After months of political turmoil, Premier Jason Kenney will learn the results of his leadership review later today.
Kenney faces a judgment unlike any other in his 25-year political career. It could end his time as premier of Alberta, compromise the future of the party he co-founded in 2017, and set the province on 12 months of political chaos leading up to the May 2023 provincial election.
The United Conservative Party will announce the results of the review on Kenney’s leadership between 4 and 6 p.m. via livestream from Spruce Meadows in Calgary. Eligible party members cast mail-in ballots between April 9 and May 11.
The review comes after months of political turmoil from the grassroots members, UCP constituency associations and Kenney’s own UCP MLAs.
Kenney has faced low polling numbers with most public polls over the 18 months, suggesting the NDP led by Rachel Notley could regain a majority government next year. Voices within the UCP say the party needs to find a new leader to prevent that from happening.
Political observers think Wednesday’s result will settle nothing and only create more turmoil. Kenney has further muddied the waters by stating he will accept a result of 50 per cent plus one.
Brian Jean, the UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac la Biche, and Kenney’s main rival, said Kenney must resign if he doesn’t win a strong mandate from members.
“He may get more than 50 per cent plus one,” Jean said. “But you don’t get to exercise the powers of a party leader without a big number. You need that big number to get that moral authority to lead.”
Kenney believes the no vote is being driven by Albertans who opposed public health restrictions enacted by his government such as masking and vaccine passports to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The party changed its original plan for a one-day, in-person vote in Red Deer on April 9 to a mail-in ballot, due to fears that 15,000 new members would overwhelm the venue chosen for the event. Many believed the majority of those new members signed up to vote against Kenney.
Kenney has expressed confidence he will survive his review. After appearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in Washington on Tuesday, he said concerns over COVID are waning.
“I think most of the divisions in my party came from COVID policy, and that’s understandable,” he said. “But I think that’s now in the rearview mirror.
“We’re leading Canada in economic growth, and I think most of the members of my party just want to move forward into the future.”
Still there remain questions about the integrity of the vote, despite the party’s efforts at transparency, which included the services of audit and consulting company Deloitte to collect the ballots and a livestream of the room where volunteers validated members’ identification and eligibility.
Jared Wesley, a political scientist at the University of Alberta, said criticism over the party’s late decision to move to a mail-in ballot and the ongoing RCMP investigation into the 2017 UCP leadership race have hurt people’s trust in the process.
“I don’t think it matters what the actual outcome is going to be,” Wesley said. “There are going to be critics out there that won’t believe the result, regardless of what the outcome is.”
Kenney is expected to deliver a speech after the result is announced but will not take questions from the media. Kenney has said dissident UCP MLAs will be expected to fall in line or leave the caucus if he wins the review.
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