Alberta’s Kenney rejects suggestion he’s eyeing early election to quell party strife
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, buffeted by party infighting and a contentious leadership review, is rejecting speculation he may call an early election as part of a last-ditch effort to maintain control.
“I commit to the legislated election date in late May of 2023 unequivocally, period, full stop,” Kenney said Friday.
“That kind of speculation, I don’t know (where it comes from).
“I think that sometimes political hacks entertain themselves by inventing rumours like that. I have never heard anybody in the UCP discuss that as even an option.”
Kenney noted his United Conservative Party government recently passed legislation further narrowing the mandated three-month election window to a specific day — the last Monday in May – to ensure the voting day is not tailored to favour the party that gets to pick it.
Under the law, the next election is to be May 29, 2023.
“I have given zero consideration to a, quote, ‘snap election,’” said Kenney.
“I think it would be dumb. It would break a promise, but also we’re cooking with gas here in terms of Alberta’s economic recovery and I want to keep our eye on the ball.”
Despite such fixed-date legislation, governments are still free to call elections under the fluidity of a parliamentary system that must roll with the shocks of caucus defections and non-confidence votes. Leaders can also call them if they feel they need a mandate for major change, as former Alberta premier Jim Prentice did when he called an early vote in 2015 on a new vision for the economy.
Kenney’s comments came amid reports and speculation on how he will repair the open fractures within his party if he wins the crucial party leadership review vote.
Party members have been mailing in ballots for the last month, checking yes or no on whether they approve of Kenney’s job as leader and premier.
Voting is complete and party volunteers are now sorting through the envelopes to ensure everyone who mailed in a form is eligible to vote. On Wednesday, the votes will be counted and the results announced.
If Kenney fails to get support of 50 per cent plus one, he must quit and a leadership race would be held. Kenney has said he considers even a one-vote majority a mandate to stay.
Kenney opponent and UCP backbencher Brian Jean, who co-founded the party with Kenney in 2017, said that is not enough.
Jean, in a video posted on his Facebook page Friday, said conservative leaders in Alberta and nationally have abided by and know they need a high number at leadership reviews — 80 per cent support or more — to have party confidence.
“The premier knows all of this, which is why I believe that he will not attempt to keep power with a low number,” said Jean.
“If he cannot get a survivable number, he will leave. If he cannot get a number that shows that he has the moral authority to run our party and all our political lives, he will leave.
“It’s the honourable and decent thing to do.”
Kenney has said if wins, he expects the malcontents in his caucus to get in line behind him or face consequences.
One such option would be for Kenney to call a snap election, forcing party members to rally around him. The move would also leave caucus dissidents twisting in the wind, to run as Independents in the election with little time to organize a challenge against him.
The leadership review itself is under a cloud. It was altered by the party’s executive at the last minute from an in-person vote of 15,000 to a mail-in ballot of all 59,000 members. Kenney’s critics have said the change was made to bolster his chances, while the party said that is not so.
According to correspondence obtained by The Canadian Press, Elections Alberta is investigating allegations of possible illegal bulk buying of party memberships.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2022.
Alberta’s province wide state of emergency ends as wildfire situation improves
Wildfires and smoke are shown in British Columbia and Alberta in this satellite image taken Thursday, May 18, 2023. Alberta’s public safety and emergency services minister says a province wide state of emergency that was declared nearly a month ago to deal with unprecedented wildfires will end Saturday night at midnight. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO – Co-operative Institute for Research on the Atmosphere (CIRA) at the University of Colorado and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Alberta’s public safety and emergency services minister says a provincewide state of emergency that was declared nearly a month ago to deal with unprecedented wildfires ended Saturday at midnight.
Mike Ellis told a news conference the wildfire situation in Alberta remains serious but, overall, things have improved significantly and it’s anticipated they will continue to improve.
He says support will not stop for communities affected by active wildfires, including Fort Chipewyan, which remains evacuated due to a large fire burning about seven kilometres away.
The state of emergency was implemented May 6 to expedite co-ordination of firefighting resources and support for evacuees.
Christie Tucker with Alberta Wildfire says the Rocky Mountain wildfire which threatens Fort Chipewyan remains a top priority and 85 Canadian troops were on the way to the area on Saturday afternoon
Tucker told the news conference the blaze was quiet on Friday until the evening, but crews are working to prevent flames spreading to the community and rain is expected in the area in the next day or so.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2023.
Saskatchewan landowners fight against illegal drainage washing out land, roads
WAWOTA, Sask. — Lane Mountney spreads a map over his kitchen table at his farmhouse in southeast Saskatchewan, pointing to yellow and orange arrows slithering across the document.
