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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

Flames trying to shake off ‘worst’ playoff effort in 4-1 loss to Oilers

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EDMONTON — If the Calgary Flames thought their second-round series was going to be a cakewalk after scoring nine goals in the opening game, they forgot the firepower of their opponent.

Evander Kane had a natural hat trick in the second period, Leon Draisaitl had four assists and Connor McDavid had three helpers to put him at 23 points in just 10 games, as the Edmonton Oilers cruised to a 4-1 win Sunday to take a 2-1 lead in the Battle of Alberta series after losing the first game 9-6.

Flames defender Rasmus Andersson felt is was easily his team’s worst effort of the series.

“Yeah, probably. For sure that second period, at least,” he said. “You’re never happy when you play like that and you lose the second period 4-0. We left (goalie Jacob Markstrom) out to dry there one too many times.”

McDavid became the first player in NHL history to record nine multi-point games in the first 10 games of the playoffs and has been a constant thorn in the Flames’ side to this point.

“He had another, what, three or four-point night?” Andersson said. “He played really well today and we just have to find a way to stop him together.”

It certainly wasn’t just McDavid, as Draisaitl set an NHL playoff record as well, becoming the first player to ever record four assists in one period.

“They haven’t played at home in this round yet and they were going to come out hard and really play with a lot of purpose in their game, a lot of speed, and they did,” Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said.

The Flames can take solace that they were also down 2-1 in their opening-round series against the Dallas Stars and came back to win in seven games.

“They have home-ice advantage right now. We’ve got to win one game here to get it back,” said Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk. “We could’ve lost 10-0 tonight. We could’ve lost 1-0 in overtime. It’s the same result. We were in this position last series. It’s not that hard of a recipe to figure out here. We’ve just got to win one game and get the series tied and go back home.”

“That’s the beauty of the playoffs, I guess — it’s a new game in a day-and-a-half and we’re excited for that,” Andersson added. “Now we flip the page, we move on.”

Game 4 takes place on Tuesday in Edmonton.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2022.

Shane Jones, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Kane, McDavid, Draisaitl lead Oilers over Flames 4-1 to take 2-1 series lead

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EDMONTON — Evander Kane didn’t have a team four months ago.

The controversial winger lugging around plenty of off-ice baggage was confident of an NHL return at some point. He just didn’t know when or where.

Now he’s filling the net alongside two of hockey’s best.

Kane scored a natural hat trick during an electric six-minute span and Connor McDavid provided more magic with three assists in another dominant performance as the Edmonton Oilers downed the Calgary Flames 4-1 on Sunday to take a 2-1 lead in their second-round playoff series.

I’m just happy to be part of this group,” said Kane, who had his contract terminated by the San Jose Sharks in January before signing on in the Alberta capital. “Just trying to do my part.”

McDavid, meanwhile, now has 23 points (six goals, 17 assists) through 10 playoff games this spring. The only players in post-season history with more over the same span are Wayne Gretzky (29 in 1983 and 25 in 1985), Mario Lemieux (25 in 1992) and Rick Middleton (23 in 1983).

“He’s been on fire in the playoffs and has taken his game to the next level,” Kane said. “He’s not just doing it on the scoresheet. That’s what’s allowing him to really showcase his skill. He’s physical, he’s involved. A dominant force.”

Leon Draisaitl, meanwhile, became the first player in league history to register four assists in a playoff period by setting up each of the home side’s goals in a frantic second as the Oilers’ top line combined for 10 points. Zach Hyman had the other goal for Edmonton.

“(Draisaitl) has been really good for our group,” Kane said of a teammate sitting second behind McDavid in the overall playoff scoring race with 19 points despite battling through a suspected injury.

“Seems to find another level each and every night.”

Mike Smith, who was briefly pulled from the action by the league’s independent concussion spotter midway through the third after getting clobbered into the boards by Milan Lucic, made 32 saves for the victory.

Oliver Kylington replied for Calgary, while Jacob Markstrom allowed four goals on 34 shots before getting the hook behind a Flames group that has been outscored 8-1 since taking a 3-1 lead in the second period of Game 2. Dan Vladar made seven saves in relief.

“We lose the second period 4-0,” Calgary defenceman Rasmus Andersson said. “We let one guy (McDavid) dominate.”

