Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced his resignation as United Conservative Party leader Wednesday after receiving 51.4 per cent approval of his leadership from UCP members.
“The result is not what I hoped for or frankly what I expected,” Kenney told a gathering of supporters and volunteers in Calgary after the results of the leadership review were announced.
“While 51 per cent of the vote passes the constitutional threshold of a majority, it clearly is not adequate support to continue on as leader.”
Kenney had previously suggested he would accept a result of 50 per cent plus one.
Party members were asked to answer yes or no to the question “Do you approve of the current leader?”
Of the 34,298 party members mailed in ballots by the May 11 deadline, 17,638 said yes and 16,660 said no.
In his short address, Kenney said he advised party president Cynthia Moore of his intention to step down and asked that the party schedule a leadership election as soon as possible.
The UCP caucus is set to meet Thursday morning at the McDougall Centre in Calgary.
Kenney will remain party leader until a interim leader is chosen. It isn’t known if he intends to continue as the MLA for Calgary-Lougheed.
“It’s a great night for Alberta,” said Rob Smith, president of the Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills UCP constituency association.
Smith is surprised Kenney stepped down but says he did the right thing.
“If there is close to 50 per cent or 48.6 per cent of the people against you, that’s actually not enough to be able to lead a party,” he said.
Smith had emerged as a critic of Kenney’s leadership and how the UCP board handled calls for a review. He said a turning point for him was a virtual meeting between Kenney and the Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills constituency association in March 2021.
Smith said Kenney became defensive when he was told he needed to spend more time talking to the party grassroots.
“He never really got Albertans,” Smith said. “He gave us that grassroots guarantee and drove around in the blue Dodge truck but honestly, it was artifice. It was not genuine and tonight we see the results of that.”
Supporters who attended the event in Calgary mostly expressed shock at the turn of events.
Janis Nett, secretary of the UCP provincial board, said the party needs to move forward now that members have spoken.
“I am personally sad to see Mr. Kenney leave,” she said. “I believe that he was a very strong leader and he had the potential to really move this province forward.”
Brian Jean, former Wildrose leader and current UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac la Biche, lost to Kenney in the 2017 leadership race. He confirmed in a statement this evening that he intends to run for leader.
“UCP members from all over Alberta have made it clear that they reject divisive and autocratic leadership,” Jean said.
“They want a United Conservative Party that listens, that consults, and that thoughtfully implements practical and effective conservative policies that will benefit all Albertans.”
Danielle Smith, another former Wildrose leader, has also expressed interest in the job. Smith issued a statement Wednesday evening thanking Kenney for uniting the right in Alberta and for his commitment to public service.
“The result we have witnessed today is a truly grassroots resolution,” she said. “The membership of the United Conservative Party is hungry for a leader that will be responsive and fight for the interests of Alberta.”
Smith is holding a news conference Thursday morning to discuss her plans.
Kenney could also enter the leadership race if he chooses.
Other possible leadership contenders include members of Kenney’s cabinet such as Finance Minister Travis Toews, Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer, Energy Minister Sonya Savage, Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon and Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney.
Rachel Notley, leader of the NDP Opposition and former Alberta premier, wished Kenney the best via a post on Twitter.
“I want to thank Jason Kenney for his public service. There are obviously many things about which we don’t agree, but that doesn’t negate the time and sacrifice that goes into taking on the role of premier,” she wrote.
“The work is never easy. The days are long and often difficult, as I’m sure today is. I wish Jason the best.”
The result comes after months of political turmoil within the UCP, which was created in 2017 when the Wildrose Party merged with the Progressive Conservative Party.
Kenney has faced low polling numbers with most public polls over the 18 months, suggesting the NDP could regain a majority government next year. Voices within the UCP say the party needs to find a new leader to prevent that from happening.
Kenney believed the no vote was being driven by Albertans who opposed public health restrictions enacted by his government such as masking and vaccine passports to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The party changed its original plan for a one-day, in-person vote in Red Deer on April 9 to a mail-in ballot, due to fears that 15,000 new members would overwhelm the venue chosen for the event. Many believed the majority of those new members signed up to vote against Kenney.
UCP president Cynthia Moore began Wednesday’s announcement by outlining the measures the party took to ensure the vote was conducted as fairly and honestly as possible to counteract any questions about integrity.
The party contracted the services of audit and consulting company Deloitte to collect the ballots and set up a livestream of the room where volunteers validated members’ identification and eligibility.
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