For all her skills as a retail politician, former B.C. premier Christy Clark was not infallible when it came to reading the public mood.
In the months preceding the 2017 election, Ms. Clark had been pounded by bad press over the province’s lax campaign finance laws. She and members of her cabinet headlined pricey ($20,000 and up) private fundraising dinners that were helping fill her Liberal Party’s coffers.
And in addition to her salary as premier, she was receiving a $50,000 annual stipend from the Liberals – money that came from those same donations. It was all perfectly legal, but it had the appearance of rich insiders effectively able to buy access to the most powerful people in the province.
Ms. Clark eventually stopped taking the stipend when The New York Times wrote about it. But her government failed to take any serious action on the province’s campaign funding rules. The NDP seized on the opportunity to cast the Liberals as the party of the rich and entitled in a series of devastating television ads during the campaign.
The rest is history. Months later the New Democrats, with the help of the Green Party, turfed the Liberals from power.
This may be an odd way to start a column about Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party in Alberta, but bear with me. The story about Ms. Clark is a bit of a parable: It’s what happens when political leaders get lost in their own ego and fail to properly honour the people they are there to serve.
Ms. Clark would likely still be premier today if she had resisted her most stubborn impulses and taken action to address the finance reform controversy. But no. She knew better. Until she didn’t.
Mr. Kenney should take this story to heart because he’s in danger of being one and done as a premier for the same reason – blind arrogance.
The Alberta Premier is under fire anew for playing host to a dinner atop the infamous Federal Building in Edmonton. It was dubbed the Sky Palace after it was revealed the premier at the time, Alison Redford, had plans to convert its top floor to a luxury apartment and make it an official government residence. It was one of the scandals that led to her downfall.
On June 1, Mr. Kenney played host to a dinner-and-drinks evening on the terrace of the Sky Palace with a group of ministers and a couple of aides. Photos of the gathering leaked to the media suggested the very public-health restrictions Mr. Kenney’s government introduced about physical distancing were broken. When it all became public, the Premier bristled. His top aides spent days afterward on social media mocking any criticism of the incident.
But then a couple of his cabinet ministers called him out publicly over the apparent health-order violations. And the chair of his Calgary caucus, Richard Gotfried, resigned his position, writing in a Facebook post that politicians must be held to a higher standard than others and need to “act responsibly and to avoid the hypocrisy that makes a mockery of the tough decisions” they make.
On Monday, Mr. Kenney, sensing his strategy of fighting back and insisting he did no wrong was failing him dramatically, issued an apology.
This is merely the latest of many controversies, big and small, pandemic-related and otherwise, that have helped drag the Premier’s job approval numbers down to levels few ever could have imagined when he took control of his party amid much adulation.
Ms. Clark once knew that feeling, too.
Mr. Kenney’s situation is serious. He has a caucus that has lost enormous respect for him. (Three former members now sit as independents.) Some undoubtedly feel he has lost the moral authority to lead the UCP and the government – with good reason. There are many calling for his resignation, the latest being former Wild Rose leader and UCP leadership rival, Brian Jean. Much of the public has lost faith in Mr. Kenney, too.
At some point, if he hopes to survive, the Premier is going to have to do something that does not come naturally to him: He is going to have to admit his broader failings, issue a sweeping apology for the lousy job he’s done to this point and promise to do better with a concrete action plan. To press the restart button, he is going to have to swallow his pride. Otherwise, he will join the ranks of those who lost the plot and thought they were more important than the position they held. And paid the ultimate price for it.
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