A wise and seasoned Progressive Conservative politician, with scads of Cabinet credentials, very prophetically once told me a truism about leadership in party politics. He said “When in a majority government, the Opposition is merely the Opposition. The enemy is Caucus!”
The Leadership Challenge, for a governing party, is how do you keep backbenchers busy, contented, and feeling part of the”team?” They didn’t make the Cabinet cut so they are ticked. Committee work is thankless, no-profile, and meaningless when it comes to influencing policy. This is especially galling to backbenchers when the Premier’s office is full of influential, unelected, and condescending advisors who control and decide everything through the lens of their Boss, the Leader.
This is the reality that *Premier Jason Kenney has created for himself. It would be a sideshow if it were not so damaging to public health and safety, wantonly undermining business confidence, exacerbating already over-the-top levels of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety in so many everyday Albertans. Now he has an open and focused Caucus revolt on his hands.
When the disgruntled Caucus members keep their grumbling in the backrooms, this is just the usual stuff of inside baseball, and so typical of political parties. When the “winners” are feeling so discontented that they speak out openly, it becomes a whole new ball game. When a Caucus Chair publishes an open letter that calls for his Leader to resign and details many reasons why, that could be the end of the “team.” That will also impact the economic stability of the province and potentially undermine the future prosperity of all Albertans.
And as of this morning, Thursday, May 13, 2021, the open letter from MLA Todd Loewen, the now-former UCP Caucus Chair, has created a full-blown governance and political crisis. This crisis has been brewing inside the UCP for quite some time. but now it has been put in the laps of all Albertans.
Calls for Mr. Kenney to resign are not new. They have been going on for months within left and centrist online Groups and commentators. Now the call for his resignation is from inside the UCPCaucus, and that changes everything. We are moving from incompetent and inept governance and piling on unstable and uncertain governance.
This is devastating to Alberta, and the timing could not be worse. With the COVID pandemic and other challenges in our economic future, the consequences of our long time ignored environmental responsibilities, the impacts of Climate change, and even the rise of Far-Right extremism, we have never before been more in need of a strong Statesman-like leader to govern and be above partisan politics.
The appeal of Kenney to Unite the Right was not about being a good government. It was about Conservatives retaking political power and running the province, in their own interests. Uniting the Right was presented as the magic formula to achieve the political power purpose of defeating the NDP. Success was to overwhelming win the next election and form a new UnitedCconservative Party legacy in Alberta (not for Alberta in my opinion).
Mr. Kenney promised that if the vote splitting in the Right between the disgruntled Wildrosers and what remained in the defeated dregs of the Progressive Conservative Party Alberta would return to a properly governed and conservative province. And it worked in large part to the campaign skills of Jason Kenney.
And now. it may be all over for Mr. Kenney. Kenney is caught in what Edward de Bono called the Catch-23. That is the reality that the skills necessary to get the job, Unite the Right, are entirely different from those skills required to do the job, that of governing a deeply divided province in a pandemic crisis.
Those who are outside and unhappy with Kenney’s UCP leadership have been vocal and vociferous but very disorganized in their opposition to his inept governance. There are encouraging signs the disorganization may be changing but mostly around issues not the bigger picture of good governance. Those inside the UCP are also now becoming vocal and vociferous. With the party structure of the UCP, they have the means to become organized and effectively rise up against Mr Kenney’s politics and leadership.
He is deeply distrusted by too many party insiders and even more distrusted by citizen-based non-partisan outsiders. Even if he had the wherewithal to devise a way out of his quandary, without trust and the benefit of the doubt, of all opposing factions, inside and outside the UCP, he now lacks the moral authority to execute such a plan.
This is not new in politics, especially in Alberta. We have been politically unstable for a long time. In the time period from 2006 to 2019, we have had seven different Premiers. There are early warning signs that an eighth Premier is somewhere in the wings.
History, it is said repeats itself. I think it more likely to find new rhymes based on old reasons. Premiers in Alberta are more likely to get changed by Caucus revolts, and not citizens in elections. Getty was the victim of an internal Caucus and Party revolt. Klein was disposed of by the Party membership in a leadership review motion at a PC AGM and his Caucus was terrified he would run again unless deposed.
Stelmach was run out of his leadership by a Cabinet and a Caucus shakedown, many of whom were openly supporting the Wildrose Party. Redford was taken out by her Caucus and Hancock was ironically unanimously selected for an interim leadership tole in a desperate show of “party unity?” The PC Party White Knight replacement leader, Jim Prentice, was defeated by the electorate and resigned as leader on election night, even before the ballots in his own constituency were counted. Notley was also soundly defeated by the electorate in favour of Kenney but has successfully stayed on as NDP leader with solid Caucus and party support.
And so what happens now? We are two years away from the next provincial election. Will Kenney get back control of his Caucus or will he be ousted by them? Will any of them leave to sit as Independents? Either way, his days, even continuing as the ineffective and inept Premier that he has been. seem numbered. Where does that leave Alberta and what is the future of the province?
All answers to those questions that I have come up with are speculative and unsatisfactory, especially under the current circumstances. One thing for sure, we can’t muddle through this. Non-partisans Alberta Citizens need to take this crisis seriously and get fully engaged in fixing our broken partisan political culture. That is neither simple nor easy…just necessary.
More to come on how to do that in future Reboot Alberta posts and podcasts.
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Ken Chapman has spent years as a lawyer, a public policy consultant and adviser to governments, industry and associations. His personal passion is politics, policy and citizen engagement. He’s served on a wide range of boards and has dabbled professionally in various creative industries. He speaks on occasion and has been known to pundit.
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