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Braid: UCP thrown into tizzy after the Kenney resignation that wasn’t


‘Wednesday he quit, and today they’ve spent five hours debating the definition of quit,’ said one observer

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You thought Premier Jason Kenney quit Wednesday night?

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So did most of Alberta. After being shocked by only 51.4 per cent approval from his party, the premier said he will quit, without explaining just what quitting means to him.

It sounded like he was leaving quickly. His critics in the party lit up with delight.

But after a caucus meeting Thursday, Kenney’s definition of quitting finally snapped into focus.

He will keep the job until a new leader is elected, on an undefined date to be decided by the party.

The best quip came from former government staffer Bart Johnson, on Twitter: “So he didn’t resign last night? Does that mean maybe the Oilers didn’t lose last night either?”

On Thursday morning, UCP MLAs labouring under the latest delusion poured into the McDougall Centre with hope in their hearts.

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They expected to vote for a new interim premier to replace Kenney. That leader would serve until a full leadership race chooses the permanent UCP boss.

MLAs including Searle Turton, Leela Aheer and Richard Gotfried wanted to install the replacement part immediately.

Gotfried said: “I’ll stay here until three in the morning if we need to, to get that done.”

But something else entirely happened during the long, contentious meeting.

Kenney’s loyalists fought to keep him on as leader until a new chieftain is chosen, six months or more from now.

Once again, the UCP looked divided and confused.

“Wednesday he quit, and today they’ve spent five hours debating the definition of quit,” said one observer.

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In reality, they went at each other for well over six hours.

Caucus chair Nathan Neudorf put out a statement saying “we agreed that we must remain united . . . And 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.”

One twist is that nothing in the rules prevents Kenney from running for the full UCP leadership again.

Unlikely, maybe. But so is nearly everything else going on here.

The many dissidents will have to figure out how to handle the Kenney interregnum.

A fierce critic like Brian Jean — who insisted Kenney had to quit cold — could ease his personal resistance, file for the leadership race and focus on the big prize.

Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA Brian Jean arrives at McDougall Centre in Calgary for a UCP caucus meeting on Thursday, May 19, 2022. The UCP were meeting following Premier Jason Kenney’s announcement Wednesday night that he will be resigning as leader.
Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA Brian Jean arrives at McDougall Centre in Calgary for a UCP caucus meeting on Thursday, May 19, 2022. The UCP were meeting following Premier Jason Kenney’s announcement Wednesday night that he will be resigning as leader. Gavin Young/Postmedia

Other dissidents may also wait out his final months. A few might leave caucus. If others act up, Kenney would have trouble ejecting them.

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His political authority is much diminished. Until Wednesday he held scores of futures in his hands. Now his grip doesn’t extend beyond six months.

Critical MLAs like Aheer, who probably wouldn’t have sought her riding nomination if Kenney had won the review vote handily, could try for another term.

“He’s a lame duck now,” said Al Browne, who co-ordinated the efforts of riding presidents to move up the leadership review.

“The best thing for everyone would be mass resignations — of Kenney, his entire staff and party officials, including the president.”

Some people point out that Kenney has the right to stay on until a new leader is picked.

That happened with three PC premiers — Don Getty, Ralph Klein and Ed Stelmach — who were edged out by their party. Only Alison Redford quit on the spot.

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But Kenney started this trouble with a vague public statement that made no mention of his transition plan.

“While 51 per cent of the vote passes the constitutional threshold of majority, it clearly is not adequate support to continue on as leader,” he said.

“That is why tonight I’ve informed the president of the party of my intention to step down as leader of the United Conservative Party.

“I truly believe we have to move forward united, we need to put the past behind us.”

Kenney himself is the party’s past. His presence doesn’t foster unity. By his own admission he lacks support to continue.

And yet, he continues.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.

Twitter: @DonBraid

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