As Premier Jason Kenney announced Tuesday afternoon to Albertans that the Restrictions Exemption Program could be lifted by the end of February, a string of emails between caucus members showed deep divisions within the party.
The premier made the comments as part of a news conference where he addressed the blockade of the Coutts border crossing, calling the action illegal and for it to be cleared. One of the main points of contention of the protestors is the REP.
READ MORE: Movement at Coutts border on 5th day of blockade, one lane open in each direction
“Just a thought, defuse the border confrontation and remove the REP as of midnight; two birds with one stone,” Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA Dave Hanson emailed at 5:22 p.m., while the premier was still speaking.
“How is it that the entire caucus agrees to a solution and it can be ignored?”
The UCP held a caucus meeting on Monday. The email was part of a chain that included more than 100 recipients, from UCP caucus members to government staff, and there were several replies.
“It is absurd this government is willing to legally abuse Albertans with bad policy,” Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock MLA Glenn van Dijken responded.
“The caucus has spoken, yet the executive council decides otherwise.”
“I think we have confused our role as government here,” Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt responded Wednesday morning.
“We are not the parents who cannot give into a child’s demands.
“We are the government that works for the people and we damn well should be doing what they want.”
READ MORE: COVID-19: Kenney says he hopes to scrap Alberta vaccine passport program this month
At 9:10 a.m. Wednesday, Caucus Chair Nathan Neudorf responded to the chain.
“Caucus please use some decorum and common sense, caucus business should be emailed to caucus only, not all staff,” he wrote.
“This is not a common chat line, we have Slack for that,” the email concludes.
Global News obtained the emails from a party source.
Opposition NDP leader Rachel Notley slammed the idea of lifting health restrictions to appease protesters.
“It is horrifying that any member of government caucus would think the public health of Albertans could be used as a bargaining chip to negotiate with people engaged in illegal activities,” Notley said in a statement Wednesday night.
“The premier must commit that this will never happen and that he will remove any of his caucus members that believe it should.”
Former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, and current UCP candidate for the yet to be called Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche byelection, said the premier should listen to the voices of frustration in his caucus.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook,” Jean told Global News.
Jean came back to the party promising to be a unifying force in caucus to remove Kenney as leader, if he is elected.
“On a day like today, where the Conservative caucus in Ottawa showed that it was listening to CPC members across the country, the premier would do well to listen to his caucus.”
Listening to those voices come with risks as well, argues JC Boucher, an associate professor with the University of Calgary School of Public Policy.
Boucher believes the smart path forward for the premier is to lay out clear hospitalization benchmarks to be met before restrictions are eased.
“We had the unfortunate tendency to promise things that eventually had to backtrack, which eroded further the trust of Albertans in the premier.”
When asked for comment, the premier’s office simply responded in a statement that if current trends continue, it will begin lifting COVID-19 restrictions very soon, starting with the Restrictions Exemption Program.
In a public statement Wednesday afternoon, Neudorf tried to dispel rumors that caucus had negotiated an agreement to end the Coutts border blockade by lifting the REP.
“No such agreement has been authorized and the meeting is not to discuss lifting the REP,” he wrote.
Earlier Wednesday, traffic began flowing through one lane in each direction at the Coutts border, after protesters spoke with RCMP officers on scene, according to a lawyer representing the protesters.