Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was speaking to his party’s caucus staff on Tuesday when he told them how close he was to stepping down from his job ahead of the next leadership review.
“What’s the easiest path for me? Just take a walk. I don’t need this job. I could go into the private sector, have my evenings, my weekends off,” the Premier said. minister at the rally.
The remarks are contained in an audio file secretly recorded by an attendee and obtained by CBC News.
Kenney then explains why he decided to fight to stay on as leader of the United Conservative Party (UCP). The leadership review is set to take place in the coming weeks by postal vote after the party’s board scrapped in-person voting at the last minute due to unprecedented registration numbers.
“I thought about it a lot, honestly, before Christmas, and decided that would be grossly irresponsible because if we were to have a leadership election in this context, it would divide us, I think, permanently. [and] hand over the next election to the NDP.
That backdrop, Kenney explained, is the coordinated rise of organizing from party factions that he says subscribe to conspiracy theories, COVID denial and general feelings of anger – many of which also want him replaced. .
“I don’t say these things publicly, they’re just goofy people in general,” he told staff, thanking them for their efforts to motivate “mainstream conservatives” to support him.
“Preston Manning used to say a bright light attracts a few bugs, well, there’s more than a few bugs attracted to us, this party, right now.”
CBC News has asked the Prime Minister’s Office to comment on and confirm the content of the five-minute recording.
“The comments made by the Prime Minister to staff are consistent with previous public statements on this matter,” read the response, in full, from Kenney’s press secretary.
“A fundamental lack of trust”
On Wednesday, the UCP president announced that the party’s board had voted to change the format of the exam to mail-in ballots, after the number of registered voters far exceeded expectations.
The announcement sparked accusations of cheating, faulty memberships and fresh questions about the validity of the results just over two weeks before the scheduled vote.
While Kenney’s campaign applauded the move, newly elected MP and longtime Kenney rival Brian Jean said the change to the UCP leadership review was a “formula of fraud and cheating”.
The party chairman initially claimed that an in-person event was the only way to ensure the integrity of the vote.
On Thursday, five government MPs stood alongside several presidents of constituency associations to demand that the party not pass the leadership review on mail-in ballots. One called on the Prime Minister to resign and another to immediately launch a leadership election.
Kenney speaks in the recording about the threat he says some of those against him pose to the survival of the party. He echoed language used by his campaign staff, with one telling CBC News that this leadership review was an attempt at a “hostile takeover of our party by fringe elements.”
Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said the fact that a political staffer felt the need to record and share the prime minister’s comments shows the party has a major problem.
“It is a fundamental lack of trust between many rank-and-file members of the UCP and the party executive and the prime minister. It is proof that this lack of trust extends to his own staff,” he said. he declared.
“He can be considered the moderate within this party. But by saying that, you’re saying any criticism of me, any criticism of my leadership, you have to be an extremist. … Those are false equivalences.”
Some party members and MPs pushed back against Kenney’s language when talking about his opponents within the party.
“It’s totally unfounded and unjustified. It’s a kind of self-destructive policy,” said UCP MP Peter Guthrie.
“I’m not a right-wing radical,” Rob Smith, anti-Kenney constituency chairman of Olds, said on Tuesday, adding that now was the time for the party to decide “who we are in our hearts and souls.” .
“Crazy people are trying to take over the asylum,” Kenney told staff.
In the recording, the Prime Minister says that this is not a typical leadership exam.
At a normal convention, he says, “1,300 hangovers [Progressive Conservatives] woke up in a convention hotel on Saturday mornings and had coffee and they stumbled to vote in the leadership exam.
“And about 15 or 20% – people who weren’t nominated, didn’t get the funding, or the Prime Minister didn’t send flowers on their birthday or whatever – came to vote against the chief. And then everything was fine. And if that’s what I was dealing with, no problem. No problem. Normal domestic politics, I can handle. I can handle that.
The number of registrations for this leadership review exceeded 15,000 before the party decided to switch to mail-in ballots. When the event was originally scheduled, they expected just under 3,000 people.
According to data from the Kenney campaign, 49% of those 15,000 people bought their first UCP membership in the past four months.
Kenney’s tone becomes more serious towards the end of the recording.
“I will not let this traditional conservative party become an agent of extreme, hateful, bigoted, bigoted and mad views. Sorry to be so blunt with you, but you need to understand what the issues are here,” he said. declared.
“The lunatics are trying to take over the asylum. And I’m not going to let them.”
The UCP said more details are forthcoming on how the online meeting and mail-in ballots will work, and how members can request a refund or tax receipt for registration fees. $99.
The party also opened voting to anyone with a valid party membership by midnight March 19. Ballots must be received by the party by May 11 and the results of the leadership review will be released on May 18.
The minimum bar for Kenney to stay in the lead is a simple majority of 50% plus one, per party rules. Kenney also said that was his personal definition of success.