By Cole Parkinson
Westwind Weekly News
Last week, Premier Jason Kenney surprised the province by announcing his intention of stepping down as the leader of the United Conservative Party.
While the results of the UCP leadership review saw Kenney gain 51.4 per cent approval and while he had maintained a stance that he would return if gaining over 50 per cent, that wasn’t the case come Wednesday night. Of the 34,298 party members who mailed in ballots by the May 11 deadline, 17,638 said yes and 16,660 said no.
“Friends, tonight the members of our party completed a democratic exercise in accountability. The result is not what I hoped for, or frankly what I expected, but I have been clear from day one that I will respect the decision of the members in this leadership review.”
“And I expect all of our members of our party to do just that. Friends, while 51 per cent of the vote passes the constitutional threshold of a majority, it is clearly not adequate support to continue on as leader — and that is why tonight I have informed the president of the party of my intention to step down as the leader of the United Conservative Party. I’m sorry, but friends, I truly believe that we need to move forward united, we need to put the past behind us, and a large number of our members have asked for an opportunity to clear the air through a leadership election. I recommended therefore that the provincial board schedule a leadership election in a timely fashion,” stated Kenney to a crowd gathered at Spruce Meadows in Calgary.
Kenney pointed to the past two years of COVID as a reason for such a swing in divisiveness in the province. He also pointed to several things he saw accomplished since the UCP were put in power in 2019.
“I want to thank all members that participated in this process and the hundreds of volunteers that have pitched in. I also want to thank so many of you here and right across the province for your support and tireless efforts of those who have had confidence in my continued leadership. Friends, it’s clear the past two years were deeply divisive for our province, our party, and our caucus, but it is my fervent hope that in the months to come, we all move on past the division of COVID and as disappointing this result is for me, I am incredibly proud of the work this team has done. Together, we reunited the free enterprise movement in Alberta politics and we won the largest electoral mandate in our province’s history. We inherited profound fiscal and economic challenges and then we went through three once in a century crisis,” continued Kenney. “The largest public health crisis in a century, the largest collapse of the world economy in nearly a century, and the first time we experienced negative oil prices. And yet, despite all of that, we got the job done — delivering on nearly 90 per cent of our election commitments, while turning around our economy so we’re leading Canada in economic and job growth, balancing the budget for the first time in 14 years, and paving the path towards a new era of diversification. Putting parents back in charge of education, passing the Education Act and so much more.”
Locally, Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter wanted to give his thanks to Premier Kenney and all he’s done in the role over the years. Hunter was especially thankful for how Kenney helped regroup the conservatives in Alberta.
“I want to, first of all, say I have the deepest respect for Jason Kenney and the good work he has done. He has brought Conservatives together when we were very much apart — so I am very grateful for that. I certainly feel strongly about the work he has done in terms of the last three years, and obviously, with COVID, you were darned if you do and darned if you don’t, so any political leader in the world has really taken brand damage. I think this is what we saw,” stated Hunter in an interview with the Times. “But again, I have the deepest respect for Premier Kenney, and he will stay on until the leader is picked. I don’t know when that will happen — the party will probably be coming out with a statement here in the next couple of weeks. We’re a year away from an election, so I think they want to get that done as soon as possible. I wish him the best — he’s still young enough to move into something else and take a role in something else. I wish him the best.”
Following his announcement last Wednesday night, reactions rolled in from across Canada. Leader of the Alberta Opposition NDP, Rachel Notley, tweeted out her thoughts by stating “I want to thank Jason Kenney for his public service. There are obviously many things about which we don’t agree, but that doesn’t negate the time and sacrifice that goes into taking on the role of Premier,” she said in a tweet. “The work is never easy. The days are long and often difficult, as I’m sure today is. I wish Jason the best.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered similar sentiments upon Kenney’s announcement.
“Thank you, @jkenney, for all your contributions. Through the challenges of the past two years and decades of public service, you’ve been a voice for Alberta and Albertans, and I wish you all the best in the years ahead,” read his tweet.
The UCP caucus also explained what’s to come with Kenney stepping down. While Kenney will remain leader, for the time being, the search for a new leader is ongoing.
“Today, the United Conservative caucus had a vigorous discussion and debate about the future of our party and our government,” reads a statement from Nathan Neudorf, UCP caucus chair. “We agreed that we must remain united, focused on the best interests of Albertans, and committed to doing the job Albertans elected us to do. In that spirit, we have affirmed Premier Jason Kenney’s continued leadership of our caucus and government until such time as a new leader is chosen, the timing of which will be determined by the United Conservative Party.”