The gig is up: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney set to step down from top job
EDMONTON -- Don't cry for me, Alberta, I was leaving anyway.
It's Premier Jason Kenney's swan song message as he prepares to depart the province's top job, forced out by the very United Conservative Party he willed into existence.
"I was never intending to be in this gig for a long time," Kenney told an audience earlier this month. He had planned for one more provincial election, he said.
Instead, UCP members pick a new leader on Thursday, turning the page on a triumph-turned cautionary tale that saw Kenney's philosophy and management style crash head-on into a once-in-a-generation catastrophe.
Kenney, whose office did not respond to requests for an interview for this story, rode to success in the 2019 provincial election.
The former Calgary member of Parliament dismasted Rachel Notley's NDP using an audacious blueprint that united two warring conservative factions.
It was a time of woe. Alberta's economy was in the doldrums, its oil and gas sector in the bust phase of its traditional boom-bust cycle. Budgets were bleeding multibillion-dollar deficits.
Some Albertans were angry with Ottawa over rules deemed to be hindering energy projects. And they felt like suckers, giving billions of dollars in equalization payments and in return being ignored or demonized as climate criminals.
They sought a stick with which to hit Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Kenney was that stick. He came toting a "fight back strategy," vowing to take on Trudeau and the other happy hit men of the "Laurentian elite" hell-bent on strangling Canada's energy "golden goose."
To him, oil and gas were not just good business. It was a higher calling, a "moral cause" to redistribute earth's bounty to neighbour nations so they could avoid buying it from human-rights-abusing dictators.
Taking the reins of power, he went to work.
Kenney cut corporate income taxes, abolished the former NDP government's consumer carbon levy, slashed post-secondary funding, launched more privately delivered care in the public health system, reduced minimum wage for kids, went to war with teachers, sought wage cuts in the public sector, ripped up negotiated bargaining deals, and attacked doctors and nurses as comparatively overpaid underperformers.
He gambled big and lost $1.3 billion on the failed Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Kenney's plan for Alberta was founded on the conservatism of "prosperity first," said political scientist Jared Wesley with the University of Alberta.
Kenney, said Wesley, spelled it out in his maiden speech as UCP leader in 2017 by reminding supporters that "in order to be a compassionate and generous society, you must be a prosperous one first."
Wesley said such an ethos may have captured the mood of conservatives and enthralled others, "but as Albertans and their government were forced (during COVID-19) between prosperity and compassion -- or as Kenney put it `livelihoods and lives' -- his focus on livelihoods was really out of touch with what people were looking for."
Political scientist Laurie Adkin said the prosperity-first doctrine was narrowly defined to the benefit of a select few.
"There was really no light between the Kenney government and the oil and gas industry, and that is not good for democracy," said Adkin with the University of Alberta.
"Government needs to represent the public interest and not a single economic sector to the cost of everything else."
The math was simple, the corollary obvious: If Alberta's identity is defined by economic prosperity through oil and gas, then those who challenge this worldview are, well, anti-Albertan.
Kenney and his UCP vilified the green left and high-profile oilsands critics like David Suzuki and Tzeporah Berman. When world-renowned green teen Greta Thunberg came to the legislature, Kenney left town.
Kenney mocked Notley's NDP government as a docile servant to Trudeau's oil-killing agenda, kowtowing for crumbs, grubbing for "social licence."
Quebec was an ingrate, fighting pipelines with one hand while accepting Alberta equalization money with the other. A U.S. governor challenging a cross-border pipeline was "brain-dead."
To fight slurs on oil and gas, Kenney spent millions to create a "war room" that delivered a parade of gaffes, including a public fight with a children's cartoon about Bigfoot.
Kenney launched a $2.5-million public inquiry into foreign funding of domestic green groups fighting Alberta's oilsands. It never held an inquiry in public, went over time and over budget, and determined the funding was relatively modest and totally legal.
Over time, the enemy tag broadened. Kenney characterized the NDP as disloyal for its COVID-19 criticism. He linked one radio interviewer's criticism of his government to an attack on Alberta itself. Reporters were at times dismissed as shills for the NDP or special interest groups.
No quarter was given, even in good times. When Trudeau came to Edmonton to announce a joint $10-a-day child-care program, Kenney, from the podium, said the money was recycled provincial funds anyway and Quebec got a better deal.
As COVID-19 hit with full force in 2020, decimating the economy, Kenney found himself battling a two-front war as bubbling rifts between him and his caucus and party exploded.
Those divides had started before the election, when Kenney promised his UCP would be run by and for the members, but then at the party's founding convention in 2018 told reporters "I hold the pen" on what will and won't be policy.
The UCP won in 2019 on the strength of rural votes, said political scientist Duane Bratt. But when Kenney picked his first cabinet, it was Calgary-centric, leaving disgruntled backbenchers seething in silence, poised to push back when things went south.
"It was a top-down government," said Bratt with Calgary's Mount Royal University.
"He did not have good relations with his MLAs. He hired attack dogs as staffers. And they just didn't bully the NDP and journalists and members of the public, but their own MLAs as well."
