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

Hackett: UCP leadership review simply a debacle

Stunning, exhausting, shocking.

All those adjectives can easily sum up the past week in Alberta politics and I have a feeling the whirlwind is nowhere close to settling down.

Or you could use a few of the gems provided by Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan, who called the United Conservative Party Special General Meeting a “spectacle” and a “circus.” He’s not wrong, not even a little bit.

A quick (or not so quick) recap goes like this: UCP president Cynthia Moore pulls the in-person leadership review from Red Deer, only a few days after the deadline for people to sign up to vote at the review, which was slated for April 9.

Moore cited an unexpected influx of voters, some 14,000, nearly double the UCP membership over the last four months, as the main reason an in-person event simply couldn’t be held.

“The extraordinary interest in the democratic process shows the strength of our party,” Moore said.

The review/SGM, slated to be held in Red Deer at the Cambridge Red Deer Hotel and Conference Centre, for now, has been moved to fully online. The hotel was sold out before the announcement, just a complete slap in the face to local businesses who were prepared for the event and the large influx of people in the city.

In a statement congratulating the move, UCP officials said they have heard concerns about protesters being attracted to such a large-scale event, that would have been well over-capacity. Isn’t it a citizen’s right to protest? It seems a little too convenient that now a protest becomes a problem.

On top of that, the results of the mail-in ballot will take weeks, with some suggesting they won’t be available until mid-May or later. Even with a “national auditing firm” the results will still be hotly debated. Not to mention Red Deer misses yet another big opportunity to host a large-scale event.

The debate on the legitimacy of those results has already been called into question by a number of folks. First, it was Brian Jean, who won a UCP seat in a Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche byelection and is planning to challenge Kenney for the leadership of the party.

Would it have been a logistical nightmare to coordinate all of those people in Red Deer? Of course! It’s the last-minute wrangling and hand wringing that will assuredly cast doubt on the process for this review, that has been muddied at best already.

“Make no mistake, a rushed mail-in ballot is a formula for fraud and cheating,” said Jean.

“The UCP cannot survive another tainted vote.”

The waters were further muddied on Thursday when a group of UCP constituency presidents got together and demanded the Red Deer event be re-instated by next Wednesday. They also called on the board to resign. It was a remarkable spectacle in its own right.

They called the move a “betrayal” and also explained that mail-in ballots had been discussed previously, but were told the system was dismissed as insecure.

“This is not a responsible decision in what will by then be less than a year to a provincial election. By changing the (special general meeting) rules in the dramatic way that they have, they have betrayed the rules and betrayed UCP members.

“Betrayal leads to distrust and you have shaken Albertans trust in the UCP,” said Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills Constituency president Rob Smith.

“This is not a Kenney-autocracy. This is Alberta and grassroots Albertans run the show.”

They’ve clearly outlined they’re ready for a fight and aren’t just going to let this issue die quietly. All the while, just hours later, nearly every UCP member in the legislature voted to push ahead the party budget. Division, what division?

Kenney needs a majority plus one in order to hold until to his seat atop the UCP at the leadership review. It’s worth noting that Ed Stelmach and Allison Red Redford both secured 77 per cent in their reviews and didn’t find the term.

There’s been very little explanation from the UCP Caucus, the UCP Executive Board, and the premier on the leadership review scandal. It’s a debacle and they’re just hoping it goes away. I think you can only run so far from this one. And to be fair, the premier did answer some questions Friday, saying he’ll continue to lead the party and has confidence in the support of the UCP members.

Still, all people wanted was more transparency from the UCP and all they’ve got is secrecy. Rumours abound this week about how they could still hold the vote, with discussions about adding locations in Edmonton and Calgary, as well as extended voting hours.

It was hard to get a straight answer about how they were going to proceed and it still is. Members who have paid so they could take part, booked accommodations in Red Deer are now scrambling trying to figure out what it all means.

If it’s unity the premier wants, he’s got a lot of work to do between now and April 9 to quell the anger of those who steadfastly support him and feel betrayed by this sudden change to the vote on his future.

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

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