UCP constituency associations say they passed vote triggering early Kenney leadership review
Announcement comes ahead of the United Conservative Party's annual general meeting this weekend
More than a quarter of the United Conservative Party's constituency associations say they have passed a special motion that will force a leadership review of Jason Kenney within the next three months.
In a letter to party president Ryan Becker that was shared with the media Monday, 22 constituency associations say they have passed identical motions that would call for the leadership review at a special general meeting sometime before March 1.
A review of Kenney's leadership was already planned for April during the party's 2022 annual general meeting. In September, the party decided to move next year's AGM up to the spring from its usual time in the fall. Monday's announcement of the special motions to force a leadership review sooner than that comes ahead of the 2021 AGM this weekend.
At a news conference Monday morning, UCP Calgary-Fish Creek constituency association president Jack Redekop declined to speak about criticism of Kenney's leadership, instead framing the early review as a matter of timing that will ensure input from as many party members as possible.
"This would allow one member, one vote," Redekop said, noting that at an annual general meeting, "only those attending are allowed to vote on the motions, including if it is a leadership review."
"So that is the primary reason."
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Redekop said the early leadership review would also occur before the legislature's spring session and said the party's constitution mandates periodic leadership reviews.
"So then the question just defers to the timing," he said. "It is nothing other than that.
"I mean, do we have some members displeased with the leader? Of course we do. Do we have some members that are completely supportive of the leader? Yes we do."
He said the 22 constituency associations represent 36 per cent of sitting UCP MLAs — more than the quarter needed under the bylaws to trigger the review — but that more constituency associations are currently voting on the motion. Three boards have already rejected it, Redekop said.
Kenney is currently facing plunging approval ratings and intense pushback from his caucus and party for his government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During questions from reporters at an unrelated news conference Monday, Kenney said he recognizes there has been a "very divisive and polarized debate" in the province, and within his party, on how best to respond to the pandemic.
"Those frustrations are being felt in my own party and caucus. There is no secret about that," he said.
"At the end of the day, it's my responsibility as premier, and the government's responsibility, to take responsible actions," Kenney said. "We have done that, and I do believe actually that the vast majority of the folks in my party are united around our common values and goals."
In an emailed statement to CBC News, Becker said a letter had been received "regarding a special general meeting. The board [of directors] will review and discuss it."
Motions aim to ensure security of voting system
The letter to Becker says that according to motions the associations have passed, the leadership election committee will include two constituency presidents appointed by the associations, as well as an independent accounting and auditing firm that will oversee the process to "ensure the security of the voting system."
"We know that the media in the past has suggested that there was some inappropriate malfeasance with previous campaigns," Redekop said, adding that has never been proven "and there is no evidence that that has happened."
"We just wanted to make sure that we quelled any possibility of that rumour spreading with this particular vote."
During the party's 2017 leadership vote, two of the three candidates — Brian Jean and Doug Schweitzer — asked that voting be put on hold hours after members began casting their ballots because of concerns about voter security related to personal identification numbers.
The party's leadership election committee said it found no evidence of security breaches.
Redekop said Becker has told the constituency associations that he has acknowledged the legitimacy of the boards' passed motion.
Kenney 'under seige'
The president of the Central Peace-Notley constituency association, Samantha Steinke, was more blunt than Redekop about her board's views of Kenney's leadership.
"I feel I would be doing not my job if I wasn't very clear on the stance of my (constituency association) board, which is they overwhelmingly do not support the premier," Steinke said.
She said that's the reason her board has passed the motion, but noted it wasn't the reason all the other boards had passed it.
Derrick Casey, president of the Grande Prairie constituency association, said his board passed the motion "marginally" but said "certainly there is a discontented group" within the party that disapproves of Kenney's leadership.
"It is not one issue and certainly, to have success in this motion speaks to the fact that there is a level of urgency."
Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams said Kenney is "under siege" from both outside and within his party.
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"He has got the lowest polling numbers of any leader in the country," she said. "He is facing censure from the opposition. He is getting public criticism from his own caucus and from within his cabinet.
"And he has now got 22 constituency associations that want to force a leadership review before March."
Williams said the constituency associations that passed the motion want to send a clear message to the party that they think they can be more successful in the next provincial election with a leader other than Kenney.