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Alberta

Two Alberta UCP members kicked out of caucus after challenging Kenney’s leadership

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EDMONTON — Members of Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party caucus have voted to turf two of their own for challenging the leader.

Backbencher Todd Loewen was ejected Thursday night after publicly announcing earlier in the day the party is adrift and out of touch under Kenney and that the premier must quit before things spiral further.

Backbencher Drew Barnes had been the most vocal critic of the government’s COVID-19 health restrictions, saying they are of questionable effect and an intolerable infringement on personal freedoms. He was also voted out.

“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,” UCP 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.”

Kenney’s spokeswoman, Jerrica Goodwin, added in a statement: “The premier is proud to stand with his caucus colleagues and lead Alberta through the greatest health and economic crisis in a century.”

Loewen, representing the northern rural riding of Central Peace-Notley, had been the chair of the UCP caucus. Barnes represents Cypress-Medicine Hat in the south.

Loewen and Barnes join a third backbencher, Pat Rehn, who was expelled earlier this year after his constituents complained he wasn’t doing any work or listening to their concerns.

Weeks of bubbling internal discontent within the caucus boiled over into an open challenge by Loewen in a public letter to Kenney published on Loewen’s Facebook page in the pre-dawn hours Thursday.

In the letter, Loewen called on the premier to resign, saying he no longer sees a commitment to teamwork and party principles.

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

He accused 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 in the Rocky Mountains.

“Many Albertans, including myself, no longer have confidence in your leadership,” Loewen says 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.”

In a radio interview later in the day, Loewen said he wanted to stay in the UCP and that he was not seeking to split the party but save it from looming disaster in the next election.

“The people are upset. They are leaving the party,” Loewen told 630 CHED. “We need to do what it takes to stop the bleeding.

“We need to have our constituency associations strong. We’ve got to quit losing board members.”

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

Hanson wrote on Facebook: “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.”

Hanson, Barnes and Loewen are three of 18 UCP backbench members who broke with the government in early 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.

Since then Barnes has remained vocal, actively questioning why the regulations are needed in low-infection areas and demanding to see data underlying the health decisions.

Kenney 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. But Loewen was the first to openly challenge Kenney’s leadership.

Kenney’s poll numbers, along with party fundraising contributions, have dropped precipitously during the pandemic while those of Rachel Notley’s NDP have climbed.

Notley said regardless of Kenney’s internal political troubles, Albertans need to see him focus on governing the province.

Alberta has seen in recent weeks some of the highest COVID-19 case rates in North America that threaten to swamp the province’s health system.

“It’s not looking good,” said Notley.

“What we need as a result is for the premier to clean up his house, get his house in order and provide the kind of leadership that Albertans desperately need during one of the most challenging times in our history.”

There were rumours of a widening internal UCP 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.

Political scientist Duane Bratt said Kenney had little choice but to expel Loewen but noted it took several hours of debate among the caucus to get there.

“This is not a good day for Jason Kenney. He is wounded by this. And I don’t think it’s over,” said Bratt with Mount Royal University in Calgary.

Pollster Janet Brown said the open dissension magnifies Kenney’s leadership woes. Brown said a premier relies on three pillars of support: party fundraising, caucus support and support in the popularity polls. Any one of those three can help offset crises somewhere else.

But Kenney, said Brown, doesn’t have support in any area right now.

“If you’re down in the polls, if you don’t have the confidence of your caucus and your donors are keeping their hands in their pockets, what’s your justification for continuing?” said Brown.

“It seems like he’s failing with all three audiences.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2021.

 

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

WHL extends contract of commission Ron Robison for three years

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CALGARY — The Western Hockey League’s board of governors has extended the contract of commissioner Ron Robison for three years.

Robison’s 22nd season as commissioner in 2021-22 will make him the longest-serving ahead of Ed Chynoweth’s 21 years between 1973 and 1979, and 1980 and 1985. 

Robison of Indian Head, Sask., joined the WHL in 2000 after 20 years as a Hockey Canada executive. His contract extension runs through the 2023-24 season.

The WHL has expanded by four teams during Robison’s tenure. 

The WHL and its Ontario and Quebec major junior league counterparts in the Canadian Hockey League were defendants in a lawsuit in 2020.

The CHL agreed to a settlement with players who argued they were professionals when they played in those leagues and sued for back wages and benefits.

Robison guided the WHL through the COVID-19 pandemic and delivered a shortened 2020-21 season.

“Over 21 years, Ron has done a tremendous job of continually elevating the Western Hockey League, including guiding the WHL through the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring all clubs were able to deliver a development season for WHL players,” WHL board chairman Bruce Hamilton said Friday in a statement.

“As we emerge from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ron’s continued leadership will be vital for the WHL to maintain its standing as a world leader in hockey development, player experience, and hockey scholarships.”

The WHL is comprised of 22 clubs from Manitoba to B.C., and in two U.S. states,

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

RCMP search for armed man in northern Alberta after police dog shot and killed

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EDMONTON — RCMP in Alberta say they are searching for an armed and dangerous man near a provincial park in northern Alberta after he allegedly shot and killed a service dog during a police chase.

Officers tried to stop Lionel Grey, who was wanted by police, as he was driving yesterday near High Prairie, Alta.

They say Grey fled during the traffic stop, but his vehicle got stuck in mud near Winagami Provincial Park and he ran away on foot.

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine says a police service dog named Jago was shot during the pursuit.

She says officers have evacuated the provincial park and have Grey confined in the area.

Mounties are asking people to stay away from the park and say they will provide more details this afternoon.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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