Sorry, UCP, but you’re stuck with Kenney

When Jason Kenney assumed the leadership of the newly-hatched United Conservative party in 2017, he was no doubt expecting a long, unchallenged reign. Coupled with his resounding victory over Rachel Notley’s one-and-done New Spend-ocratics (oooh, good one) , it likely gave him a feeling of invincibility. 

Those were the days, right, Jason?

Just two years removed from his April 30, 2019 victory – 55% of the popular vote, 63 seats – Kenney’s hold on his party is shaky. A bunch of backbench MLAs (the media apparently couldn’t decide how many; in researching this blog, I found reports of 15, 16 and 17 MLAs) signed a letter complaining about COVID restrictions. Backbenchers grumbling about their party leadership is nothing new, but coming out in public with their complaints is almost unheard of. The only thing that saved Kenney from a full-on revolt was the lack of big city MLAs signing the letter, allowing supporters to shrug off the “revolt” as nothing more than gripes from rural malcontents. 

Then came the news that a letter was circulating, allegedly signed by grassroots members of the party, demanding Kenney’s resignation. No names were attached to the letter leaked to the media, which immediately made the whole thing rather suspect in my view. But the language of the letter – saying Kenney does not have the “moral authority or trustworthiness to lead the party” – was brutal. Now, an online petition, created by a card-carrying UCPer, is making the rounds. To add salt to the self-inflicted wounds, first quarter fundraising numbers revealed the NDP raised almost double the donations to the UCP. That’s gotta hurt.

So, a quarter of his caucus has come out against his handling of the COVID crisis. Grassroots members call for his resignation. Money is pouring into the NDP coffers. And then there’s his popularity, or lack thereof, with voters; polls show that if an election were held today, the NDP would stumble back into power.

If there really are hundreds of UCP members who want Kenney out, let me just dig up an old cliche (as opposed to a new cliche) – be careful what you wish for. 

As much as we like to say that we vote for parties or for policy, what we really vote for is leadership. The UCP members who want to jettison Kenney – fully two years before the next election –  should think about who would replace Kenney. 

The pickings, as they say, are pretty slim. The UCP cabinet is not exactly the Edmonton Oilers lineup of 1985. Consider his most high profile ministers. 

Health Minister Tyler Shandro has managed to alienate the entire medical community, and you don’t want to get those folks angry at you. Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s elementary curriculum rewrite has been a complete and utter fiasco, ridiculed and reviled by educators, school boards and parents. Energy Minister Sonya Savage has been under constant fire for plans to mine for coal in the Foothills and the Rockies. Really, Sonya? Coal in the 21st century?

After those three, try to identify another cabinet minister. Or, for that matter, any UCP member other than the ‘revolting’ MLAs. Maybe you remember one of those clowns who took a COVID holiday?

For better or for worse, the UCP is Jason Kenney. For what it’s worth, the NDP is in the same position. Rachel Notley is still bafflingly popular, much more so than her party. If Notley were to resign, the party would dip beneath the waves of a UCP tsunami. Don’t believe me? Imagine this – Premier Sarah Hoffman. Brrr. 

Kenney is not popular, with his own party or with the public. But kicking Kenney to the curb with two years to go before an election – when this whole COVID catastrophe will (I pray) be a distant bad memory – would be the height of folly. Two years is an eternity in politics. 

And if I may recycle yet another cliche, ya dance with the one that brung ya – especially if there is no one else at the dance worth stepping out with.  

By Maurice Tougas

Maurice Tougas is a lifelong Albertan, award-winning writer and reporter, and a former MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark.

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