Kenney's government was lauded in the first wave of COVID-19, invoking rules and closures to keep gatherings down, hold the illness at bay and keep hospitals operating.
But in subsequent waves, Kenney's promise to balance "lives and livelihoods" left him whipsawed by those wanting rules to keep hospitals from cratering and those who felt the rules were unnecessary and a violation of personal freedom.
He tried to find a magic middle ground, which resulted in shifting restrictions: regional, provincial, on for some, off for others. Each time he waited until Alberta's health system was on the brink of collapse before acting, with thousands of surgeries cancelled and waiting rooms jammed.
He announced Alberta was open for good in late spring of 2021, with all restrictions to be lifted earlier than the rest of Canada in a "Best Summer Ever" campaign. There were hats with that slogan and tweets at naysayers: "The pandemic is ending. Accept it."
Within months, COVID-19 had overwhelmed Alberta's hospitals so catastrophically that triage rules were imminent and the Armed Forces called in.
Extreme action was needed, so Kenney introduced a type of vaccine passport, something he had promised he would never do -- a policy U-turn that enraged many in his party.
Then came the blame.
Kenney said he would've acted earlier except his chief medical health officer didn't recommend anything. Months later, he said Alberta Health Services officials kneecapped his decision-making by delivering shifting bed capacity numbers.
The gig was not going well. Poll numbers were in free fall. UCP backbenchers openly questioned the restrictions -- and Kenney.
And there were scandals piling into each other like cars on a freeway.
Alohagate: a bunch of Kenney caucus members ignored calls to stay home over Christmas to avoid the spread of COVID-19 and jetted off to sunny climes while Albertans shivered at home under strict gathering limits.
UCP caucus chair Todd Loewen resigned his post and was kicked out of caucus after publicly demanding Kenney quit for botching vital files, ignoring the backbench, and running a top-down, tone-deaf administration.
"We did not unite around blind loyalty to one man," pronounced Loewen.
Kenney and some cabinet confidantes were surreptitiously photographed on the balcony of his office enjoying drinks and dinner in obvious violation of distancing rules.
The premier insisted there was no rule-breaking. But as outrage mounted, he announced his team had returned to the scene of the dine, pulled out the measuring tape, checked the chairs and concluded that, yes, they had gathered too close.
Such gaslighting, chortled Notley during question period.
There was more: a lawsuit alleging the premier's office was fostering a "poisoned work environment;" drink parties in the agriculture minister's legislature office; the justice minister trying to interfere in the administration of justice by calling up Edmonton's police chief on a traffic ticket.
Humming in the background was a long-running RCMP investigation into potential criminal identity fraud in the vote that saw Kenney elected UCP leader.
And this was on top of Kenney's government passing a law in 2019 that sacked the election official investigating Kenney's UCP for campaign violations.
As the calendar flipped to 2022, the drumbeats of dissent grew louder, even as COVID-19 receded and oil and gas prices soared, returning Alberta to multibillion-dollar budget surpluses.
UCP discontents had been angling to accelerate a party leadership review.
That vote was moved, changed to a special one-day vote, then altered again to a mail-in referendum. Critics said Kenney's team was moving the goalposts to keep from losing.
Kenney called his critics "lunatics" and then, in his speech to kick off the leadership vote, asked for their forgiveness.
On May 18, he got 51 per cent support -- technically enough to survive, but he said it was time to go.
On Thursday, UCP members meet in Calgary to seal his fate.
The outcome is not in doubt. A new premier will be chosen.
The gig is up.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2022.
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Starting on Thursday, eligible Canadians can apply through the Canada Revenue Agency to receive funding as part of the first ever federal dental-care program, and as of Dec. 12 applications will open for low-income renters looking to access the one-time top-up to the Canada Housing Benefit.
A 101-year-old message has been discovered by workers removing the base of a former statue in front of the Manitoba legislature.
Police across the country are seeing a rise in criminals preying on fears of the elderly with what's known as grandparent scams.
Emails released through a public inquiry suggest federal Liberal political aides were scrambling earlier this year to figure out the extent to which members of the Canadian Armed Forces were supporting "Freedom Convoy" protests that had gridlocked downtown Ottawa.
Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said Wednesday the company does not have plans to stop selling the antisemitic film that gained notoriety recently after Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving tweeted out an Amazon link to it.
Oklahoma musician Jake Flint died unexpectedly over the weekend, hours after getting married, his publicist says. He was 37.
A judge declared a mistrial Wednesday after jurors said they were hopelessly deadlocked at the trial of "That '70s Show" actor Danny Masterson, who was charged with three rapes.
Christine McVie, the British-born Fleetwood Mac vocalist, songwriter and keyboard player whose cool, soulful contralto helped define such classics as 'You Make Loving Fun,' 'Everywhere' and 'Don't Stop,' died Wednesday at age 79.
The former CEO of the failed cryptocurrency exchange FTX said Wednesday that he did not 'knowingly' misuse customers' funds, and said he believes his millions of angry customers will eventually be made whole.
