It finally happened.*
Despite the UCP government changing the law to allow the purchase of party memberships without someone’s knowledge or consent, the UCP executive changing the rules setting out when, where, and how Jason Kenney’s leadership review would take place and Kenney’s announcement that an approval rating of 50% +1 was enough for him to stay in power; on May 18, 2022, with a 51.4% approval rating, he conceded he lacked the mandate to continue as party leader.
The man hailed as one of the best Conservative premiers and one of the most articulate conservative voices in the country was out.
His heartbroken supporters offered numerous explanations of what went wrong for their dear leader.
You want excuses, I’ll give you excuses
Kenney’s defenders start with Covid-19, arguing that it was impossible for Kenney to satisfy the kooks and lunatics who rejected any limits on their freedom. (The fact he continually referred to restrictions as a curtailment of their Charter rights and freedoms didn’t help his case).
This argument ignores the fact that every premier in the country faced the same challenges and Kenney’s approval rating (a low of 19% in January) was the worst of the bunch.
Kenney then worsened his position by prematurely lifting restrictions so we could enjoy the Best Summer Ever only to reimpose them when we entered the Worst Fall Ever and healthcare officials, frantic about a collapsing healthcare system, announced triage protocols to determine who would live and who would die if there was a shortage of ICU beds.
Yes, Kenney’s handling of Covid-19 was a factor in Kenney’s popularity, not just for the kooks and lunatics but for all Albertans.
Alberta is ungovernable
Some argue that the steady stream of conservative premiers who failed to finish out their terms indicates that Alberta is ungovernable. Apparently, the province is packed with so many free-spirited, leave-me-alone libertarians that conservative premiers can’t make it to the finish line.
This is nonsense and ignores the fact that Albertan’s libertarians were content to live under 43 years of conservative rule. It wasn’t the conservative government they were rejecting; it was a string of conservative politicians who’d become entitled and sloppy after years of being in power.
Ah, but wait, Kenney’s supporters say, the poor man tripped over his idealized version of Westminster politics. He tolerated dissent from miscreants who should have been crushed at the first opportunity.
Sure, he tolerated caucus members who publicly demanded he relax covid restrictions and went behind his back trying to broker a deal with the freedom convoy blockade at Coutts. But he lost no time tossing dissenting MLAs out of caucus or demoting them if he thought he could get away with it without riling up the UCP base.
So what really happened?
I’m from Ottawa and I’m here to help you
Kenney blew into town with Stephen Harper’s blessing. He was the guy from Ottawa who would unite the PCs and the Wildrose to vanquish Notley’s NDP and restore the conservatives to their rightful place as Albertan’s natural ruling party.
He said all the right things: grassroots guarantee, servant-leader, bad Trudeau/bad Notley and Ottawa victimizes Alberta/Fair Deal!
He would work hard, no vacations for this man, and devote his life to Alberta politics.
Then bereft of ideas on how to turn the province around and in the middle of the third wave he went on vacation, leaving no one (except maybe the Education minister) in charge.
He flouted the rules and common sense. His MLAs took off to Hawaii when the rest of us were debating which family member to invite over for Christmas dinner. He dined al fresco on the Sky Palace patio when the rest of us were told that was forbidden. His MLAs indulged in drunken parties in their offices. His cabinet ministers were under investigation by the Law Society and an independent judicial inquiry. He was no better than the rest of them.
He didn’t apologise for his shortcomings in his resignation-sometime-in-the-future speech.
Instead he said his government had weathered three crises: the pandemic, the crash in the global economy and negative oil prices. The first two events impacted every political leader on the planet. The last one was beyond his control. Given that he did nothing to improve Albertans lives as they endured these events, one can only assume he was making excuses for his lackluster approval rating.
When Kenney was elected UCP leader, conservatives thought he’d listen and get their input on policy (through their MLAs). Instead they got an elitist who ignored their feedback.
He ruled for three years. During that time he lowered corporate taxes but created no jobs, hamstrung municipalities, wrecked healthcare and education, weakened social services and increased Albertans’ cost of living. He surrounded himself with staff who were pugilistic and divisive.
Not surprisingly the party decided it had had enough and showed him the door.
May 18 marked the ignoble end to Kenney’s political career.
*Assuming Kenney doesn’t revoke his resignation at some point down the road because an election is imminent and it’s too late to change horses in midstream.