Jason Kenney to address UCP members as leadership review begins

Premier Jason Kenney will make a pitch for his political survival to United Conservative Party members Saturday as the party kicks off a review of his leadership. 

The speech comes amid fears Kenney’s leadership review effort will be a repeat of his 2017 campaign to win the party leadership over competitors Brian Jean, now the UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac la Biche, and Doug Schweitzer, the current minister of jobs, economy and innovation.

The RCMP is still investigating allegations of fraud and identity theft related to the 2017 vote. 

The special general meeting will convene at 11 a.m and the entire event will be streamed online to registered UCP members — a big change from the original plan to hold an in-person, one-day vote in Red Deer. 

The party changed the review to a mail-in ballot, claiming the number of new members signed up to vote exceeded the capacity of the venue in Red Deer.

The premier’s critics allege the UCP executive amended the process because thousands of new members were likely to vote against Kenney’s leadership. 

Kenney’s personal popularity has cratered throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Albertans are furious at him either because he did too little — or too much — to contain the spread of the virus. A vocal portion of the UCP membership has expressed frustration with Kenney’s top-down leadership style and willingness to ignore the wishes of the grassroots. 

The review was originally supposed to take place in fall 2022 but it was moved up after more than one-quarter of constituency associations met the requirements under party bylaws to ask for an earlier date.

The associations wanted a review prior to March 1 but the party’s board of directors settled on April 9 as the date for the original in-person vote.

The change to a mail-in ballot means Kenney won’t know his fate until May 18. 

Earlier this week, Kenney’s leadership review campaign released a letter signed by 19 former PC and Wildrose MLAs.

They argued voting against Kenney would mean the party would have to hold a leadership race this fall, which would give the UCP little time to prepare for the May 2023 provincial election and result in a majority NDP government.

In a recording leaked to the media, Kenney told staffers that he decided before Christmas not to step down to keep “lunatics” and “kooky people” from taking over their “mainstream conservative party.” 

Former Wildrose leaders Danielle Smith and Brian Jean have said they would run for the party leadership. Jean was sworn in as the UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac la Biche on Thursday after winning the March 15 byelection. 

Here’s the timeline as outlined by the UCP:

April 9 – Kenney is scheduled to deliver a keynote speech to registered party members shortly after the UCP convenes the virtual special annual general meeting at 11 a.m. After Kenney’s speech, the party will hold election readiness training for volunteers. The SGM breaks until May 18 when the party will announce the results.

April 10 – The party said it will start mailing ballots to members after April 9. Each package will contain an instruction sheet, listing the identification a member needs to provide, a return envelope and the actual ballot. Members will be mailing the ballot to the auditing firm hired to oversee the voting process. 

May 11 – All ballots must be received by 5 p.m. 

May 12 – Volunteers will start verifying members’ identification and signed declarations. Presidents, chief financial officers and secretaries from the 87 UCP constituency associations will be allowed to observe the process. 

The party says a “neutral returning officer” will manage the entire process. Former Progressive Conservative MLA and cabinet minister Rick Orman replaced Steve McLeod as the returning officer last week.

May 18 – Ballots are counted. The party reconvenes the virtual special general meeting to reveal the outcome. 

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