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Opinion: How Kenney took his government off the rails

It’s a political train wreck.

If a provincial election were held today, the UCP government would be sent packing to the backbenches and the NDP would be returned to power with a majority.

Such a scenario seemed impossible just two short years ago. However, since that time, Premier Jason Kenney has steadily failed to deliver when it comes to key promises. Instead, the premier has delivered record deficits, debt soaring past $100,000,000,000, and a host of pandemic management failures.

Is it any wonder that Kenney, the man who once declared his own victory a “miracle on the prairies,” is now the least popular premier in all of Canada?

Behind closed doors

As bad as this government appears from the outside, the situation is even worse behind closed doors. I know. I had a front row seat.

Following the 2019 election, I was chosen by my fellow MLAs to serve as the chair of the UCP Caucus. I considered it an honour. Fresh off a winning campaign, our members were greatly looking forward to working with a government that was committed to grassroots democracy. However, it soon became apparent that our leader had a much different idea of how democracy should work.

To use a sports analogy, Caucus was immediately benched. Like premier Alison Redford before him, Kenney showed no real interest in listening to MLAs or adopting their input. Rather than allowing MLAs to keep the government accountable, Kenney and some of his inner circle took an adversarial approach.

I can give you numerous examples of dysfunction, and virtually all of them come back to the failures of one man: Kenney. He proved incapable of accepting constructive criticism, and often verbally attacked MLAs who offered alternatives. On several occasions those who spoke up were called to the “principal’s office” (i.e., Kenney’s Whip’s office) and lectured. Worse yet, he once berated one of my female colleagues to tears. In my opinion, that crosses a line. Real leaders do not resort to such authoritarian tactics.

Unwilling to accept input, the premier started employing procedural and filibuster tactics against his own Caucus. Rather than allowing me to set agendas for meetings according to the will of the MLAs, he transferred control to a committee he chaired. Very little time was allowed for MLAs to speak in caucus, preventing many MLAs from speaking on important issues. On multiple occasions, without providing an explanation, Caucus meetings were cancelled altogether.

It falls apart

As all of this was going on behind closed doors, the government’s self-inflicted wounds continued to multiply. It became apparent to a growing segment of Albertans that this government had stopped listening. The consequences are undeniable. The UCP party continues to lose members, including provincial and local board members. Donations have dried up. Lifelong conservative volunteers walked away.

Frustrated MLAs kept coming to me, pleading for an opportunity to truly represent their constituents. Try as I might, the premier refused to budge. Out of options, I attempted to snap this government out of its stupor by publicly stepping down as Caucus chair and calling for new leadership.

Epilogue for a premier

In the weeks following my departure from the UCP Caucus, the situation only grew worse. The Sky Palace patio scandal clearly illustrated for the public what many insiders already knew. Even caught red handed violating his own health restrictions, the premier refused to accept accountability or responsibility for his actions.

Albertans have now seen him for who he really is, and there is no going back. While the last provincial election in Alberta was a referendum on premier Rachel Notley’s performance, it is clear that the next election will be all about one man: Jason Kenney.

Regardless of what he does from this point forward, the premier’s best days are behind him. Moving forward, I truly believe we can get this train back on the track.

But, first things first, we need a new conductor.

Todd Loewen is the MLA for Central Peace-Notley. Loewen was ousted from UCP caucus in May.