Edmonton

Kenney foe Brian Jean says some concerns resolved over upcoming leadership vote

A high-profile critic of the looming United Conservative Party review of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he's satisfied most of those registered to cast ballots pass muster.

Jean, others confident that 92% of signatures legitimate enough to move forward with review

Brian Jean, a member of Kenney's UCP caucus, expressed concern last week that many of the estimated 59,000 party voters may have been improperly added to the rolls at the last minute without their knowledge and with their $10 registration paid by someone else. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

A high-profile critic of the looming United Conservative Party review of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he's satisfied most of those registered to cast ballots pass muster.

Brian Jean, a member of Kenney's UCP caucus, expressed concern last week that many of the estimated 59,000 voters may have been improperly added to the rolls at the last minute without their knowledge and with their $10 registration paid by someone else.

But Jean, in a statement Friday, said he and other concerned parties have talked with and seen evidence from the UCP board and are now confident that about 92 per cent of the signatures have enough legitimacy to move forward.

"This list has issues," said Jean.

"I believe that there are thousands of people on the list who have not paid for their own memberships, but I also know that about 54,000 of the 58,500 [potential voters] are either long-term members or bought their memberships with their own personal credit cards."

He added: "It is time to let the members vote. I am confident that if the voting process is fair that Jason Kenney will not get a survivable number from this list of voters."

The decision comes a day before balloting begins for Kenney's leadership review. It's a referendum that has exposed deep rifts in the party and discontent with Kenney.

It was supposed to be a one-day in-person vote in Red Deer on Saturday.

But two weeks ago, the UCP board changed it to a provincewide mail-in contest. The board said widespread interest — with 15,000 party members expected to make the trip to cast a ballot — made the one-day in-person option impossible.

The premier's opponents, including Jean, said they suspected the change came at the behest of Kenney's camp because he didn't have numbers on his side and needed to broaden the voter base beyond those willing or able to travel to Red Deer.

Jean said he and 11 other UCP members challenged the change to the party's arbitration committee and through that, along with information provided by the party, said some of their concerns were allayed.

"Based on this information, and the possibility that a continuation of the arbitration dispute might result in a delayed process, Jean and the other members have decided to withdraw their complaint and let the voters on the current UCP membership list decide the matter," said the statement.

On Saturday, Kenney will deliver a virtual speech to members in the morning, then ballots will be mailed out. The marked ballots must be returned by May 11 and the decision announced May 18.

Kenney needs to get a majority of voters to ratify confidence in the job he has done. If not, a leadership race must be called.

The premier has been facing lagging popularity numbers and has had confrontations with party factions, constituency presidents and caucus members over his leadership and COVID-19 policies.

Kenney, in turn, has termed the leadership review a proxy party hijacking and his opponents "lunatics" who espouse hate and racial and religious bigotry.

Jean quit his UCP seat in 2018 shortly after losing to Kenney in the party's inaugural leadership race.

Last month, he won a byelection in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche under the UCP banner on a campaign pledge to fight to have Kenney deposed as leader.

Jean has said Kenney's policy failures, along with tone-deaf, top-down management, are alienating grassroots supporters and inviting an Opposition NDP election win in 2023.

Jean was sworn in as a legislature member Thursday, leading to speculation on whether he will be allowed to remain in the UCP caucus.

In the last year, some strident Kenney critics have been voted out of caucus while others have been allowed to stay.

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