EDMONTON - Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is facing a renewed push from within the ranks of his United Conservative Party to move up a vote on his leadership.
Representatives of 22 UCP constituencies have sent a letter to the party's executive saying they have met the required threshold required for a vote on Kenney’s performance at a special meeting before March 1.
The review is currently set to occur at the party’s annual general meeting in early April.
Jack Redekop, a constituency president speaking for the 22, says members want the date moved up for several reasons, and adds that discontent with Kenney’s leadership is not the driving force.
He says voting at annual general meetings is restricted to those physically there, which can be expensive and difficult for some members.
If the resolution is passed, the vote would take place at a special meeting where every member would get to cast a ballot in person or in a constituency.
"We've met the threshold," Redekop, president of the UCP Calgary Fish Creek constituency, said in a Zoom call with the other presidents Monday.
"We wanted to create a date that every member could conveniently vote on the leadership, simple enough."
Redekop noted that an April in-person vote would also conflict with seeding and calving for rural party members working in the agriculture industry.
Redekop, faced with repeated questions from reporters on whether discontent with Kenney was behind the drive to move up the vote, said it was one factor but not the overriding one.
"Do we have some members displeased with the leader? Of course we do. Do we have some members that are completely supportive of the leader? Yes we do," he said.
"This is just presenting the most opportune time for every member of the party in every corner of the province to have their say."
The letter was sent to party president Ryan Becker.
Asked for comment, Becker responded in a short statement: "A letter was received regarding a special general meeting. The board will review and discuss it."
Kenney, asked about the constituency letter, said: "It’s up to the UCP board, the party board, to deal with those matters and I'm sure they'll do so in the appropriate way."
Asked about discontent with his leadership, Kenney characterized it as unhappiness in some quarters with health restrictions brought in by his government to combat COVID-19.
"It's no secret here in Alberta we've had a very divisive and polarized debate on how best to respond to COVID," he said.
"One of the things I love about the province is those who want to protect their freedoms and are skeptical about government overreach. I can understand why so many folks have felt frustrated by the public health measures."
Kenney has faced rising discontent in his caucus and party in recent months tied primarily to his handling of the pandemic.
Kenney declared the health crisis over in June and lifted almost all public health restrictions July 1. His government saw no need to plan for a resurgence in cases, he said.
Numbers did surge in the summer and into the fall, driven by the more contagious Delta variant. Hospitals were swamped, resulting in 15,000 surgeries being cancelled, and Alberta was forced to call in the military for help.
United Conservative Party fundraising has been trailing that of the Opposition NDP and Kenney's approval numbers have plummeted.
Earlier this year, two UCP caucus members — Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen — were expelled from caucus for criticizing Kenney. Since then, two others — Leela Aheer and Angela Pitt — have called for him to step down but have been allowed to stay in caucus.
Joel Mullan, the UCP's vice-president in charge of policy, was forced off the board after criticizing Kenney and calling for him to quit.
Kenney is facing a renewed challenge from Brian Jean, who was leader of the former Wildrose Party when it merged in 2017 with Kenney's Progressive Conservatives to form the UCP. Kenney defeated Jean in the subsequent leadership race.
Jean has announced that he is seeking to run for the UCP in the vacant seat of Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, his hometown area, with the express purpose of pushing Kenney out as party leader.
Jean says Kenney's policies have been disastrous for Alberta and Kenney has opened the door for the party to be clobbered by Rachel Notley's NDP in the 2023 election.
The UCP is set to hold this year's annual general meeting in Calgary this weekend.