Competing political parties hope to benefit from internal UCP fractures

An Alberta separatist party hopes the United Conservative Party’s internal clashes will help its upstart movement grow.

Paul Hinman, interim leader of the Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta, says he’s had confidential conversations with several UCP MLAs who are frustrated with their current party.

The Thursday vote by UCP caucus members to expel MLAs Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes from caucus could be a turning point, Hinman said.

“That puts fuel in our tanks and wind in our sail,” he said.

Loewen published a letter early Wednesday calling for Premier Jason Kenney’s resignation. He said the leader had lost  the support of Loewen’s constituents, caucus members and the public, and that the UCP needed a new leader to have a shot at winning the next provincial election.

Barnes vocally criticized government public health restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

He was among 16 other MLAs who signed a letter last month criticizing the government’s increased restrictions on businesses and other activities.

Hinman has spoken to several of those MLAs and hopes to continue those conversations in the coming days.

“Our doors are always open to freedom-fighters and those who have an independent thought process,” he said.

The party was formed in June 2020 when Wexit Alberta and the Freedom Conservative Party merged. Hinman said there are about 7,500 members provincewide.

Coincidentally, Friday was the deadline for candidates to apply for leadership of Wildrose Independence. Party president Rick Northey said Hinman was the only one to apply as of Friday afternoon.

Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes offer their thoughts after being expelled from Alberta’s UCP caucus for going public with their complaints about Premier Jason Kenney. 1:57

Barnes quiet about plans

Barnes, who has previously said he’d like to see Alberta become more autonomous, was non-committal about his next move.

Saying he was sad and surprised to be turfed from caucus, the three-term MLA will sit as an independent while he talks to his family and his constituents about the future.

CBC attempted to reach the 15 remaining UCP MLAs who have previously disagreed publicly with government decisions.

The sole comment was from Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr, who published a statement saying the premier has been fair and transparent with caucus.

“I also believe he is the leader God raised up for these times even though I don’t like these times any more than you do,” Orr wrote of the pandemic.

Barnes said he is receiving hundreds of messages of support from Albertans and hopes other MLAs decide to voice their concerns with the UCP and Kenney.

The Alberta Party hasn’t connected with disenchanted UCP MLAs — but it has heard from voters, interim party president Jacquie Fenske said Friday.

Thursday’s evictions were the last straw for some UCP supporters who believe in grassroots decision-making, she said.

“They’re going to be looking for a new political home,” said Fenske, who hopes to woo a growing faction of undecided voters.

Although some may be hoping to capitalize off the UCP’s misfortune, University of Calgary political scientist Melanee Thomas believes nobody wins when a government is plagued by infighting during a pandemic.

She said people who were drawn to Kenney and the UCP to be close to power may remain faithful if they believe that is the best chance to stay in power.

Thomas was astounded by Kenney telling 630 CHED on Friday he didn’t try to influence his caucus members during the vote to expel Loewen and Barnes.

She says it was a public admission that Kenney lacks control of his caucus and abdicates his leadership role.

“He literally told on himself,” Thomas said, adding it creates an opening for an internal opponent to make a power play for leadership of the UCP.

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