Early within the new yr, Premier Jason Kenney stood at a podium taking questions on his jet-setting caucus members having fun with international journey throughout a pandemic. On that day he was unequivocal: The buck stops with him.
That phrase caught with discontented United Conservative Party members already pissed off by most of the premier’s current selections — and it acquired them fascinated with holding him to his phrase.
January introduced a contemporary set of challenges for Alberta’s UCP authorities, resembling the general public outcry over strict pandemic well being measures and intense blowback over its coal mining coverage. And whereas prime Alberta authorities officers appeared for tactics to show the web page, some within the get together have been musing about whether or not it was time to show the web page on Kenney himself.
“We definitely talked about a leadership review,” one constituency president from southern Alberta informed CBC News.
Other constituency associations have been taking a tough have a look at the premier’s monitor report and having the identical dialog.
CBC News spoke to 9 UCP constituency affiliation presidents and members of constituency affiliation boards from throughout the province. CBC has agreed to not identify a few of them as they weren’t licensed to talk publicly about get together issues.
Most of those that spoke to CBC mentioned their affiliation boards had talked about whether or not it was time to search for a brand new chief. One using affiliation president mentioned that about 80 per cent of their board expressed dissatisfaction with the get together’s management.
Others mentioned that whereas they’d heard rumblings of unhappiness with Kenney, their very own boards had not talked about triggering a assessment.
“I would say that people are sick of COVID. They’re not sick of Kenney,” said Adam Waterman, constituency president for Vermillion-Lloydminster-Wainwright. He estimated that about 10 per cent of his members have considered calling for a leadership review.
Members of those constituency boards considering a review said the idea has faded into the background for now, for several reasons: the UCP has no obvious candidate to succeed Kenney, there’s little time to get a new leader up to speed before the 2023 election, and internal party disputes could boost the NDP’s chances of victory.
“Do we alter or repair what now we have?” one constituency association president asked.
‘Death by a thousand cuts’
Constituency association presidents said party members will be watching the premier closely this year to see if he can change course. His approval rating has dropped significantly since the election and the party’s poll numbers have dropped along with it.
“There have been some blunders,” a long-time constituency association president said.
The constituency presidents expressed concern about recent decisions such as the one to rescind the 1976 coal policy, which protected parts of the Rocky Mountains from mining. The UCP government swiftly reinstated the policy last month in the face of mounting criticism.
They also pointed to the confrontational nature of some of the province’s interactions with doctors, confusing communication on public health restrictions and the COVID-19 situation in long-term care facilities.
Other constituency association members in rural areas said that many members believe public health restrictions to control the pandemic have had a disproportionately heavy impact on their regions and have damaged businesses unnecessarily.
“This is the problem that the premier has … there is not one merchandise to repair. It’s going to be loss of life by a thousand cuts,” one rural member said.
Premier Kenney’s office said he and the government already have delivered on 75 per cent of their 2019 election promises, despite the added challenges of the pandemic and the associated economic downturn.
“The UCP has at all times been a grassroots, member-driven get together and members are at all times inspired to be lively and have their say,” said a statement from Kenney’s office.
Under a new UCP resolution passed at the party’s most recent general meeting, a leadership review could happen sometime in 2021 or 2022. But the party hasn’t said when that rule will come into effect, or whether it will be applied to this election cycle.
Constituency associations can trigger a special meeting for a leadership vote; if Kenney failed to hit 50 per cent support in such a vote, the party would launch a leadership election.
Right now, however, no constituency association appears to want to be the first to go public with the idea — in part because of the awkward timing of a leadership campaign in the middle of a public health crisis. All the UCP members CBC spoke to said they’ve decided to put the idea of a leadership review on hold for now, but many want to see significant changes from Kenney.
“We’ve acquired work to do, there is not any doubt about it,” an urban constituency president said. “The chief and MLAs want to ensure they’re doing what they’ll to be extra interesting.”
Some associations have begun to pressure the party to pick a day for the next fixed date leadership review. While many have hit pause on the notion until then, some members are not content to wait — and are actively lobbying others to organize to force a review.
The premier appears to be getting the message.
Kenney has been holding frequent Zoom meetings lasting an hour or longer with regional, provincial and individual constituency boards since the new year. Even more calls are scheduled for the coming weeks.
One constituency president said that his fellow members used to see Kenney only once every few months. Another said the premier been more accessible in 2021 than ever before.
Several members said that, during those online conferences with constituency boards, the premier has taken heavy criticism while answering questions and acknowledging the mistakes of the past year.
“We are very blunt with him, typically crass,” one said. “But Kenney wanted to listen to it.”
Now, they’re waiting to see what he does with the information they’ve given him.
Battles on both fronts
“He has a combat on his palms,” said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary.
“How do you govern a province in the course of a pandemic, in the course of escalating price range deficits … [while] defending your individual flank and making an attempt to guard your individual job from inside?”
Rural constituency associations saw the most intense discussions about a leadership review, while many urban associations discussed it but didn’t give it serious consideration, the presidents said.
Bratt said Kenney and the UCP need to keep 90 per cent of rural ridings onside in order to secure another majority government.
An urban board member said any leader would falter occasionally during a global crisis.
“It’s at all times simpler to make that call sitting in your front room. It’s not really easy whenever you’re the one who has to pacify 4.5 million folks.”
But some of the constituency association complaints about Kenney predate the pandemic.
A board member from the riding of Taber-Warner recently resigned, saying the actions of Kenney and his government often run counter to the founding principles of the UCP.
“It’s only a continuous construct right here and the weird inconsistencies, the turnabout on a number of the insurance policies … They seem like absolute fools,” Brian Hildebrand told CBC News.
“When management is at odds with the acknowledged rules of the group, there is a battle.”
A rival on the right
As rumblings of discontent with Kenney spread within the UCP, the Wildrose Independence Party (WIP) saw an opportunity to expand its circle.
One UCP constituency association president said some of their board members have been approached by Paul Hinman, the WIP’s interim leader, to gauge their interest in switching parties. Hildebrand also has had conversations with WIP members.
Hinman confirmed to CBC News that he’s had discussions with people on UCP boards. Sometimes, he said, those conversations have been initiated by the UCP members themselves.
Alberta’s conservatives have a recent history of dumping leaders who don’t meet their expectations.
The province has seen six premiers in the last 15 years. Alison Redford resigned in 2014 during a brewing caucus revolt, In 2011, Ed Stelmach announced he wouldn’t run again after turmoil in the party (including two MLAs crossing the floor). Even Ralph Klein resigned in 2006 after getting lukewarm support in a leadership review.
Kenney ultimately benefits from being the founder of the party, Bratt said. He also pointed out what he sees as a pattern in conservative party mergers — like the one that created the United Conservative Party through the merger of the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties in 2017.
“Parties merge after they’re in opposition and disintegrate after they’re in energy,” he said.
Many constituency presidents said Kenney needs to learn from his mistakes and stay connected to the grassroots.
While forcing a leadership review isn’t on the immediate agenda, they’re not ruling it out for a future date.
“Let him do the job and get via it,” said one president, “after which we’ll see if he is earned the job.”