Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, at his United Conservative Party’s founding convention in 2018, said he would consider member input on the policy, but the bottom line was simple: “I want the feather”.
Four years later, the members took up the pen again and made the engine of Conservative reunification in Alberta realize that the writing was on the wall and it was time for him to go.
Jason Kenney, the province’s 18th premier, told a shocked audience of guests and cabinet ministers on Wednesday that 51 per cent of the party’s grassroots support in his leadership review was not enough to appease protesters. internal dissensions that ravaged his party.
He announced he would step down from the top job, saying that while his team had achieved a lot, a lack of unity put everything in jeopardy.
“We united the free enterprise movement in Alberta politics and won the largest electoral mandate in our province’s history,” Kenney said.
“We inherited deep fiscal and economic challenges. And then we went through three crises that only happened once in a century: the biggest public health crisis in a century, the biggest collapse of the global economy in almost a century and, for the first time, we have experienced negative Oil prices.
“Despite all of that, we got the job done.”
Impetuous, combative, populist
During his three years as premier, Kenney led the province through the COVID-19 pandemic while seeking to grow the oil and gas sector, further diversify the economy and rebuild the public health system. . Buoyed by soaring oil and gas prices, he balanced the budget for the first time in years.
His trademark was bulldog willpower combined with a work ethic and tenacity few could match.
His days often started early with a press conference, followed by meetings, question period, speech at home, celebratory events, fundraisers and other phone calls until late in the evening. There were town halls on Facebook and a radio show.
It was a brash and combative populist style that often sought to rally support by dividing Albertans against real or perceived opponents.
His favorite target was the federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He blamed it for crippling the oil and gas industry with punitive legislation and a carbon tax on consumption, but often ignored the fact that Ottawa paid freight on the TransMountain pipeline to the coast of British Columbia.
He once publicly called Trudeau “an empty trust fund millionaire who has the political depth of a finger bowl.” He called a US governor opposed to the pipeline “brain dead”.
He fought with doctors, tearing up their framework agreement just as the pandemic hit hard in 2020. His government also tried to cut nurses’ salaries.
He decried the folly of fixing the economy by “picking winners and losers” through targeted investments, only to lose $1.3 billion trying to revive the Keystone XL transcontinental pipeline.
His government has battled with the Alberta Teachers’ Association and is still implementing a controversial school curriculum that almost every school board has refused to try.
He created a so-called energy war room designed to fight the enemies of oil and gas. Instead, he stumbled upon a series of blunders, including a public brawl with a children’s cartoon about Bigfoot.
His leadership, particularly during the pandemic, exposed contradictions that contributed to low ratings even as the economy began to rebound.
He called for civility in public debate and then distributed earplugs around the house so his members wouldn’t have to listen to the NDP opposition.
During COVID-19, Kenney tried to steer the province in the middle, waiting until the last moment — as hospitals reached dangerous capacity — before imposing new health restrictions.
When the province reached dangerous levels last fall that triage of patients might have been necessary, he accepted responsibility for not acting and then said he would have acted if the medical officer of health in chief had recommended it.
When he took over as head of health care, he blamed the former NDP government for the problems he inherited. In recent weeks, as the system continued to be strained under COVID-19, he blamed Alberta Health Services, the frontline care provider.
The end did not come from outside but from inside the caucus.
Backbenchers said Kenney promised to bring them around the decision-making table, but instead froze them. The decisions, they said, were made by Kenney and a group of close advisers. Some dissidents found themselves expelled from the caucus.
A difficult race
With Kenney, there was controversy. Always controversial.
He beat Brian Jean in the party’s first leadership race in 2017. It was later learned that his team colluded with another candidate to try to sabotage Jean’s chances. Kenney said he didn’t know.
When the Elections Commissioner investigated possible wrongdoing in that race, Kenney’s government, while he was in Texas, introduced and passed legislation to fire him. The RCMP continues to investigate allegations of identity theft during this race.
This year, when it was discovered that Kenney’s Justice Minister Kaycee Madu had tried to interfere in the administration of justice by calling the Edmonton police chief to discuss a traffic ticket , Kenney simply moved him to another position within the firm.
Kenney, 53, has spent much of his adult life in the public eye, famously saying he couldn’t help but walk to the sound of rhetorical gunfire.
He fought for conservative principles and the concept of orderly freedom, first as an anti-tax campaigner, then as a key lieutenant in former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet in portfolios including immigration , employment and defence.
He is Catholic and has spoken out against same-sex marriage and abortion in the past, but has not addressed these issues as prime minister.
He is known for his drive, his populist instincts and his flair for the political jugular.
To win the leadership of the UCP, he drove back and forth across Alberta in a blue van to meet and greet thousands of supporters and fence keepers. In less than two years, he fielded 87 riding associations and candidates.
The blue van is now part of his personality.
Perhaps in a harbinger of what was to come, Kenney recently had this same truck at a press conference announcing a gas tax cut.
As the cameras rolled, Kenney filled his tank, then pulled, pulled, pulled and pulled – at one point with both hands – in a failed attempt to pull the hose out.
Finally, he gave up, turned around and looked sheepishly at the crowd.
The pickup was stuck.
And this time there was no one to blame.