In landlocked Alberta, the UCP ship is foundering and it’s captain is about to set sail.
In the Jason Kenney playbook on how to get stuff done, the old maxim rings true: it ain’t over until it’s over. But what if the premier fails to survive his leadership review later this month and sinks to rise no more?
And what if you’ve got a ‘special relationship’ with the premier? You know, the kind of thing where you make a call, invite him to a private dinner to talk stuff over that’s, well… that’s your business. What do you do if your guy is no longer the guy? It’s a question that’s going through the minds of more than a few prominent folks in the petroleum paradise.
SINK OR SWIM?
Try this life preserver on for size: UCP Minister Ric McIver’s constituency association president is openly complaining about Kenney.
Big bosses in provincial government and quasi-government institutions are suddenly moving troublesome people around (for example, senior execs at ATB were given the boot recently because they said what needed to be said).
And let’s just say for a moment more that your fill-in-the-blank idea, business, whatever, is dependent upon said premier being the premier. And all fall down go boom if he’s not.
WHAT TO DO?
For people who have been Kenney loyalists (or played the part convincingly), now is the time to reposition and hedge bets for a different future. Two weeks from now won’t do.
For people who have Kenney’s trust, some even managing to parlay those relationships into patronage appointments and benefits, this may be the last hurrah; hence, now is the time to seize the opportunities.
There are several pathways ahead:
1. Kenney gets re-anointed as leader, his remaining loyalists (and cronies) are promoted and everyone who bailed on Kenney moves along to rally behind another leader or disappear; or
2. Kenney loses the leadership spot and his loyalists (and cronies) find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having their entitlements and appointments at risk.
3. World War 3 breaks out and the feds take over just about everything that moves.
Leadership reviews of sitting premiers are not unusual in Alberta. But this time, it’s different. This time, the UCP party cannot contain the different perspectives within the party; it’s not just “inside baseball.” The public is watching very closely. And many people we hear from are disgusted (and other words not normally said in polite company) by the provincial state of affairs in Alberta.
Recent case in point: Dr. Verna Yiu was fired as Alberta Health Services’ CEO less than one month ago, and already, most Albertans have defaulted to cynicism (such as: the problem is too big for me to fix, so I accept these kinds of politicized decisions to be inevitable even if I disagree).
DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN?
When Premier Alison Redford faced a review in 2013, and surprise, surprise, won 77% support (920 of 1197 delegates voted to support Redford’s continued leadership), everyone on the inside knew it was a carefully managed process that would yield a positive outcome, for the sake of the party. Certainly, there was a lot of grumbling within the PC caucus and constituency associations, but it was largely contained. Only when Redford pushed the ethical envelope too far—including an attempt at a $3 billion heist from the Heritage Savings Trust Fund to top up sagging provincial coffers when oil prices plummeted—did a few MLAs (including Donna) break ranks to sit as independents. And then the whole house of cards came tumbling down. Redford loyalists repositioned or retreated, and the rest is history.
Every political party is accused of pandering to its base and offering benefits to insiders. It goes with the territory and keeps partisans on their toes. But the present situation in Alberta is over-amplified, the UCP tone deaf—oblivious in its arrogance, toxic in places where the sun should be shining.
Voters aren’t stupid. They may be weary, but they aren’t fools. The public isn’t the dinosaur here; they are aware of the conflicts of interest and special interests. And over the past two election cycles have unelected governments. The UCP leadership still hasn’t learned much since then, especially this truism: Just because you’ve shut somebody up, doesn’t mean you’ve changed their mind.
The next scheduled provincial election is Monday, May 29th, 2023. Circle that date in your calendar. In the meantime, we could all just keep our mouths shut and hope for the best. But a year is a long time. A lot could happen inside Alberta’s institutions and agencies. A lot of shit probably will happen—write that down too.
We’re not asking you to be irrational. But we are inviting you to be vigilant, and especially over the next few weeks. It’s a tricky time for political actors. Let them know you are watching.
This column is the consensus opinion of the writers Donna Kennedy-Glans & Don Hill. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to BEYOND POLARITY — scroll down on your phone or tablet, or look to the right in the panel beside this post. Enter your email to FOLLOW, a wheel spins, hamsters get fed.