Alberta Premier Jason Kenney survived a highly anticipated showdown with his caucus this week over his leadership.
And there is no one happier about this news than NDP Leader Rachel Notley.
In the days leading up to Wednesday’s caucus meeting, United Conservative Party MLAs had been leaking ominous statements to local media about what was going to happen. There was going to be a confidence vote. Interim party leaders were already being sized up. Right-wingers in the caucus who are anti-vaccine and anti-vaccine passport were allegedly loaded for bear.
Well, it appears the great coup collapsed owing to a lack of spine.
Somewhere out there, former premier Alison Redford must be shaking her head. Ms. Redford resigned in March, 2014, after effectively being forced out by her caucus over a series of petty controversies, including the fact that she took her daughter and a friend on a government aircraft a few times. She also started plans to convert government office space into an apartment near the legislature to be used by the sitting premier of the day. This caused an uproar. There was a small spending scandal.
But in all, it was nothing, and I mean nothing, compared with the disastrous reign of Jason Kenney. Even before the pandemic, Mr. Kenney’s tenure had been marked by one embarrassing initiative (hello, energy war room) after another (hello, inquiry into foreign funding of environmentalists). He was elected, in part, thanks to a phony war he waged against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Mostly, Mr. Kenney created distractions from the deep economic and fiscal problems facing the province.
And then the pandemic arrived and Mr. Kenney authored a master class in how not to lead during a crisis.
He opened Alberta up for “the best summer ever” when health professionals in his province and across the country were telling him not to. But because he had a wing of his caucus, call it the Wild Rose faction, breathing down his neck over masks and lockdowns, he felt he had no choice.
The result was the fourth-wave catastrophe we are now witnessing. Worse, Mr. Kenney disappeared to Europe for two weeks while ICUs began to fill up close to capacity. He reluctantly announced a vaccine passport program after vowing he never would. He swapped his health minister, Tyler Shandro, out of the job, in a naked attempt to make it look like he was making people pay a price for the mess the province is in.
Mr. Shandro moved to labour, and the former labour minister, Jason Copping, moved to health. Can you imagine the uncommon courage it took the Premier to make that move?
There is nothing, really, to be said in Mr. Kenney’s defence. He has allowed politics – and the various calculations and machinations that flow from it – to govern his decision-making. As opposed to doing the right thing for the greater good regardless of any political cost.
Albertans should be furious over the staggering incompetence of the current administration. People who know Mr. Kenney and watched him perform in cabinet at the national level can’t believe how bad he’s been as Premier.
Those who were never fans of his smug, smartest-person-in-the-room persona are likely thrilled the man is getting his comeuppance. Ms. Notley, meantime, must be hoping that the Premier perseveres in his efforts to save his job and that he leads the party into the next election. He would be a walking, talking advertisement for why there needs to be a change in government.
I don’t think it will come to that.
Mr. Kenney has only won the right to fight on for another day. There will be a leadership review in the spring, instead of next fall. If his popularity numbers remain as rock bottom as they are now, there is no way he could survive such a test. There would be a vote and he would lose.
A change in leader is the only hope the UCP has of holding on to power: a new leader, a new voice and mea culpas galore for the disastrous job the party has done since winning election in 2019. That pretty much has to be the only strategy.
But we can never lose sight of the real story here. The real story is all the needless death from COVID-19 in Alberta caused by a government’s selfish desire to put politics ahead of the health and safety of the public.
That is a scandal that should cost the person responsible for it his job. Mr. Kenney should do the honourable thing and resign.
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