Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he won't apologize for calling out "divisive voices" on Friday, as he addressed a leaked audio recording in which he took aim at so-called "lunatics" who are "trying to take over the asylum."
CBC News reported Thursday that Kenney said the United Conservative Party is under siege from extremist elements, including homophobes and religious bigots, that are seeking a hostile takeover by toppling him in an upcoming leadership review.
The private remarks he made to his staff were secretly recorded earlier this week, then leaked to CBC News.
On Friday, during a funding announcement for STARS Air Ambulance, Kenney said he stands by his plan to listen to the will of the party in the upcoming leadership review, but he will otherwise stay in place to keep the UCP from fracturing.
The premier said he's seen a growing number of voices from the margins of Alberta politics who he called extreme.
"When I worked so hard over three years to help build the United Conservative Party, I committed that it would be a mainstream party reflective of the values of mainstream Albertans, and that we would not allow the kind of lake of fire incidents that we've seen in conservative politics in this province in the past."
Kenney said his comments were made amid racist and violent comments from people involved with the party, protests outside politicians' homes and divisiveness on social media fuelled by conspiracy theories.
Kenney portraying self as solution: political science professor
Kenney said he's the right person for the top job because he led the party's unity process to begin with.
"He's portraying himself as the solution to a problem that he's contributed to and I think a lot of UCP members don't think he is the solution. They actually think he's the problem," said Lori Williams, a political science professor at Mount Royal University.
"The reality is there are some people who are extremists, but that is by no means the majority of the people that are opposed to Jason Kenney."
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Williams said there are MLAs who have appeared to believe questionable things or associate themselves with questionable actions, but said if Kenney is describing the party itself or the MLAs themselves as being extreme, "then why does he want to lead them or how does he plan to lead them?"
Williams said the big challenges for the party are that it started out as two separate parties, so there is tension and division. She also said MLAs and constituency associations are feeling that they are not being heard.
With files from the Canadian Press, Elise von Scheel