Alberta Premier Jason Kenney answers questions at a news conference in Calgary on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Kenney is distancing himself from a decision to expel two members from his United Conservative caucus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

Kenney distances himself from caucus vote to turf dissidents with ‘personal agendas’

Kenney distances himself from caucus vote to turf dissidents with ‘personal agendas’

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he kept his distance in a debate over the fate of two outspoken backbenchers but believes his United Conservative caucus made the right decision to expel them.

“I did not reveal which way I was voting. I didn’t want to, you know, put my finger on the scale, but I did express my disappointment with some of the conduct,” Kenney said in an interview with CHED radio Friday.

“Ultimately what this says is we have to be a team. Let’s be professional. We can’t allow personal agendas to distract the team, or for that matter the government, from the business of governing, particularly in a time of (COVID-19) crisis like this.”

On Thursday, after a seven-hour virtual meeting, the caucus voted to turf members Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes. The vote came after weeks of caucus discontent over Kenney’s policies and decisions on the best way to arrest spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“There are a lot of internal issues, things that have happened between members, that ultimately caused, I think, a majority of our caucus to feel like they were being undermined and unable to work as a team,” said Kenney.

“I regret that — that it had to come to this — but I respect the decision our caucus has made and we’re going to move on, focused on the priorities of the public.”

The vote was made by sending text messages to Calgary legislature member Nick Milliken, acting caucus chairman.

Loewen and Barnes said that worked against them, because members had to text their ballot to Milliken and risk Kenney finding out how they voted.

No tally was released. Kenney said he knows it was a majority, but only Milliken knows how everyone voted.

Kenney has been wallowing in low poll numbers for months and party fundraising has fallen off sharply. But on Friday, he said: “I believe I have the confidence of the party I lead and the caucus that I serve with.”

Loewen and Barnes have said they will remain in the house as Independents to express the views of their constituents.

Both say the United Conservative Party under Kenney is no longer a grassroots-driven movement but a top-down, one-man show that sidelines and ignores backbench members and the concerns of the people they represent.

“The day could have turned out a whole bunch better for the UCP and for Albertans if the premier would start to take some responsibility and acknowledge how much of the problem he is,” said Barnes in an interview.

“Rather than acknowledge, listen and pivot, the premier decided to limit dissent.”

Thursday’s vote capped a day of internal party strife that began in the pre-dawn hours when Loewen posted on Facebook a public letter announcing he was quitting as caucus chairman and calling on Kenney to quit for the good of the party.

Loewen wrote that Kenney has botched key issues such as health care and the environment, has been weak-kneed with the federal government, and pursues confusing, contradictory and needlessly confrontational messaging.

Loewen, who represents the northern rural riding of Central Peace-Notley, said volunteers are leaving the party in droves and, without a new leader and a sharp change in direction, the UCP is headed for defeat in the 2023 election.

Barnes represents Cypress-Medicine Hat in southern Alberta. He has been the highly visible, highly critical and vocal point person for 18 backbench legislature members who have spoken out against Kenney’s public health restrictions.

The 18, most representing rural constituencies, have questioned the need for a one-size-fits-all approach, especially in areas with low case counts. They have said the measures may be more harmful than helpful at the cost of personal freedoms.

One of the 18, Ron Orr, took to Facebook on Friday to write: “I am sorry to see two members of caucus voted out, but I will not work for or support efforts to destroy the party or the leader from within.

“The premier has been more than fair and transparent with caucus. I also believe he is the leader God raised up for these times.”

Kenney has also been accused of bending too far backwards to cater to the concerns of rural areas — the core of his party’s support — at the expense of public health.

