“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” – The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats
It’s been a long time coming, but it will be over eventually, not on Apr 9 and not necessarily on May 18, but eventually.
And no amount of maneuvering with mass membership drives or last-minute changes to the rules for the UCP leadership review will change that.
Regardless of how many UCP members vote yes affirming Jason Kenney as UCP leader, Kenney’s days are numbered and sooner or later the UCP will implode.
A long time coming
The fact Kenney finds himself here is no surprise.
From the day he announced he was running for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party with the sole intention of merging it with the Wildrose Party we could see trouble brewing on the horizon. The UCP big tent may be big, but no tent is big enough for a membership this divergent in values and beliefs.
Soon after Kenney and the UCP formed government, the MLAs became restive. Kenney was a top-down kind of guy, the grassroots guarantee disappeared from the UCP website and those who dared push back were ignored, demoted to the backbenches or thrown out of the party altogether.
Throughout it all Kenney managed to retain control of his caucus…and then along came the pandemic and Kenney’s on again, off again public health restrictions.
By April 2021 we were in the 3rd wave. 16 UCP MLAs had publicly rejected the public health restrictions. By May two of them, Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes, were kicked out of caucus for undermining Kenney’s leadership. The calls for Kenney’s resignation grew louder.
On July 1, 2021, Kenney lifted most of the restrictions and declared Alberta was open for summer. Then in the thick of the fourth wave, he disappeared on vacation, and our healthcare system all but collapsed.
In Sept 2021, shortly after he returned from vacation, he reimposed public health restrictions. Dissent within the party grew, but he blew it off saying he was focused on dealing with covid, not internal party politics.
By mid Nov 2021, 22 UCP constituency associations asked that the leadership review, originally scheduled for the fall of 2022, be moved up and held virtually. The UCP board agreed to move up the review, scheduling a special in-person meeting on April 9, 2022 in Red Deer.
Dissatisfaction with Kenney’s leadership continued to grow. You may notice a theme emerging here.
Over the winter and early spring something in the range of 200 meetings had been organized by MLAs and party members plotting to get rid of Kenney and the former leader of the WR, Brian Jean won a by-election on the promise he’d oust the party’s leader.
Kenney remained unconcerned, saying there would always be a “small number of people with truly extreme views.” He was confident he’d prevail at the Apr 9 leadership review.
Then something happened. The anti-Kenney contingent had the wind at their back and the number of people buying party membership soared…
…and on Mar 23, 2022, four days after the deadline for buying a party membership had passed, the UCP party shifted the leadership review from an in-person vote to a mail-in ballot which will be open until May 11. The results be announced on May 18 (baring any unforeseen circumstances, of course).
A basket of deplorables by any other name…
In a recently leaked audio clip, Kenney described his leadership message in classic “us versus them” terms. This is his usual modus operandi although he typically deploys it against the socialists and the Liberal elites, not members of his own party. His assessment that there would always be a small number of people with extreme views morphed into a fear that fifth column of kooks, crazies, bigots, and extremists were laying siege to the UCP.
He’s signaled he’s a bit of a martyr. He doesn’t need this job; he could walk away and take up a position in the private sector where he wouldn’t have to work evenings and weekends—clearly he’s never worked in the private sector—but he’ll stay because he’s the only one who can save the UCP from those intend on stealing its soul. If he steps aside the party would be torn apart. Apparently, it hasn’t dawned on him that if he stays it will be torn apart anyway.
A slow-motion train wreck
We don’t know how the leadership review will turn out.
We do know that if Kenney is affirmed as leader his opponents will continue to agitate for his removal or hive off and form a new party.
We also know that if Kenney is removed the UCP will call a leadership race, the candidates will turn themselves into pretzels pretending they didn’t really support Kenney in the first place, and the minute the new leader is announced he/she will switch into election mode to prepare for the fight of their lives trying to defeat Notley and her incredibly strong team.
Meanwhile the work of government will grind to a halt.
Ah, the joys of living in Kenney’s Alberta.