Alberta premier rejects need for large numbers in leadership review

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he doesn’t need overwhelming support in a leadership review because the voter pool has been diluted by thousands of angry determined members to destroy.

“It’s a totally different dynamic,” Kenney said from Washington, DC, where he was scheduled to appear before a Senate committee on Tuesday to discuss the North American energy situation.

“People who say [I have] to get, say, 90% or something like that [similar] really don’t appreciate the different context of that.”

Kenney has come under fire, even from members of his caucus, for promising to remain in the lead even if he receives a mere 50% plus one majority of 59,000 potential United Conservative Party members casting ballots .

Exam results by mail are due to be announced on Wednesday. With less than majority support, Kenney is expected to step down and a leadership contest should be triggered.

Normally, in such reviews, leaders consider two-thirds to three-quarters to support a minimum bar.

Former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein left shortly after winning 55% of the vote in 2006. Two subsequent Premiers, Alison Redford and Ed Stelmach, left due to internal party and caucus unrest after have obtained 77%.

Kenney said leadership reviews are usually one of many issues that around 1,000 party members vote on at a general meeting, but noted that this one is a month-long postal vote by anyone who is a member.

Of that vote pool, Kenney said, a significant number have registered to harm the big-tent Conservative party he helped build from the merger of the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties in 2017.

“We know that thousands of people have signed up [to vote in the review] who had never been members of the UCP, the PCs or the Wildrose parties, largely motivated by anger at things like [COVID-19] vaccines,” he said.

“I don’t expect many of these people to stay,” he added.

“They came into this vote to destabilize the government, and this cohort has generally never been involved in a mainstream center-right party.”

The review was delayed last year, then slated for an April 9 in-person ballot in Red Deer. The party canceled that vote when the estimated 3,000 voters dropped to 15,000.

The party said it couldn’t logistically handle that many people. But Kenney’s critics said his team persuaded the board to move to a mail-in ballot because they believed thousands of new members had signed up to oust Kenney. The party denied that was the reason.

Kenney framed the vote not as a yes-no referendum on whether he did a good job, but rather as a takeover bid by fringe extremists and hatemongers. In the leaked audio, he is heard calling them lunatics, lunatics and bugs, all angry at the restrictions he has imposed in an attempt to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

His critics, including a number of his own backbenchers, say it is more than that. They branded Kenney a populist charlatan who ran on a promise to listen to the base, but once in power imposed a top-down government led by himself and a group of close advisers.

The party has struggled in the polls for more than a year, but Kenney said Monday the future looks bright for him and the UCP as Alberta’s economy rebounds.

“I participated in [former prime minister] Stephen Harper for helping create the merger that led to the Conservative Party of Canada and a decade in federal power,” Kenney said.

“I was the central leader of the merger of Conservative parties in Alberta. I led us to the largest electoral mandate in the history of Alberta politics with over a million votes.

“I’ve never lost an election and I don’t plan to do so now.”