While he may have announced his intentions to step down as leader of the United Conservative Party earlier this week, Jason Kenney said there is still a lot of work to be done before he leaves his post.
After receiving 51.4 per cent support in his leadership review, Kenney announced Wednesday evening that he plans to step down as UCP leader. Following a caucus meeting Thursday, the decision was made for Kenney to remain in his post until a new leader can be chosen.
“I’ll be doing so as soon as the party has elected a new leader,” Kenney said during a media availability Friday morning ahead of a cabinet meeting in Calgary.
Kenney walked into the room at McDougall Centre to a standing ovation from members of cabinet. The media was allowed inside while Kenney made his speech but the premier did not take questions after.
“It just looks bad,” Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said of the optics of it all.
“If this was a person on his way out, that’s a sign of respect – thank you for your service. We see that with the tweets that Rachel Notley gave. Usually in the legislature when someone is leaving, they get up and say nice things.
“But he’s not leaving. He is staying and apparently there is no caretaker government. It’s as if Wednesday night never happened.”
Kenney said the decision to keep him on as leader allows the government a chance to maintain continuity and stability, as well as focus on the people’s priorities until a new leader is elected.
“To me that’s the most important thing. This is a critical time in Alberta’s history. We are determined to keep our eye on the ball, to continue to lead Canada in economic growth and job creation, to keep our commitments to fight for a stronger Alberta,” Kenney said. “We have a lot of important business in front of us.
“This is a demonstration that Alberta’s government continues to do the people’s business, continues to fight for this province, to work for a strong economy, to make life better for Albertans.”
Some of that work, Kenney said, includes pushing forward following a “historic win” last week regarding the federal government’s environmental impact law.
The Alberta Court of Appeal’s strongly worded opinion said the Impact Assessment Act is an “existential threat” to the division of powers guaranteed by the Constitution and has taken a “wrecking ball” to Constitutional rights of the citizens of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“I am working to get as many Canadian provinces and key organizations representing First Nations, businesses and others who care about the future of Canada’s economy to support us as we go to the Supreme Court of Canada. I’ll be doing that next week at the Western Premiers Conference in Regina,” Kenney said.
Kenney also noted the government will continue its momentum from a trip to Washington last week.
“We saw some of the most powerful people in the United States congress supporting Alberta’s pitch to become a larger part of North American energy security.”
Kenney said Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon and Energy Minister Sonya Savage will take another trip to Washington next month with oilsands producers to discuss their plans to get to net-zero emissions by 2050.
The premier said his government will also continue to work on addressing the rising cost of living, inflation, food and energy prices.
“We will continue to focus… on the challenges faced by the uncertainty in the global economy. Obviously growing signs of inflation in Canada and around the world concerns us a great deal,” he said.
“We will continue to provide real action to support Albertans through that.
“We will be discussing what more can or should be done to protect Albertans from this inflationary environment.”
Speaking in Calgary Friday morning, NDP energy critic Kathleen Ganley said she disagrees very strongly that Kenney staying on as leader shows stability.
“This province is facing a crisis. People are unable to afford their basic costs. Hospital wait times are getting longer. People don’t have family physicians. We haven’t seen jobs returning or wage growth returning to this province. And this UCP government has been focused on everything else except that,” Ganley said.
“Over the last 48 hours, it has become clear that the UCP is completely adrift. Their party is divided, their MLAs are divided and they struggled for hours to decide who would be the caretaker premier in the coming months.”
Ganley would like to see a government that is focused solely on Albertans and their needs.
“It’s clear that the UCP leadership race will just be another moment of inaction and infighting,” she said.
“To Albertans who are exhausted and frustrated by this UCP drama, let me say this: Rachel Notley and our NDP team are competent and energized and ready to go. We are ready to act to strengthen public health care, to keep money in your pocket and to create good-paying jobs to support your family.”
Rob Smith, the constituency association president in Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills, has been part of the push to remove Kenney as the leader of the UCP.
While he was a bit surprised to hear Kenney is staying on as leader for now, Smith said ultimately the goal of ousting Kenney has been accomplished.
“It’s maybe not happening in the timeline that it looked like it was on Wednesday night, but honestly that is not the timeline that we expected anyway because we expected that we would still be battling with it on Thursday,” Smith said.
He said the work doesn’t stop here, though. Now the focus shifts to ensuring there is change in the leadership.
“We want to ensure that when we get to this leadership campaign, we’re not going to be running into the potential skulduggery or just the incompetence that plagued this particular leadership review and other aspects of the party over the course of the last year,” Smith said.
“Momentum is likely on our side. The premier has resigned and the grassroots has spoken. And I do believe that Premier Kenney — likely his insiders, his camp — were surprised by this result.
“I think that it’s important for us to continue our pressure moving forward on the party executive, on the board of directors to see what we can do with respect to making some change there as well.”
United Conservative Party caucus chair Nathan Neudorf said Thursday the timing of the leadership vote is yet to be determined.
“It’s like he’s going to try to fight through it,” Bratt said of Kenney. “We don’t know when the leadership race is. We don’t know what the rules of the leadership race are. He can say the party executive will determine that, but based on the leadership review, we know that Kenney has a lot of sway over that.
“I think what the caucus vote said is, Kenney still has a lot of control over these people or they’re still fearful of him.”