The day after a covert recording of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney saying he “didn’t need this job” was made public, he defended his words by saying he is trying to defend the unity of the United Conservative Party.
He also characterized his actions as a bulwark against “a growing number of voices from the far margins of Alberta politics that are… extreme” and were trying to affect the UCP leadership review process.
“When I worked so hard over three years to help build the United Conservative Party, I committed that it would be a mainstream party, reflective of the values of mainstream Albertans and that we would not allow the kind of ‘Lake of Fire’ incidents that we’ve seen in conservative politics in this province in the past,” Kenney said at an unrelated news conference Friday.
He pointed to the recent disqualification of Todd Beasley as leadership candidate over Islamophobic comments.
“This is a gentleman who has now been travelling around the province in the recent weeks to divide our party and sow the seeds of division.”
Kenney cited threats made on social media, including one post made after public health measures were lifted.
“I checked out my Facebook and someone posts: ‘We’re coming for you, Kenney. On April the 9th we’re taking you and your corrupt government down. You and the Jew-loving great reset tyrants are headed to the Nuremberg Trial.’
“Somebody who claimed that they were registering to vote in the UCP leadership campaign.”
He added the threats contributed to the decision to change the leadership review vote and the party had engaged police to investigate the threats.
“I know that these marginal voices do not represent Albertans, they certainly do not represent the United Conservative Party,” Kenney said Friday.
“But I am determined to ensure that such hateful, extreme and divisive voices do not find a home in this mainstream, broad conservative party.
“I’m confident that I have the support of the majority of members of the party that I’m privileged to lead.”
Kenney said the party needs to maintain its unity and, after contemplation over the holiday season, he couldn’t “risk breaking open this party and returning to a decade of conservative division by opening up an incredibly divisive leadership campaign at this point.”
He felt able to speak to the many parts of the UCP while also “protecting us from the kinds of extremism” he mentioned.
Kenney also pointed to his leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting global economic collapse and the multi-year low energy prices.
The recording of comments the premier made to staff was leaked by a person attending that meeting.
Kenney said his career in politics has shown there will “always be leaks,” saying “it goes with the territory.”
“I remember when I was minister of National Defense, I got frustrated because that whole department used to leak like a sieve,” he said.
“In my experience, it’s hard to maintain that 100 per cent in a large organization where individuals have put their own personal agendas ahead of the team.”
Move to mail-in vote done for logistics, security
The premier also addressed the change in voting method of his leadership review — from in-person to mail-in.
“Our members are going to have an opportunity to speak to that in our upcoming leadership review vote, where every single member will get a chance to cast a safe and secure ballot and I’m looking forward to that accountability,” he said.
Kenney side-stepped a question about validating the mail-in ballots.
“I’m not responsible for administering the ballot or the votes. That is the responsibility of our elected board and they’ll be contracting out oversight of that to a internationally recognized accounting firm,” he said.
“I believe the process will be very similar to the one used by the federal Conservative Party in their last two leadership elections which were conducted by mail ballot, where everybody will have to include identification in their return ballot and as I say, everything will be overseen by both the accounting auditors and and by volunteer scrutineers.”
But Kenney recognized that having 20,000 party members descend on a city of 104,392 – Red Deer – would have been a logistical and security problem.
“It could have been a complete shemozzle,” Kenney said.
“The idea of having people driving in from all across the province only to be unable to get access to the venue, unable to find parking, waiting hours, potentially being shouted at by protesters with bull horns – the whole scenario was, I think, irresponsible if we had proceeded in that direction.”