‘Not going to settle these divisions’: Political scientists react to Kenney’s leadership review speech

For two Alberta political scientists, Premier Jason Kenney’s speech to United Conservative party members as the leadership contest begins may not have done enough to help sway undecided voters his way.

On Saturday, Kenney stood before a small invite-only audience and remaining party members online to plead his case for why he still deserves to be premier and leader of the UCP.

The virtual special general meeting was supposed to be held in person in Red Deer but was switched to a mail-in ballot after an overwhelming response in registrants. That move was defended by party president Cythia Moore.

“We have spent a significant amount of time and effort to ensure that the process is fair,” Moore said Saturday. “There are some who if they don’t receive their desired outcome will say this is a flawed process.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” she added. “We must keep in mind that in order to reelect a United Conservative government, we must be united. We do not want to do anything that will pave the way for the NDP.

“When you cast your ballot, I ask you to consider what is best for our party and especially what is best for Alberta.”

Lisa Young, a University of Calgary political science professor, told CTV News Edmonton that the invite-only event likely exacerbated concerns that many party members are already feeling that the party is out-of-touch or elitist.

“The optics of having a small crowd wildly cheering Kenney as he spoke was maybe problematic because it really did emphasize that it wasn’t the full room he would have had, had the event gone on in Red Deer as it originally was planned,” Young said.

“It certainly created skepticism about who was allowed in,” she added. “(The speech) was delivered well, but it was delivered to a handpicked group of supporters. I don’t think it necessarily changed anything.”

Kenney used the speech to highlight the work he and his caucus completed over the last three years, including expanding “choice” in education, introducing more private sector “innovation” to publicly funded healthcare, and deregulating the economy.

He also spoke at length about the challenges of navigating the COVID-19 pandemic with this plea to members.

“I ask for your forgiveness if there were decisions we made, which you think were wrong,” the premier said.

Lori Williams, an associate professor in policy studies at Mount Royal University, said Kenney’s speech focused more on making the case that a vote against him in the leadership contest would help the NDP than addressing party divisions.

“There are a lot of UCP members who think he’s created some of those divisions,” Williams said. “He wants to focus on the basis of unity.”

“This insistence that he is the solution,” Williams added, “his encouragement that people look to the future for his vision and not to the past is not an argument that works terribly well for somebody who’s got a record, particularly a record as controversial.” as Jason Kenney does.”

Williams said Kenney offered little to no vision of how he would mend differences between the party should he win the leadership review.

“The problem for Jason Kenney is he is saying we need to unite, but he is not really providing the leadership around which unity can take place,” she said. “There’s not a lot of clarity about what that vision for the future is.”

Leadership reviews have proved fatal for past Progressive Conservative premiers. In 2006, Ralph Klein was ejected from office after only receiving 55 per cent support. Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford went on to both earn 77 per cent of the vote only to later resign.

By comparison, Official Opposition leader Rachel Notley received 98.2 per cent support in her last Alberta NDP review.

Last week, Kenney reiterated that to him, 50 per cent of the vote plus one still represents a majority of support.

“To claim that slightly more than half or even substantially more than half of the party supports you in a process that has been called into question as deeply as this one has is not going to settle these divisions,” Williams said.

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