Political scientists say Alberta Premier Jason Kenney faces a no-win situation at his party’s annual meeting in Calgary this weekend over mounting questions about his leadership.
Duane Bratt, a professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said Kenney’s challenge is to not only win back support from the United Conservative Party but also from the public.
Bratt said most annual meetings focus on team-building, policy discussion and celebration, but he expects there will be none of that.
“I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out what’s a good scenario for the premier and I don’t think there is one,” he said Thursday.
Bratt said the worst-case scenario would be walkouts during Kenney’s keynote address, low attendance and a “battle” over a resolution coming before the meeting to increase the threshold to trigger a leadership vote.
“Even if none of that happens and all the delegates show up to Kenney’s keynote, he gets a standing ovation, everyone is holding hands and singing Kumbaya, it’s still bad for him outside the room.”
The premier has been dealing with rising discontent within his caucus, party and from Albertans over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues. Some have called for his resignation.
There is also movement within the party to speed up a leadership review vote to determine whether Kenney still has their confidence. The vote is set for April 2022.
However, 22 UCP constituency associations have signed a letter to the party executive to trigger an earlier vote. They represent the required 25 per cent of boards under bylaws to fast-track a review.
Members are expected to vote at the AGM on a motion to increase that threshold to 29 associations.
During an unrelated news conference Thursday, Kenney said the meeting will be a chance for members to chart a course for the future with healthy debate on how to move forward.
When asked about internal factions, Kenney said a day earlier that he has overwhelming support from his caucus.
“There will be a moment for a leadership review next year, which I fully support,” he said Wednesday. “I just encourage all of my colleagues to focus on the people’s business, on the priorities of Albertans, not internal politics.”
Support vs. generating confidence
Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said Kenney still has some support, especially from people in positions of power within the party.
“But that’s not the same as generating confidence among the rank and file and is certainly not enough to win the next election,” said Williams.
She said he’s trying to “change the channel” and focus on his accomplishments, such as with the recent childcare deal with Ottawa, but many people aren’t interested.
“He might survive a leadership challenge, but he’s not going to survive the next election,” said Williams. “The focus is going to be on Kenny’s leadership and whatever else happens will fall by the wayside in terms of attention.”
The UCP annual general meeting is being held from Friday until Sunday.