EDMONTON – Prime Minister Jason Kenney will continue to fight another day in Alberta politics, but some experts say it probably won’t be long before he is expelled from his own party.
As the province’s healthcare system buckles under pressure from a fourth wave of COVID-19, Kenney’s United Conservative Party is divided between those who think the government has not done enough to stop it and those who have stopped. have opposed public health restrictions. and vaccine passports.
At the center of it all remains Kenney: his political future now in question, as some in the party he founded in 2017 have started to look on and openly demand his removal.
The run-up to a caucus meeting in Calgary on Wednesday was shrouded in speculation that some MLAs might cast a vote of confidence on Kenney’s leadership, but that vote did not end up happening.
Backbench UCP MLA Searle Turton told The Canadian Press that the meeting dealt with a cascade of problems.
“There was discussion about the party, about unity, about how we got here, about COVID. Caucus is a solid place to discuss in a confidential setting, ”Turton said. “There were no caucus votes. There were a lot of strong discussions about the pandemic. “
A source with knowledge of the meeting told the Star that a motion of no confidence in the leadership was on the table, but it was withdrawn. It had been conditional on voting by secret ballot, but that option was rejected at the meeting, the source said. The source spoke on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, Kenney spoke to the chairman of the United Conservative Party on Wednesday and asked that the 2022 UCP annual general meeting be held in the spring and that the leadership review, already scheduled for that year, take place. out there, according to an e-mailed statement from the UCP. spokesman Dave Prisco.
Insiders say there is anger on all sides of the party caucus. Some are upset that the prime minister did not implement public health measures quickly enough in August, when COVID-19 cases were on the rise. Others are angry that after promising the province would be open forever starting Canada Day, and promising never to bring vaccine passports, the prime minister changed course on both issues this month.
In an interview with Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid, UCP MLA and former Cabinet Minister Leela Aheer criticized Kenney for removing Tyler Shandro from the Ministry of Health portfolio.
“This is a leadership failure of the prime minister,” he said, reportedly. “The only thing that should have happened today is that the prime minister says he had failed and is retiring.”
Lori Williams, a professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University, said Kenney has made too many mistakes in recent months, reducing the chances of saving his political future.
“It is not working and support for the PCU is collapsing,” he said. “I mean, he’s cynically using promises not to have vaccine passports to raise funds, and then he turns around and calls (vaccine passports) by a different name and hopes no one notices. It’s a bit strange.
“He’s desperately trying to make clandestine deals and figure it out, put out fires and whatnot, but it’s not working,” Williams added, “eventually, even he will have to figure that out.”
On Tuesday, PCU vice president for policy Joel Mullan called on Kenney to resign in a column published in the Western Standard.
“Having listened to our party members over the past few months, I think the members’ will is clear: it is time for Jason Kenney to go,” Mullan wrote.
Shortly after the article was published, Kenney transferred Shandro from the Ministry of Health portfolio to the post of Minister of Labor and Immigration. Some observers saw the move as a political step aimed at avoiding criticism within their own group.
Lisa Young, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, said that if Kenney had faced a vote of no confidence this week and was removed as prime minister, whoever succeeded him would face “exactly the same set of circumstances that Prime Minister Kenney faces. . now.”
Basically, “a divided group and a terrible public health crisis,” he said.
“The probability that someone will come out of it looking good is not very great.”
If the caucus waits until a leadership review, then “they let the prime minister be the face of the failure of the healthcare system over the next month, then they vote out of distrust of him as the party’s leader,” Young added.
“If they went to the next election with Jason Kenney as the leader, it would be nothing more than a retrospective examination of what happened during the COVID crisis,” he said.
“Having a new leader will give them the opportunity to present a new image to suggest that they are a new and improved party.”
During a press conference Tuesday night, Kenney also urged his own party to wait until the province clears up the COVID-19 crisis before turning to domestic politics.
“My responsibility as prime minister is to listen to public health advice, look at reality, not wish for it, not allow politics to pressure us so that we do not take the necessary measures to save lives,” he said.
“I always knew, from day one, that this has created an internal division, it is no secret, within my party.”