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Premier Jason Kenney removes MLA Pat Rehn from UCP caucus

Click to play video 'Premier Jason Kenney removes MLA Pat Rehn from UCP caucus after performance complaints' Premier Jason Kenney removes MLA Pat Rehn from UCP caucus after performance complaints
Premier Jason Kenney has kicked Pat Rehn out of the United Conservative caucus, saying the Lesser Slave Lake MLA failed to represent his Alberta constituents. Fletcher Kent reports.

Premier Jason Kenney has removed United Conservative MLA Pat Rehn from the UCP caucus, effective immediately.

In a statement on Twitter on Thursday morning, the premier said Rehn will sit as an independent MLA and not be permitted to run for a future UCP nomination.

“The most important job of a Member of the Legislative Assembly is to represent his or her constituents,” Kenney said in a statement.

“It has become clear that Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn has failed to do so. He has made no meaningful effort to work in his constituency, or properly to represent his hard-working constituents.

“I have repeatedly asked Mr. Rehn to be more present in his constituency. He has ignored calls from me, UCP caucus leadership and his constituents to do so.”

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Kenney went on to say that Rehn’s performance “falls well below the high standards we expect in our caucus and party.”

The premier said he has spoken with local leaders in the Lesser Slave Lake constituency to express the government’s support for their communities.

The move comes after a few local leaders spoke out against Rehn. Slave Lake and High Prairie are the main urban centres in the sprawling rural constituency of Lesser Slave Lake in northern Alberta. Both have criticized Rehn.

Read more: Slave Lake working around MLA Pat Rehn to get things done after issuing scathing letter: mayor

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In a recent letter penned to the MLA, Slave Lake’s council asked for Rehn to resign, accusing him of not meeting with constituents, focusing more on his business interests, not showing up for meetings and being ill-prepared when he does show up.

Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman said last week that he and council have “lost all faith” in Rehn.

“At this point we kind of feel … what do we have to lose?” Warman said. “There is an overwhelming feeling amongst the elected leaders and the people who live here that he has lost (our confidence).”

Read more: Slave Lake council asks for resignation of MLA Pat Rehn in open letter

In a Facebook post last week, Rehn did not address specific concerns about his job performance, but said he is committed to the constituency and to serving its residents.

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Late Thursday night, Rehn posted on Facebook that while he was disappointed to be removed from the UCP caucus, he was also relieved, saying he feels he can now voice his objection to Kenney’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are some advantages of not being tied to a party,” his post reads in part. “I will now be able to express my opposition of some of the lockdown measures, such as closing gyms and businesses.

“I believe strongly that measures must be taken to prevent COVID-19 spread, but also recognize the long-lasting effects caused by the lockdown itself.”

Rehn thanked Kenney and the UCP for allowing him to pursue the opportunity of serving as an MLA, and to “meet many great people from the communities I represent, and stand up for a free enterprise Alberta where innovation and opportunity were rewarded.”

“I still believe wholeheartedly in this,” his post reads.

“There are still some large projects in the works I’m proud to be a part of, and I am optimistic this region will see great growth as we move forward, put 2020 behind us, and start fresh in 2021.”

On Thursday, Warman acknowledged that as an independent, Rehn will have even less of a voice, but added that it’s encouraging to see the province reach out to offer assistance to the area.

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“He’s still our MLA. So that is what it is. The only one that can make that decision is Mr. Rehn and the premier can’t force him to step aside, neither can we,” Warman said.

“I don’t think that this news is bad news for our region… It reinforces the fact that our residents aren’t happy, our elected officials have lost confidence and even his own colleagues don’t have confidence in him to do his job. So luckily the province has been reaching out to us directly and saying that they recognize that this region needs to be represented, our concerns need to be heard.

Click to play video 'Jason Kenney kicks backbencher MLA Pat Rehn out of UCP caucus after constituent complaints' Jason Kenney kicks backbencher MLA Pat Rehn out of UCP caucus after constituent complaints
Jason Kenney kicks backbencher MLA Pat Rehn out of UCP caucus after constituent complaints

“It’s a start for sure – the fact that they recognize that we have had a significant lack of representation. I think that acknowledgement goes a long way to say, ‘Hey, we’re here to help, we’re going to see what we can do and we’re going to make sure you don’t get forgotten about.’ So realistically, that’s all our region has been asking for from the get-go.”

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Warman said if Rehn truly cares about the people in the region, he will step aside.

“Especially since now he’s been removed from caucus, I just don’t see a path backwards myself but that’s for Mr. Rehn to decide.”

Rehn recently lost his legislature committee responsibilities after it was confirmed he engaged in non-essential travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt believes the premier’s move to remove Rehn is not about his trip to Mexico, but “the fact that he doesn’t seem to be doing his job.”

“It’s a further black mark on the party,” Bratt said. “It would have been more surprising if Kenney had kept refusing to remove him from caucus.

“You have not done your job. Your bosses aren’t happy, your voters are unhappy, your stakeholders are unhappy. You don’t live there. You don’t work there. You should resign.”

Read more: ‘Stupidity’: Experts slam politicians’ travel amid coronavirus pandemic

However, Bratt added he doesn’t think Rehn will resign “because he’s treated it like a part-time job.”

“This actually worked out better for him. He doesn’t need to go up there. He’s not going to run again in two years’ time.”

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Alberta’s NDP Opposition is also calling on Rehn to resign as the MLA for Lesser Slave Lake.

“It’s been clear that Mr. Rehn has not been fulfilling his responsibilities as MLA for months,” NDP Leader Rachel Notley said in a news release.

“Jason Kenney knew this was a problem for months and waited until it was a personal embarrassment to him,” Notley said. “No one should mistake Mr. Rehn’s removal today as anything but shameless, self-serving, skin-saving politics by Jason Kenney.”

Kenney said he and government ministers will meet with Lesser Slave Lake constituents in the weeks to come to “ensure that they have direct access to their government, and to help them address important local issues.”

With files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich and The Canadian Press.

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