Alberta Politics

Governing gets in the way as Kenney’s leadership review creeps closer

Kenney’s desperation to shore up support from the disgruntled “freedom” wing is forcing him to make highly questionable policy decisions.

On March 1, when Kenney announced that he would amend the Municipal Governance Act to ensure municipalities could not have regional mask mandates, the censure was swift. 

After all, in 2020, and again in 2021, Kenney specifically downloaded responsibility for public health measures to municipalities when his government was reluctant to act.

Aside from being an overreach, Kenney’s response is at odds with the Municipal Governance Act (MGA) in general, which is quite clear on the respect for municipal jurisdiction – as in, it would take a lot of work to amend the Act for such a specific purpose, and Kenney wouldn’t want to risk some of the consequences.

Obviously, Kenney could simply add “except for COVID” to the MGA, but the authorities given to municipalities are broad for a reason – restricting municipalities from enacting regionally-specific COVID restrictions would require Kenney to implement sweeping (province-wide) restrictions.

Kenney’s already proven he will err on the side of doing nothing with the hope that someone else will stand in front of him.

The Premier also can’t offer an amendment to the effect of “in-line with recommendations from Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health” because that would require the government to share those recommendations with municipalities – a request Kenney’s government already dismissed.

Section 13 of the MGA, however, could allow for a temporary amendment to, say, the Public Health Act, that would tie the hands of municipal leadership while it serves Kenney’s interests: “(i)f there is a conflict or inconsistency between a bylaw and this or another enactment, the bylaw is of no effect to the extent of the conflict or inconsistency.”

Unfortunately, Kenney has to go a fair distance to make any restriction on municipal powers seem like it isn’t a political decision.

The problem for Kenney is that – in his position as leader of the UCP, and therefore as Premier – COVID restrictions are political, rather than public health, issues. 

Back in April 2021, when faced with a reasonably-sized caucus revolt, sources told the Calgary Herald Kenney had threatened a snap election if they didn’t come together on the need for COVID restrictions. 

Those tensions haven’t eased, even as Alberta’s COVID deaths continue to rise.

As recently as February, members of Kenney’s caucus were actively supporting protesters on the front lines, partaking in convoy protests, or cheerleading from behind their computer screens

To add insult to injury, there could be a new addition coming to the UCP caucus of dissent on March 15: former UCP leadership also-ran, Brian Jean. 

While there’s certainly no guarantee Jean will win the upcoming by-election, his candidacy ensures that whomever wins the race will be in opposition to the Premier (in case anyone is wondering why Kenney waited until the last minute to call a by-election – after the seat was vacated by Leila Goodrich when she ran for the Conservative Party of Canada in September – and is ignoring its existence entirely).

Jean has been very vocal about his feelings that Jason Kenney should be removed as leader of the UCP (which also translates to losing his position as Premier) – but he’s not the only one. 

A group called Take Back Alberta is organizing to get support for Kenney’s removal in his upcoming leadership review on April 9. 

The group’s President, David Parker, was involved with the former Wildrose Party – whose membership was taken in by Kenney and those who sang his siren song to gain support for the merger between the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties in 2017.  

Kenney, for his part, has lowered expectations for the UCP’s leadership review outcome to “50 per cent plus one” – the bare minimum required for him to stay on as Alberta’s Premier. 

All of this circles back to the heavy-handedness against municipalities; it’s a show of strength – or “leadership” – at a time when Kenney cannot afford to look weak against “socialist” issues like public health.

Recall that the UCP’s 2020 policy convention saw membership (the same people who will make the decision on whether Kenney remains Premier on April 9) pass a policy to create a private health care system in Alberta.

Unfortunately, this is what a “united” Conservative Party is – a private club that has to cater to the lowest common denominator in order to stay in power.

Meanwhile, the Premier is shredding the long-standing partnership with municipal governments so he can “focus on keeping (his) job“.

It’s possible Albertans will wake up on April 10 and discover that the membership took care of Jason Kenney.

It’s entirely plausible that the party of popup charter schools, “let ‘er rip” Covid, and private health care will choose someone who isn’t, as UCP MLA Dave Hanson said, “actually a liberal” to be Premier.

Or not.

It’s entirely up to the membership, after all.

This post contains opinion.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a political podcaster and commentator.
Connect: @Mitchell_AB for more, or @politicalRnD for posts

Your support is greatly appreciated – sign up for a monthly contribution on Patreon and enjoy subscriber-only content and early access to Women of ABpoli podcasts with Deirdre and Kathleen Smithor send me a coffee.