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Alberta’s stormy political days aren’t over yet

By Logan Jaspers, June 17 2022

It’s been a stormy few days in Canada. On May 21, Ontario and Québec were hammered by thunderstorms that left thousands without power. Alberta, too, was storming that week — just a different kind. After winning the support of just 51.4 per cent of United Conservative Party (UCP) members, Jason Kenney announced his intention to resign as UCP leader and as premier of Alberta. 

When Kenney and the UCP were elected in 2019, I expected to disagree with many of his government’s policies, but that the day-to-day governance of the province would be normal. However, his government failed at the basic task of crisis-time leadership amidst the pandemic. Kenney and his cabinet did not just implement policies many Albertans disagree with — he is an incompetent premier surrounded by incompetent ministers. He and his cabinet are just bad at governing. 

Kenney appeased anti-vaxxers by almost letting the provincial healthcare system collapse while running a theatrical referendum. The official provincial COVID testing app expensively failed while Kenney eschewed the federal government’s equivalent app to “stick it” to Ottawa. We also mustn’t forget the scandals, from the dinner at Sky Palace that contravened his government’s COVID restrictions, to his Municipal Affairs Minister vacationing during Christmas while Albertans were stuck at home, to the rule changes for his leadership review and shadowy bulk UCP membership purchases. 

Simply, the Kenney government was arrogant and inane when Albertans needed leadership most, preoccupied with the pageantry of being “true blue” western conservatives than governing Alberta.

The fall of two recent Albertan premiers, Ralph Klein and Allison Redford, are apt comparisons to Kenney. Klein won only 55 per cent of support from his party in a 2006 leadership review, which convinced him to retire earlier than he initially planned. Redford resigned after widespread outrage over a litany of scandals, including the construction of Sky Palace. From the 2004 election to today, Alberta has had seven premiers — with only Rachel Notley serving a full term. Kenney is yet another victim of Alberta’s signature political instability and high turnover.

In the coming months, we will have an eighth premier since 2004. There is presently no date for when the UCP leadership election will occur, though one can reasonably guess the UCP will want a new leader by the end of summer. The field is open for many candidates to enter, including provincial ministers and federal members of parliament, but the first two announced candidates are the last two leaders of the Wildrose Party, Danielle Smith and Brian Jean.

Brian Jean, who leads in an initial poll on UCP leadership among supporters, is a strange political figure. He became a conduit for anti-Kenney conservatism during his by-election campaign in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche. Jean echoed far-right and antisemitic dog whistles when he affirmed his opposition to the “Great Reset” and insisted that he is not “a globalist.” He also criticizing Kenney’s government for poor transparency during the pandemic, for policies that made more Albertans sick and for being divisive vis-à-vis the New Democrats, all while reportedly trying to fight his fellow members of legislative assembly (MLA). His contradictions are an attempt at forging a coalition for his leadership bid, but as has been shown in the aftermath of far-right terrorism in the United States, there can be consequences of ejecting conspiracy theories into mainstream discourse no matter how genuine Jean’s beliefs are.

The possibility of a former Wildrose leader becoming Alberta’s next premier is jarringly ironic. The Wildrose rejected a policy opposing all discrimination and in 2012 had candidates spewing homophobia and racism. The Wildrose Party was viewed so dangerously that in 2012, enough progressive Albertans voted Progressive Conservative (PC) to stop the Wildrose. This last minute defection caused a polling failure of nearly unheard proportions. In 2014, most Wildrose MLAs, including Danielle Smith, defected to the PCs. It looked like the party was over. Now, the Wildrose’s last leaders could become premier. 

Regardless of who the next premier is, we’ll likely have a snap election afterwards, as the new premier will want a democratic mandate of their own. However, If the UCP does embrace their more extreme tendencies, as 2012 shows, they can’t take the support of Albertans for granted. The same voters who kept the Wildrose out in 2012 will likely back Notley instead, now that the NDP are a known quantity in governing. Albertans didn’t want the Wildrose in power then — who’s to say we’ll want them now? 

For those dissatisfied with Jason Kenney’s government, celebrate his coming departure. But the sun isn’t up just yet — Alberta has plenty more storm ahead. We’re a province with a proud tradition of political turbulence and whoever follows Jason Kenney could be worse.

This article is part of our Opinions section.

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