Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

HACKETT: Kenney not going away quietly

It’s not clear who the next UCP leader will be

There isn’t much that sums up Jason Kenney’s run as premier of Alberta better than the disbelief of so many when the news trickled out Wednesday that he would step down following a United Conservative Party Leadership review.

Kenney won 51.4 per cent of the vote, as most of you reading this are well aware of by now. Of the 43,298 votes cast, he got 17,638 yes votes and 16,660 no votes.

Technically, that’s a victory and he didn’t need to step down. But political precedent indicated that isn’t enough support to govern on the will of the people.

What we are all aren’t so sure of, is what the future holds for Kenney, despite a clear signal he would resign.

He’s a politician through and through and the UCP caucus made it clear Thursday that our time being governed by Mr. Kenney is not over just yet. Which is why his announcement likely shocked so many. Nobody thought he was going to ride quietly into the night, regardless of the leadership review result.

His caucus announced that Kenney would stay on as leader until a new leader was selected, whenever the heck that might be.

We shouldn’t all be shocked that someone who did whatever it took to gain control of power in this province, isn’t ready to let it all slip away just yet.

In a vaguely worded letter, Kenney himself said Thursday night that it was his “intention to resign as leader of the United Conservative Party upon the election of a new leader.”

As pundit Don Baird put it yesterday, according to a source of his after a marathon UCP caucus meeting “Yesterday he quit, and today they’ve spent five hours debating the definition of quit.”

Kenney seemed to double down on that notion Friday in a hastily organized press conference ahead of a UCP cabinet meeting in which reporters were not allowed to ask questions, missing the key point of a press conference.

He looked surprisingly jovial for a man who just lost his job and talked about the work ahead. Wait, didn’t he just quit? Quitting is in the eye of the beholder? It’s all muddy at this point.

He touted his cabinet’s fiscal discipline as the main reason the province is in a better position to weather global economic certainty. And he’s not wrong! But it’s also far too late and the boat has sunk way too deep for him to toss out such a life preserver to those whom he’s alienated over the past three years.

In the five-minute speech, he said that “this is a critical time in Alberta’s history” and followed that by saying he would attend a Western Premiers Conference in Regina next week and a council of the Federation meeting in Victoria in July.

He sounded like a man who isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. He dug in and dug in deep. And nobody should be surprised.

So good job, I guess, to all those disgruntled UCP voters who took action and got the result they wanted, yet won’t see any action until the fall or late summer at the very earliest?

And I get it, there is anger, rightfully so among those who supported Jason Kenney in a landslide victory three years ago, in which the UCP captured 63 of 87 seats in the legislature.

Since then, he hasn’t listened to the people. Not the people in his own party, the people who voted for him, nor the many people who haven’t supported him from the beginning.

Kenney started making decisions in the last year or so to protect his political skin. Scandals and controversies surrounded his government seemingly daily and yet Kenney laughed them off, criticized reporters for asking questions about it, and he just kept the political machine humming in the direction he wanted, not the one that the people desired from him.

And the people clearly recognized it. His approval rating according to various polls, as recently as April, hovered around 30 per cent. In May of 2019, that number was 61 per cent and it dipped to 40 per cent in September of 2020.

Economically, there’s no denying Kenney has helped the province find some of its footing. He figured that would be the wagon that brought him back to beloved in the eyes of the people.

More jobs are available in today’s economy and the province is likely a better place to do business, in some instances than it was three years ago.

That’s great and all, but when you lose the backing of the people, and those people continually pressure their local representatives for change, the wheels of change drive forward in a democracy.

Kenney’s message got tired. From both sides of the political aisle, people lost sight of Kenney’s vision to return Alberta to its former glory. His own caucus criticized the way the leadership review was handled, and so did his MLAs. His handling of COVID-19 was widely criticized, rightly by many different groups. We could go on for days about his failures in health care and education, his bet on a pipeline that cost taxpayers billions, but there’s no sense drudging up old news at this point.

It was death by a thousand cuts and he ultimately never heard the cries of those who were delivering the blows. He thought he could out-politic their wishes.

Those who openly disagreed with Kenney across the party now are licking their chops at the opportunity to take hold of the party.

Brian Jean has made his intentions known, as has former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan has been extremely critical of Kenney over his handling of COVID-19 and the leadership review, so maybe he also takes a shot at the top chair. Only time will tell.

And yet, you’ll see when politicians get desperate like Kenney clearly is, they will say anything to hang on just a little while longer.

Like a magician trying to fool the audience, in one last act of desperation, Kenney said this Friday.

“We are determined to keep our eye on the ball,” said the magician to the audience, as he prepared his final act which may turn out not to be his final act, but just a brief intermission.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor at the Red Deer Advocate.