It’s one of the 10 commandments of politics: Never play voters for fools.
It’s a law Alberta Premier Jason Kenney seemed to understand well after a lifetime in the game, a career that helped forge a reputation for possessing unerring political instincts. But hubris gets even the best of them sometimes.
Mr. Kenney is in serious political trouble thanks to a growing scandal linked to the holiday travel of several members of his United Conservative Party government, including a cabinet minister who holds a senior position in the province’s COVID-19 emergency task force. In all, six UCP MLAs and three senior political aides – including the Premier’s own chief of staff – have been caught vacationing abroad. There may well be more.
This, at the same time most Albertans have been adhering to generally well understood directives by their own government to avoid all non-essential travel. This was a time of personal sacrifice, they were told by no less than Mr. Kenney himself. This was a time to hunker down, cancel holiday travel plans and imagine better days to come as a result of their shared efforts.
Mr. Kenney’s response has been so pathetic that even his staunchest admirers, in both political and media spheres, have been sickened and infuriated. So far, the Premier has decided to take the heat for it all, saying it was a lack of clear directions on his part that likely created confusion and prompted some in his caucus to take a Christmas holiday as usual. He said they were no different than thousands of other Albertans who left the province in a bid to support the battered travel industry.
What abject nonsense. What a disgraceful slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of Albertans who have no hope of boarding a plane to Hawaii, as his Minister of Municipal Affairs Tracy “Aloha” Allard (as she’s been dubbed) did. Or to Mexico or Las Vegas or Arizona. What message does this send to the thousands who remain without a job in Alberta, who can barely make their rent payments let alone even imagine going on a vacation?
And all this, we are to believe, comes as a great surprise to Mr. Kenney. All of it. He didn’t know his own chief of staff was going to England, where the COVID-19 variant is spreading throughout the country like wildfire? Seriously? I don’t believe that for a second. Just like I find it impossible to believe that he didn’t know Ms. Allard was vacationing in Hawaii, while apparently participating in cabinet meetings virtually. No idle chit-chat about how everyone’s holidays were going over Zoom? What people were doing?
Former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Thomas Lukaszuk, who was deputy premier under former premier Alison Redford, says there is “literally zero” possibility the Premier didn’t know where his minister was. He said Ms. Allard would have had to fill out a form, which contains contact information, dates of travel and other details of one’s absence, which would have been sent to the Premier’s office.
When Rod Phillips was outed for vacationing on St. Barts, he resigned as Ontario’s finance minister after speaking with Doug Ford – even though the Premier had known his minister was vacationing on the luxury island. Once you get caught, game’s up. It’s a kind of pathetic rule of politics: If you can get away with something, fine. But if you get caught, even if the top person knew about it in advance, you’re toast.
There seems little chance that Mr. Kenney is going to survive this affair without doing something. He ran on a populist platform. He was a man of the people, someone with few pretenses or airs (even if that wasn’t true). He convinced voters that he had assembled a group of like-minded, down-home Albertans to be part of this team. Voters believed Mr. Kenney.
Now they discover that the party they voted into power two years ago is nothing more than a bunch of pina colada Conservatives.
There hasn’t been this kind of white hot anger in Alberta since the days of Ms. Redford, who got caught up in some relatively minor imbroglios around the use of government aircraft and plans to build an apartment in Edmonton that could be used by the sitting premiers of the day. Her caucus smelled a wounded animal and dumped her.
It’s difficult to imagine Mr. Kenney suffering the same fate as Ms. Redford, especially given the personal political damage he’s incurred by protecting members of his caucus who fled to sunnier climes. But in doing so, he risks losing others who feel his position is untenable and will hurt the party longer term.
Mr. Kenney, a decision awaits.
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