CALGARY – In an honest keynote address to hundreds of United Conservatives – many of them currently unfriendly to their leader – Prime Minister Jason Kenney Saturday offered some remorse and a prayer for a quiet decision within the next many months, a time that could pave the way for his eventual exclusion from the party he founded.
The weekend address from Kenney, who is currently undergoing internal maneuvering to get rid of him and is facing nearby public approval assessments, was highly anticipated by about 1,500 party delegates gathered in Calgary to attend the UCP’s annual general meeting.
After going out for the song “Takin ‘Care of Business” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Kenney wasted no time in addressing the internal divisions within the United Conservatives over his handling of COVID-19 pandemic.
“I know many of you are angry at me and our government,” he said, acknowledging the public health restrictions his government has imposed, including vaccine passports, which have made him unpopular with part of his party.
He also said that these views were expressed in his own caucus.
But there was “absolutely no doubt” that without these restrictions, intensive care units would have been totally overwhelmed and he would have faced the decision to implement triage protocols.
“The very thought of it filled me with fear,” Kenney said. “I do not care what the political consequences are, I can and will not let that happen.”
For that, he received a round of applause from the crowd. Kenney continued to rattle off the economic success Alberta is currently experiencing as he emerges from the pandemic, warned of the danger of a potential NDP government in the future, and listed his own government’s many pieces of legislation it has passed since 2019.
The audience was receptive. He received several standing ovations and applause, but it was still far from the booming celebration that was the 2019 Annual General Meeting held after the UCP won an overwhelming majority in that year’s election.
Some in the crowd on Saturday did not stand or clap for Kenney.
Near the end, he asked the party to focus on “the business of the people” and to “address and resolve these internal differences internally,” adding that he welcomed the leadership review scheduled for the spring.
“Ultimately, the members of this party will decide what they want to do,” he said.
Then Kenney left for the song “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty.
Whether his speech worked to dampen the growing dissatisfaction among the audience will be shown.
The United Conservative delegates came to town for a weekend of nonsense, votes on political proposals, board elections and wild speculation about what the party’s future brings. Brian Jean, the former leader of the Wildrose party and the first real candidate for Kenney’s leadership, was also present at the weekend.
Jean told reporters after the speech that Kenney has not “made big decisions.”
“I think it has come down to confidence and he has lost confidence from the caucus,” he said, adding that he did not think the speech would be effective.
Tany Yao, UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, told reporters he did not “necessarily think (Kenney) said everything he could” in the speech, estimating that only about 50 percent of the crowd in the crowd were still supporters of Kenney .
When asked if he still wanted Kenney as prime minister, Yao did not answer, but only said, “You put me in a place like this, don’t you?”
Yao said that Kenney kept his speech at a high level and that he had hoped that Kenney would have shown some “recognition of the reality that is around him.”
“As an experienced politician like himself, I think he has to acknowledge that there is some dissatisfaction and he has to address this dissatisfaction,” Yao said.
Friday night, one of the weekend’s more anticipated moments took place in a debate on government policy proposals, seen by some as a small proxy vote on Kenney’s leadership.
The vote was on whether the party should raise the threshold – from a quarter to a third – for constituencies to make it more difficult for them to jointly adopt proposals that want to hold extraordinary general meetings.
The vote took place just after the exact scenario it was aimed at had already happened.
A quarter, or 22, constituencies had already a few days before the convention passed a proposal requiring an early management review before March at an extraordinary general meeting.
One is already scheduled for April, but the group wants it even sooner.
Some of these constituency associations have criticized the proposal for being an attack on the party’s grassroots, while those proposing it from the Edmonton-Northwest constituency said that “a quarter of CAs should not be able to overthrow a leader. “
“The child is set too low and opens the party up for ballads by a small minority of CA boards,” the proposal reads.
The policy did not succeed. It needed 75 percent support, but received only 57 percent.
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