UCP removes Loewen, Barnes from caucus after Kenney criticism
EDMONTON -- The United Conservative Party (UCP) in Alberta has two fewer members in its ranks.
The party caucus met Thursday evening to discuss a letter in which former UCP caucus chair Todd Loewen announced his resignation as chair, and stated Premier Jason Kenney was causing “dysfunction” within the party.
The party voted to remove both Loewen and southern MLA Drew Barnes from the government caucus.
“Members recognize the need for government caucus to remain strong and united behind our leader, Premier Jason Kenney, as we continue to fight through what looks to be the final stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” party whip Mike Ellis said in a statement.
“There is simply no room in our caucus for those who continually seek to divide our party and undermine government leadership, especially at this critical juncture for our province,” Ellis added.
“We look forward to moving ahead as a stronger, more united team.”
'PREMIER SHOT THE MESSENGER': BARNES
Barnes, MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, signed a letter, along with more than a dozen other UCP MLAs in April criticizing the government’s public health restrictions.
- READ MORE: 'Wrong direction': 15 UCP MLAs question return to Step 1 of health measures in letter to Albertans
Kenney's press secretary Jerrica Goodwin said in a statement that the premier is "proud" to stand with his caucus colleagues.
"He looks forward to putting the COVID-19 pandemic behind us and working towards Alberta’s economic recovery."
Both Loewen and Barnes said they will sit in the house as Independents.
"I was delivering a message on behalf of a lot of our supporters, a lot of Albertans, a lot of UCP members and a lot of conservatives across this province," Loewen, representing the northern rural riding of Central Peace-Notley, said in an interview.
"And instead of taking ownership of the problems, the premier shot the messenger."
Barnes, in a statement released about two hours after being kicked out, said of his committment to his constituents: “That has not and will not change."
“I am saddened by today’s events, but not surprised. Many members of caucus have tried, in vain, to help the premier make better decisions in recent weeks and months.”
Barnes added the party -- a 2017 merger of Alberta's previous conservative parties, the Wildrose and PCs -- “was meant to be a team” tolerating debate and supposed to be “the party of grassroots conservatives.”
“Instead of MLAs representing the views of their constituents to caucus, MLAs are expected to represent the views of the premier to the constituents.
“I could never abide by this – this is not why I entered politics – and this is not how a grassroots party is meant to work.”
Barnes also expressed concern that the vote to expel him and Loewen from caucus was not completed by secret ballot.
After a virtual debate, members cast their ballots by identifying themselves and texting their vote. The vote breakdown was not announced.
Loewen and Barnes are the second and third members expelled from the UCP caucus in 2021, after constituents complained backbencher Pat Rehn wasn't doing any work or listening to their concerns.
With files from The Canadian Press