Calgary police were on the run Wednesday, trying to catch a car thief who stole – and then ditched – vehicle after vehicle.
Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek says she wishes more thought would've gone into Danielle Smith's first move as premier.
A decrease in temperatures is likely leading to an increase in utility and heating bills as Calgarians crank up their thermostats in preparation for another cold snap.
A judge has cleared the way for a dog that fatally attacked another dog in Saskatoon to be killed.
Saskatoon police are requesting the public's help in finding a woman who was last seen in late October.
Krysta Arsenault has been a patient at Broadway Family Physicians since it’s been open but walked out the doors for the last time on Wednesday.
Canada will take the pitch in Qatar for its third and final FIFA World Cup match on Thursday morning. Here's how to watch in Regina.
The Saskatchewan NDP called on the provincial government to act on surgical and diagnostic wait times while highlighting one of the thousands of people affected by the issue.
With funding from the federal government, the hours of operation for Awasiw – The Warming Place in Regina will be extended overnight beginning on Dec. 1.
A retired RCMP officer who gathered information about “serious allegations” regarding another police force in 2020 has harsh words for the failure of Nova Scotia’s police watchdog to officially investigate.
A crowd of around 150 people gathered at St. George's Anglican Church Wednesday to remember Luke Landry. The 35-year-old died last Monday inside a public washroom next to Moncton City Hall.
New Statistics Canada numbers show a sharp decline in the amount of land being used for farming, especially in the Maritimes.
Here's what you need to know about Ontario's 2022 annual auditor general report.
A winter weather travel advisory has been issued for parts of the Greater Toronto Area, warning of reduced visibility due to heavy bursts of snow.
A massive Ontario-wide investigation into child exploitation has led to more than 100 people being charged, police announced on Wednesday.
The Quebec government will spend the next four years trying to reverse what it says is the decline of French in Montreal and transform the province's economy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Premier Francois Legault said Wednesday. Legault delivered his inaugural speech — equivalent to a throne speech — to the 43rd session of the legislature, almost two months after his Coalition Avenir Quebec was re-elected with a large majority.
Strong, gusting winds knocked out power to at least 45,000 customers in southern Quebec Wednesday evening, according to Hydro-Quebec.
More than 300,000 Quebec children have the constitutional right to education in English, though only about three in four attend English schools, new Statistics Canada census data shows. Statistics Canada is collecting this data for the first time, giving Quebec's English education system a real picture of the situation.
LRT INQUIRY | 'Unconscionable,' 'egregious:' Scathing Ottawa LRT inquiry report slams senior city staff, RTG
The construction and maintenance of the Ottawa LRT project was plagued by persistent failures in leadership and saw 'egregious violations of the public trust,' a scathing new report has found.
NEW THIS MORNING
NEW THIS MORNING | Today is the CTV Morning Live Holiday Helpers Food Drive
Tune in to CTV Morning Live between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. for the Holiday Helpers Food Drive in support of the Ottawa Food Bank.
CTVNewsOttawa.ca looks at ten key takeaways from the Ottawa Light Rail Transit Public Inquiry final report released on Wednesday.
Police have charged 107 people after a massive month-long child exploitation investigation spanning the entire province.
The Region of Waterloo is considering closing the Highway 85 on and off ramps at Lancaster Street in Kitchener and asking for public feedback on the idea.
Waterloo regional police have released a video of an individual they want to speak to in connection to a suspicious fire in Woolwich Township.
The Moose River Attack minor hockey team has travelled by helicopter, train, car, canoe and snowmibile to get to games and practices.
Police have reopened Highway 17 in northern Ontario after a series of crashes, including one fatal, Tuesday night.
Alamos Gold says one person has died after being hit by a vehicle underground at the Young-Davidson mine Tuesday afternoon. It is the second mining fatality in northern Ontario this month.
Two Manitobans face a number of assault charges after a fight broke out at a Winnipeg Jets game Tuesday night.
The City of Winnipeg could be eyeing a new way to get more people living downtown – by filling the spaces left vacant by office workers working at home.
Several groups of good Samaritans came to the aid of commuters during the harrowing snowstorm that rocked B.C.’s Lower Mainland Tuesday night.
The winter wallop that slammed into British Columbia’s south coast Tuesday hit right in the middle of the evening commute, creating a critical mass of gridlock that delayed plows and sanding trucks.
Frigid temperatures are in the forecast for the Lower Mainland Wednesday night, bringing with them the risk that melted snow will turn to ice and create hazardous conditions on the region's roads.
Tow operators were in clean-up mode on Wednesday, after a night of desperation on the Malahat highway prompted people to abandon their vehicles Tuesday.
British Columbia's police watchdog is investigating after a man suspected of committing an armed robbery near Duncan, B.C, was later found dead near Lake Cowichan, B.C.
Students and staff at a Victoria-area high school were sent home early Wednesday after someone threatened a shooting at the school. The Oak Bay Police Department says it was contacted by Oak Bay High School administrators around 10:30 a.m. after the threat was found written on a stall door in a girls' washroom.