Friday, May 20, 2022

Two Days In Alberta Politics

It’s Friday - end of the week, and the last 2 days of politics in Alberta have been a whirlwind … on Wednesday, Kenney said he would step down after getting 51.4% support in a leadership review vote, and on Thursday, the UCP caucus voted to keep Kenney on as the leader until a leadership race is concluded. 

So … kind of a “I’m leaving … fooled ya, I’m still here” couple of days.

What does all this really mean? 

At its core, this is as predictable as it is shocking. I’ve never seen a case where a sitting Premier effectively loses the confidence of their party but then chooses to stick around until whenever a leadership race happens to be concluded, but then again, few parties have the history that the UCP does - in fact, no party I know of has a comparable history. 

The UCP wasn’t really a merger of existing parties, nor was it a truly “grassroots” party.  Both were a façade wrapped around Kenney travelling all over Alberta in a dark blue pickup truck.  This was always a party designed to be a vehicle for Kenney to ride to power, and Kenney finagled it at every step of the way to create the illusion that it was “grassroots” without there ever being any real doubt that he would lead it. 

It’s pretty easy in Alberta to run around the province and yammer on about the evils of the NDP and the dreaded “socialism” they represent (let’s ignore the reality that Notley governed somewhat to the right of Lougheed for now). That’s easy pickings for conservatives here - they’ve spent the last 70+ years demonizing anything left of free market absolutism.  (Hell - Kenney figured Klein and Lougheed were too far left back in the day) 

The UCP merger was a farce - Kenney bullied out any real rivals for the leadership of both parties, and by that point the PCAA was but a shadow of its former self, and the WRP … well … strident and fractious it might have been, the party was in pretty rough shape after Danielle Smith’s attempt to engineer a mass floor crossing in 2014. 

Then we have the UCP leadership race itself.  Every dirty trick in the book was used, and there are still ongoing investigations into it - ranging from the “Kamikaze Campaign” that was clearly controlled from Kenney’s campaign team, to illicit ballot stuffing operations.  Rigged as it was, there was precious little chance of any outcome other than Kenney winning actually happening.  

Since then Kenney has run the party pretty much as his own little private fiefdom.  It’s his way or the highway.  A few loudmouth MLAs like Drew Barnes were allowed to speak out until they became a political liability, then they would get booted from caucus when Kenney needed to make a show of strength.  

Government “consultations” typically became exercises in forming committees to “find” pre-established outcomes to justify Kenney’s agenda.  MLAs were kept firmly in line with a combination of cajoling, bullying, and when needed, outright coerçion - always firmly under Kenney’s thumb - even cabinet ministers really didn’t speak unless told exactly what to say when (which was no doubt part of the reason Shandro was so awkward at the beginning - he’s lousy at ad-lib).  

When the wheels started to come off the UCP bus, with previously compliant MLAs starting to openly criticize the boss, and riding associations starting to panic because they realized that Kenney had become so deeply unpopular that even secure ridings were in danger of flipping in an election, it took months for a leadership review to be called.  Then, at every turn, Kenney fiddled the rules about, lengthened the timelines, etc. to hang on to power.  

Kenney was never the leader that could forge a lasting alliance of these groups - partly because he himself belongs quite firmly to one of the key factions.  Harper wasn’t seen as such, and therefore he was able to play the various factions in the CPC off against each other until they learned to (sort of) coexist.  A decade in power helps with that.  Kenney hasn’t had that option because he is known as a hardline SoCon - and that makes him less trustworthy to begin with to the other factions.  The CPC has held together as long as it has because of Harper’s “iron fist in a velvet glove” approach and ongoing influence in the party, although the last 2 leadership races have shown us that the coalition of factions is crumbling quite rapidly. 

Looking around the UCP today, it’s hard to imagine anyone that is a credible candidate to succeed Kenney.  The names already on the table are mostly “outsiders” - people whose political careers had crashed once before and they are now trying to take wing again.  As for any of the current MLAs, there has been no real opportunity for any of them to show us that they are capable of leading anything. There is no sign of any succession planning taking place, and I don’t think Kenney has any interest in doing so. 

The whole point here is that this was always a party formed for the benefit of Kenney.  A vehicle for him to ride to power, and to stay there. There is no long term plan for the UCP - it exists at a moment in time, and once Kenney goes, the factions that rallied around Kenney and his message of “hate the NDP” will likely as not fall apart fairly quickly. 

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