Braid: Kenney will relinquish leadership eventually, but has no intention of leaving

There will be a race for leadership. Kenney said it is necessary. What he did not say is whether or not he will be a candidate. Nothing in the UCP rules would prevent him from resigning and then running.

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There was only one way to outshine the Battle of Alberta hockey. Prime Minister Jason Kenney met him, much to his chagrin, by saying that he will eventually walk off the stage.

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Despite predictions of a solid victory, only 51.4 percent of the more than 34,000 UCP members who voted in the leadership review said they approved of it.

Kenney had previously said that “50 percent plus one” is a majority in a democracy, implying that was enough for him to continue.

To many observers, it seemed that he was giving up cold. But on Wednesday night it was confirmed that he intends to remain as leader and prime minister until the next leader is chosen.

You may even be able to reapply for the position. That idea was not denied by his staff on Wednesday night.

In 2006, Ralph Klein stayed on for months after getting a 55 percent approval rating. But those were other times. Despite the problems with the match, Klein remained popular with the public.

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Kenney’s effort to stay safe will draw bitter opposition from his opponents in the caucus and beyond.

Technically, Kenney has a case. He actually was not defeated. He can argue that his resignation as party leader is voluntary and, like Klein, he can decide the timing.

Kenney announced his intention to step down in dramatic fashion, first saying he had a majority but then adding, “Clearly not the right support to continue as leader. . . I really believe that we must move forward together, we must put the past behind us.”

The small gathering of his strongest loyalists, an invited group that did not include many ministers from the UCP and MLA, were shocked both by the result and by the promise of resignation.

Kenney asked the UCP board to set a date for a new leadership election.

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On Tuesday I appointed several members of the PCU whose names were already being mentioned for the position of caretaker if Kenney resigned.

They include Nate Glubish (Alberta Service); Demetrios Nicolaides (Advanced Education), Rajan Sawhney (Transportation); Ric McIver (Municipal Affairs); Nathan Neudorf (PCU caucus chair); and Sonya Savage (Energy).

A person who gets the caretaker job would have the critical task of running the party and government while restoring an image of unity and level-headed competition.

But now, it looks like Kenney will prevent that from happening, or try to.

There will be a race for leadership. Kenney said it is necessary. What he did not say is whether or not he will be a candidate. Nothing in the UCP rules would prevent him from resigning and then running.

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There will be a fight over whether the CPU leans more toward the center or turns sharply to the right. Many of the MLAs who opposed Kenney prefer the latter.

New MLA Brian Jean will be running. Danielle Smith is likely to join as well. They are well-known voices from the party’s past, but many members will want to move beyond the old fusion struggles.

Brian Jean and Jason Kenney shake hands after Kenney's leadership victory on October 28, 2017.
Brian Jean and Jason Kenney shake hands after Kenney’s leadership victory on October 28, 2017. Photo by Gavin Young /post media

Employment Minister Doug Schweitzer’s name often appears. So does Finance Minister Travis Toews. Other campaigns will take shape very quickly.

Whatever happens next, this is still a dangerous time for the UCP.

The Progressive Conservatives never regained winning form after Redford resigned in 2014, effective immediately.

Dave Hancock became the caretaker and Jim Prentice the prime minister. But the NDP won the 2015 elections, in part due to the long years of division of the PC.

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I think Kenney’s biggest mistake in the bizarre leadership campaign was preaching party unity even as he attacked the fringe as crazy and radical.

He wasn’t talking about moderate UCP members who might disagree with him, but many of those people thought he did. That could have been the difference between 51.4 percent and a surviving number.

And so, on Wednesday, Kenney suffered a setback that he considered serious enough to resign from the leadership of the party.

But he intends to rule for many more months, and perhaps attempt a comeback.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.

Twitter: @DonBraid

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