Critic says Alberta premier reaping results of divisive leadership

One of Jason Kenney’s caucus members says the Alberta premier is reaping what he has sown through personal attacks, dividing people and intimidating opponents.

“It is this negativity developed through a culture of fear that destroys unity,” Peter Guthrie, United Conservative Party member for Airdrie-Cochrane, said Tuesday in a five-minute video posted on his Facebook page.

“The premier encourages disrespectful treatment through his own actions,” Guthrie said.

“It is this very approach and leadership style that has driven a wedge between (the United Conservative) caucus and executive, causing opinions to solidify against Jason Kenney.”

Criticism of Kenney by some in his own caucus has been bubbling to the surface for more than a year, driven by underwhelming polling and fundraising numbers.

Kenney has said it’s because of resentment over some of his COVID-19 decisions. But Guthrie and other UCP members of the legislature say the premier is running a close-knit, hierarchical command structure impervious to grassroots advice.

“Where Guthrie is correct is that this is not about COVID-19,” said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University.

Bratt said that while COVID-19 has magnified tensions within the party, it is Kenney’s adherence to a strict, top-down model of governance that has led to MLAs like Guthrie speaking out. 

“When Kenney was popular with Albertans, he was able to get away with it. But when his popularity plummeted, people got upset by the bullying,” said Bratt. 

Bratt added that he wouldn’t be surprised if other MLAs and staffers had been similarly intimidated by the premier’s staff, as Guthrie claims to have been. 

“No other government in Canada, federal or provincial, past or present, has operated in this fashion. This starts with Kenney and the people that he has surrounded himself with.”

Criticism has became more pointed and vocal in recent weeks after the party executive made last-minute changes to distribute mail-in ballots rather than hold an in-person vote in a review of Kenney’s leadership.

Critics say the changes were made to ensure Kenney gets majority support. Without it, he would have to resign as per party rules and a leadership race would follow.

Guthrie, along with other dissident legislature members, and Kenney supporters have been publicly attacking each other in mainstream and social media.

Last week, multiple backbenchers expressed deep concern with Kenney in a newspaper column.

Recently elected UCP member Brian Jean has likened Kenney to a millstone around the party’s neck that will drag it down to defeat in the 2023 Alberta provincial election.

Meanwhile, Kenney — in a leaked audio recording — has called his critics “lunatics” and “kooky people” and compared them to insects drawn to the bright light of his party’s success.

Guthrie’s post is one of the lengthiest, pointed attacks on Kenney’s leadership since backbencher Todd Loewen called out Kenney a year ago. Loewen was immediately voted out of caucus, as was another Kenney critic, Drew Barnes.

UCP members are currently mailing in their ballots on Kenney’s leadership. Results are to be announced May 18.

Last week, Kenney called for all sides to stop the public attacks. He added that he has probably been too lenient on dissidents and promised that if he gets a majority in the vote everyone in caucus will be expected to fall in line.

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