Many of the arrows represent existing channels and ditches, moving across fields and out of wetlands to drain water. The arrows eventually make their way to a creek, causing what he describes as a deluge of problems downstream.
“All these years, guys have gotten away with draining water and the next guy figures he can get away withit,” Mountney said in an interview at his farm near Wawota, Sask., about 200 kilometres southeast of Regina.
“If this keeps going like it has, I don’t know what Saskatchewan’s going to look like in 10 years.”
Mountney’s map depicts what’s called the Wawken Drainage Project, a plan developed by the local watershed group that has since been taken over by the Water Security Agency, which is responsible for overseeing drainage in Saskatchewan.
The project is nearly 14 square kilometres and contains 880 wetlands of various sizes representing a total of 2.4 square kilometres of water.
A project document indicates that 88 per cent of these wetlands have been drained, partially drained or farmed. About 12 per cent remain intact.
Most of this water is supposed to flow into a creek that runs through a parcel of Mountney’s land.
The plan developers believe the creek can handle the flows, but Mountney is not convinced.
Last year, he and his wife, Sandra Mountney, dealt with flooding ontheir horses’ pasture. They decided not to use their well water at the time because it was yellow.
“They were very excited to tell us that nobody inside the project area is going to lose acres, but they haven’t even looked at who’s going to lose acres miles down the line.” Sandra Mountney said.
Brent Fry, who farms grain and livestock, said it’s common for his land to flood for three days when people upstream get 50 millimetres of rain.
He said it has caused roads and access points to erode.
“There are about four farms out there and all they’re doing is draining whether they’ve got permission or not,” Fry said. “I don’t even know what to do because the government’s not doing anything — they’re siding with the big guys.”
Farmers have drained water in Saskatchewan for generations and many have done so illegally by digging ditches without permits.
Most producers drain because it allows them to grow more crops, helping them pay for land that has become increasingly expensive. However, it has caused yearly flooding for people downstream. Roads also wash out and habitat gets lost.
At the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities convention in February, reeves passed a resolution asking the Water Security Agency to require those who are illegally draining to remediate their unapproved works.
Saskatchewan legislation requires upstream landowners to receive permission from those downstream when they want to drain, but many say that’s not happening.
Sandra Mountney said the Water Security Agency hasn’t been taking concerns seriously.
“It’s hard to know who’s really protecting our waterways,” she said.
The Wawken project began about three years ago but hasn’t been completed. It’s among many drainage projects underway.
Daniel Phalen, a watershed planner, worked on the project as technician before he left for another job.
He said landowners had been draining water with no permits before the plan. His job was to determine how many wetlands were drained and what works had already been done.
Phalen said the plan was to put in structures that would slow down the drainage to reduce problems downstream.
It’s unclear what work had been done on the Wawken project to mitigate flows since Phalen left. The Water Security Agency did not respond to a request for comment.
Phalen said projects can get held up if affected landowners don’t come to an agreement. Expropriation is allowed but it’s rare, he said.
Another nearby drainage plan, known as the Martin project, has stalled because of landowner concerns.
Researchers have estimated Saskatchewan has lost half of its total wetlands over time for crop production.
Phalen, who also worked on the Martin plan, said it was concerning to see the number of wetlands sucked out.
“The Water Security Agency doesn’t have the manpower to do much about it,” Phalen said. “There’s such low enforcement already that if they had any policies in place, people would just drain anyways. It’s kind of a scary problem to be in.”
Sandra Mountney said she’s worried about losing wetlands because they help recharge groundwater supplies and filter contaminants — particularly important when it’s dry.
The Water Security Agency has released a drainage management framework that aims to prevent flooding and ensure Saskatchewan retains a “sufficient” number of wetlands.
Leah Clark, the Interim Executive Director of Agriculture Water Management, told attendees at a Saskatchewan Farm Stewardship Association meeting earlier this year that 43 per cent of wetlands are retained within approved projects. She added the province has “thriving” wildlife populations.
However, she said under the policy, landowners would be able to select which wetlands to retain.
“It will achieve a working landscape for landowners to continue to use their land for farming and ranching. This approach will allow for new development while retaining current drainage,” she said.
Phalen said Saskatchewan could look to Manitoba for solutions to retain wetlands.
Manitoba has historically drained most of its wetlands in the agricultural regions, he said, but the province has since developed a policy where landowners are paid for retaining them.
“You know, $100 an acre is not a ton of money, but it’s another incentive to help producers,” he said. “It’s such a complex problem where you got this huge financial incentive to drain.”
Lane Mountney said regulations just need to be enforced.
“It’s almost too late,” he said. “They should have been out there checking stuff before we got this point.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2023.
Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press
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