A motion that would have made it more difficult to hold an earlier review of Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership failed to get enough support Friday at the United Conservative Party annual general meeting.
Applause rang out when the motion to raise the number of constituency associations needed to trigger an earlier review didn’t pass with enough votes. Kenney already faces a leadership review in April.
Twenty-two UCP constituency associations have signed a letter to the party executive calling for an earlier vote. They represent the required percentage of boards under bylaws to fast-track a review. The motion Friday called for raising that number to 29.
The vote reflected the muted tension at the event as Kenney deals with rising discontent in his caucus, party and from Albertans.
Planned speeches delivered by Energy Minister Sonya Savage, party executive director Dustin van Vugt and others spoke to the difficulties of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic while also celebrating the party’s successes.
Meanwhile, attendees delivered less than subtle messages to show sides for or against Kenney.
Some attendees donned pins that said, “I stand with Jason Kenney” while others wore buttons that said “I’m With Kimmel,” a reference to an ongoing lawsuit against Kenney’s office.
Former UCP staffer Ariella Kimmel alleges the office fostered a “poisoned work environment” and repeatedly failed to address her complaint of sexual harassment involving a staff member. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
United Conservative MLA Leela Aheer, who has dropped from cabinet in July after calling for Kenney to resign, said the formal part of any program focuses on goals and objectives but the “real and honest conversations” are happening outside.
In the lobby of the Grey Eagle Resort and Casino, where the meeting is being held this weekend, many people spoke in hushed tones with vocal Kenney dissidents and supporters making rounds among the crowd.
“Any discussions around a leadership review are good,” said Aheer. “Right now, there has never been a better opportunity to rally the forces, unify us and find out who that person is supposed to be.”
Brian Jean, former leader of the Wildrose Party and UCP co-founder, said the best outcome of the meeting would be a resignation from Kenney.
“A lot of people, including myself, sacrificed a lot to have this party and to have this party move forward and win the trust, heart and minds of Albertans and it has not been successful,” said Jean.
“We all know what the problem is and we just need to make sure that problem is removed.”
Kenney greeted members on Friday night and is to return Saturday to deliver a keynote address.
Outside of the meeting, dozens of protesters held signs opposing COVID-19 vaccines and Kenney. Police barred anyone from entering the meeting until the situation came under control.
Party members will continue to debate and vote on a series of motions throughout the weekend. Socializing events, youth-focused meetings, a government bear pit session and a fiscal policy forum are also scheduled.