The Oilers will look to take a 3-1 stranglehold on the best-of-seven Battle of Alberta — the first post-season meeting between the provincial rivals in 31 years — Tuesday night back at Rogers Place.

The first playoff contest in Edmonton to feature the Oilers and Flames since April 14, 1991, when Theo Fleury scored in overtime of Game 6 to spark a wild and memorable celebration, the Oilers exploded for those four goals in just over 12 minutes in the middle period, including Kane’s second hat trick of the month.

Hyman opened the scoring with his sixth of the post-season 52 seconds after the restart following a 21-shot Edmonton first off a setup from Draisaitl and McDavid to ignite the crowd inside and outside the raucous, packed-to-the rafters arena.

“I think we had a lot of our younger guys that haven’t been in this situation before (and) were a little bit intimidated by the atmosphere,” Calgary head coach Darryl Sutter said.

Kane scored his first of the night at 6:58 off a feed from Draisaitl after the Flames turned the puck over at the offensive blue line.

He then pushed the lead to 3-0 on an outrageous McDavid rush after stepping past Calgary defenceman Noah Hanifin like he wasn’t even there just 53 seconds later.

“We’ve let one guy beat us a few nights now,” Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk said of McDavid’s mastery.

“Back to the drawing board and figure out a way to stop him.”

Smith made a great stop on a Johnny Gaudreau breakaway later in the period before also denying Tkachuk.

“Just trying to make saves for our group,” said the 40-year-old goaltender, who spent a big chunk of the season out injured. “Trying to stay as poised as possible.”

Kane completed his hat trick — the seventh-fastest in post-season history — with his 10th goal of the 2021-22 playoffs at 12:58 on a 2-on-1 with McDavid before fans littered the ice with headgear.

The 30-year-old Vancouver native is just the third Edmonton player to score three straight goals in a post-season game, joining Gretzky (1983) and Petr Kilma (1991).

After his contract was voided by San Jose, Kane signed on with his fourth NHL team despite plenty of questions about his past — from suspensions due to COVID-19 protocol violations, a bankruptcy and self-confessed gambling problems.

The biggest headlines from his personal life, however, were related to allegations of abuse lodged by his former wife, which were not proven in court. Kane has custody of the former couple’s daughter.

“I didn’t know Evander Kane at all,” said Edmonton interim head coach Jay Woodcroft, who replaced the fired Dave Tippett in February. “What I’ve learned is he is a hockey player with really, really good habits.

“There’s a reason why he finds success.”

Markstrom, who allowed 11 combined goals in Games 1 and 2 after posting a .941 save percentage in the opening round against the Dallas Stars, got the hook in favour of Vladar to start the third with the Flames turning their attention to Game 4.

Seven points clear of Edmonton in the standings to top the Pacific Division and minus injured defenceman Chris Tanev (undisclosed) for a fourth straight contest, Calgary got a power play early in the final period looking for a spark, but Smith was sharp at every turn.

Lucic subsequently ran over the veteran netminder behind the Oilers’ net midway through the third to ignite a melee involving all 10 skaters.

“When you’re getting run through the end wall and you’re not expecting it … it’s not an ideal situation,” Smith said.

“A play out of frustration, running our goalie,” added Kane.

Smith was removed by the spotter in favour of Koskinen, who didn’t have to make a save in just over four minutes of action, before Edmonton’s starter returned to a huge ovation after re-emerging from the locker room.

Kylington got a consolation goal for the visitors — his first of the playoffs — with under five minutes to go in regulation.

The Oilers fell behind early in both games at Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome, but following a wild 9-6 loss in the opener, rebounded with a 5-3 comeback victory two nights later to even the series.

Edmonton had a much better start Sunday, including Brett Kulak’s point shot that leaked through Markstrom and hit post before being cleared.

The Flames had hoped to keep the action at 5-on-5 as much as possible after McDavid, Draisaitl and the Oilers took advantage of power play, short-handed and four-on-four situations in Game 3, but took two penalties to Edmonton’s one in the first.

McDavid, who seemed to have the puck all night, went on one of his jaw-dropping rushes during his team’s second man advantage, but Markstrom was there to deny the Oilers captain in what was a sign of things to come.

“Good to come back home and play these guys on our home ice,” Kane said. “A good win for our group.”

And one he probably didn’t envision being part of not that long ago.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2022.

___

Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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