Jason Kenney survives caucus meeting with leadership review to come
Alberta premier is facing down caucus revolt as fourth wave of COVID-19 pandemic batters province
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney faced down a caucus revolt on Wednesday, as factions within his United Conservative Party coalesced in opposition to his leadership — but a reckoning has been put off to another day.
There had been some expectations of a confidence vote. MLA Searle Turton says there was no such vote at the meeting.
Dave Prisco, UCP director of communications, said Kenney requested that the 2022 UCP AGM take place in the spring and that the scheduled leadership review occur at that time. Prisco said the party is working to confirm a date and venue.
Ryan Becker, UCP president, said in a letter to the party's constituency association presidents that he spoke with Kenney and the premier asked for the change to deal with any leadership issues well in advance of the next election.
"We are all aware that recent government decisions on responding to the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused anger and frustration among some party members and there is a growing desire to hold a leadership review," Becker wrote.
CBC News understands from sources with knowledge of the meeting that government MLAs introduced a motion challenging Kenney's leadership at some point in the meeting, but later withdrew it.
Turton said the focus of the discussion was on the government's handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
"I mean, obviously it's a brute and bashing group of MLAs, but that's what caucus is for, having those frank conversations, and I'm thankful that we had that ability," he said.
"Most of caucus spoke up and, like I said, our focus is on the province, COVID-19, making sure that families and communities are protected."
He said caucus is more united than when they entered the room earlier Wednesday.
Calls for resignation
Kenney is facing open threats to his leadership within the UCP, with MLAs and the vice-president of policy, Joel Mullan, openly calling for his resignation.
Some in the caucus are angry that Kenney introduced vaccine passports in an effort to stem the tide of the crushing fourth wave of COVID-19, while others say the government waited too long to take action.
The province has the highest active case counts in the country by a wide margin, with hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs) straining under the pressure.
Alberta Health Services said on Wednesday that the province's ICUs are at 87 per cent of capacity, including added surge beds. Triage of care kicks in at 90 per cent of capacity.
Wednesday's meeting comes the day after Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro resigned and swapped his portfolio with Jason Copping to become the minister of labour and immigration.
Critics said the swap was an attempt by the premier to deflect criticism as threats mounted against him.
Constituencies consider moving up leadership review
Before the caucus meeting Wednesday, some UCP constituency associations were considering passing motions to move up the date, according to media reports.
Speaking on the Calgary Eyeopener Wednesday morning, Mullan said the UCP remained a grassroots party and he hoped any decisions on a leadership review would be left to the constituencies rather than have it handed down from caucus.
Despite the controversies and conflict, Turton said the caucus meeting was productive.
"I think there's always going to be differences of opinion, and when it comes to many of the issues before us, that's what makes for healthy, robust debates."