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Kenney faces call from within caucus to resign

Darpan News Desk The Canadian Press, 13 May, 2021 10:44 AM
  • Kenney faces call from within caucus to resign

 Simmering internal discontent within Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative caucus has boiled over into an open challenge to his leadership.

Senior backbench member Todd Loewen, in a letter posted on Facebook in the pre-dawn hours Thursday, called on Kenney to resign. Loewen said he no longer has confidence in the premier.

Hours later, Loewen received a message of support from a second UCP backbencher, Dave Hanson.

Loewen accuses Kenney and his government of weak dealings with Ottawa, ignoring caucus members, delivering contradictory messages, and botching critical issues such as negotiations with doctors and a controversy over coal-mining on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

 “Many Albertans, including myself, no longer have confidence in your leadership," Loewen writes in the letter.

 “I thank you for your service, but I am asking that you resign so that we can begin to put the province back together again.”

 Kenney's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 Loewen is the member for Central Peace-Notley, a sprawling rural constituency in northern Alberta. Hanson represents Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul in the east.

 They were two of 18 UCP backbench members to break with Kenney’s government in April over restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19. The group said the rules were needlessly restrictive and infringed on personal freedoms. Sixteen wrote an open letter expressing those concerns.

 Kenney has tolerated the open dissension for weeks. He has said he believes in free speech and that backbenchers are not in cabinet and don’t speak for his government.

 Loewen is the first to openly break with Kenney. 

In his letter, Loewen also resigned as caucus chair. He said he needed to do so to speak his mind but has no intention of leaving the party. 

“The caucus dysfunction we are presently experiencing is a direct result of your leadership.” 

He said backbench members are sidelined and ignored.

 “I no longer believe that caucus can function properly: meetings have been cancelled without members’ consent, significant decisions of government have been made without notice to members, and our input as elected members is rarely considered.”

 He said the caucus has tried to be heard.

 “Albertans perceive our government as out of touch and arrogant, and they expect our caucus to bring their issues of concern to the government. Many of us have tried to do so repeatedly only to be ignored and dismissed. 

“When the premier chooses not (to) listen to caucus, is it any wonder why the people choose to stop listening to the government?

 “Our supporters and those I represent can no longer tolerate this. These folks have not abandoned the principles and values of the UCP, but they have abandoned you specifically.”

 Hanson did not call for Kenney to resign but said in a Facebook post: “Todd, I applaud your courage and stand behind your decision. 

“I hear the same thing from our supporters in my area. I along with many of our colleagues share in your frustration. We, along with many Albertans, worked too hard to unite conservatives to hand this province back to the NDP.”

 Kenney’s poll numbers have dropped precipitously during the pandemic while those of Rachel Notley’s NDP have climbed.

 Kenney, a cabinet member in Stephen Harper's federal Conservative government, was an architect of the merger of two right-centre Alberta parties — his Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose party. The United Conservative Party that resulted went on to defeat Notley and the NDP in 2019 to form a majority government. 

Loewen said he and his constituents still believe in the UCP, which is why he intends to remain inside the party to fight for it.

 “Along with so many Albertans, our understanding was that we in the UCP had united around our shared principles, integrity, and common-sense approaches to governing.

 “We did not unite around blind loyalty to one man. And while you promoted unity, it is clear that unity is falling apart.”

 There were rumours of a widening internal breach two weeks ago, when Kenney suspended the legislature's spring sitting. He said it was to keep staff and legislature members safe from COVID-19. 

On Wednesday, the government extended the hiatus for another week.

 Loewen’s letter comes a week after Kenney risked further pushback from dissidents by imposing extra health restrictions along with stepped-up enforcement to stop soaring COVID-19 infections.

 Political scientist Duane Bratt said it looked like Kenney had struck a truce with the dissidents, but the dam appears to be breaking.

 “I don’t think (Loewen) is a person coming out on his own,” said Bratt, who is with Mount Royal University in Calgary.

 “I think you’re going to hear more coming on the record after this."

Political scientist Jared Wesley said Kenney has no choice but to turf Loewen from caucus.

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