constituency associations. The motion calls for a leadership review before March 1.

An April review would be too late, said Samantha Steinke, the constituency association president for Central Peace-Notley, who is opposed to vaccine mandates and has been a vocal critic of Mr. Kenney’s. She said it’s important that the party is well prepared for the next provincial election, in the first half of 2023.

“For some people, it’s just important to deal with it and move on,” she said.

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley has said the UCP government is mired in infighting and “political gamesmanship,” and that Mr. Kenney should surrender all future public health decisions to Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw.

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