His government in the last two waves of the pandemic allowed COVID-19 cases to soar to levels that threatened to swamp hospitals before imposing stricter measures on businesses, capacity limits and on social gatherings.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley has said Albertans deserve a government focused on the pandemic and other critical issues and should not be held hostage to the twists and turns of UCP palace intrigue.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Jason Kenney

Just Posted

A small selection of shoes line a step at the municipal government building in Sylvan Lake, with each pair representing a vicitm of residential schools in Canada. Tracey Greinke placed the first pair of shoes on the steps, hoping more would follow. (Photo by Megan Roth/Black Press news services)
Sylvan Lake woman sets up small memorial for residential school victims

Tracey Grienke placed a pair of moccasins on the steps of town hall, and a few more followed

A section of the eastern slopes south west of Longview, Alta., Wednesday, June 16, 2021. A new report finds big differences in how different governments have responded to Canada’s promise to increase the amount of land it protects. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
A for Quebec, F for Alberta: Study rates Canadian governments on conservation

Report by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony in memory of those killed during WWII as he takes part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, June 22, 2021, marking the 80th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Putin hails WWII heroes, warns of degrading Europe security

Kremlin anxious to see international recognition of wartime sacrifices and its role in defeating Nazis

FILE - In this May 19, 2021, file photo, mice scurry around stored grain on a farm near Tottenham, Australia. A mouse plague that has ravaged vast swathes of eastern Australia has forced the evacuation of a prison while authorities repair gnawed electrical wiring and clear dead and decaying mice from wall cavities and ceilings, Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin said on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)
Australian prison to be evacuated after mice move in

Plagues usually happen when rain follows several years of drought

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell looks at his papers as Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, background left, talks to Cypriot Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides during a European Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting at the European Council building in Luxembourg, Monday, June 21, 2021. EU foreign ministers were set to approve Monday a new set of sanctions against scores of officials in Belarus and prepare a series of measures aimed at the country’s economy. (Johanna Geron/Pool Photo via AP)
EU, US, UK, Canada join forces to slap sanctions on Belarus

Asset freezes and travel bans also imposed

Black Horse Singers performed for students at Ecole la Prairie on Monday. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Students remind Red Deer that every child matters on National Indigenous Day

Heart-shaped messages to decorate trees at Ecole la Prairie through the summer

FILE - Canada’s Cyle Larin (17) scores past Haiti’s Josue Duverger, bottom left, during the second half of a World Cup qualifying soccer match Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Bridgeview, Ill. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
Toronto FC’s Zavaleta wastes little time settling in with El Salvador national team

Indiana-born Zavaleta qualifies for El Salvador through his father

Summer McIntosh swims her way to first place in the Women’s 800m Freestyle at the 2020 Olympic Swimming Trials in Toronto, Monday, June 21, 2021. McIntosh, who edged Rio Olympic star Penny Oleksiak in the 200-metre freestyle final a day earlier, picked up where she left off in the women’s 800-metre freestyle. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Summer Time: 14-year-old McIntosh wins again at Olympic swim trials

McIntosh will be one of the youngest athletes in Tokyo

This undated photo provided by Walt Disney World shows Disney characters at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Walt Disney World is planning an 18-month celebration in honor of its 50th anniversary, starting in October 2021. Disney announced Tuesday, June 22 that all four parks at the resort will take part in “The World’s Most Magical Celebration.” (Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World via AP)
Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary party starts Oct. 1

Favorite Disney characters will be part of a collection of special golden sculptures at all four parks

Columnist Treena Mielke
Family: When rain cancels ball game

The wild roses are out, blooming in roadside ditches, their gentle beauty… Continue reading

Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson, center, tries to get position for a shot against New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) during the second period in Game 5 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 21, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Stamkos, Vasilevskiy pace Lightning’s 8-0 rout of Islanders

Lightning 8 Islanders 0 (Tampa Bay leads series 3-2) TAMPA, Fla. —… Continue reading

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says he’s ‘convinced’ the city will be able to get rid of the mandatory mask bylaw in July. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
‘Made in Calgary’ approach will keep mask requirements past Alberta’s total reopening

Calgary won’t be following provincial recommendations on the mandatory wearing of masks… Continue reading

Most Read