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
Province loosens rules for participants and team volunteers in Rinks and Rec Centres
Further clarity for youth participants in the Provincial Restrictions Exemption Program
As a result of continued consultation with provincial government representatives, the following updates have been applied for all City of Red Deer recreation and culture facilities, effective September 21, 2021:
Volunteers for organized sport groups can enter to perform their activity-related responsibilities without proof of vaccination, exemption, or negative COVID-19 test
Youth sport, fitness and performance participants can take part in their activities without proof of vaccination, exemption or negative COVID-19 test
Youth aged 12-17 must show proof of vaccination, medical exemption or a negative test result to enter any facility while not participating in activity. This includes spectators, or using the concourse and common areas.
Anyone ages 18 or older will be required to show proof of vaccination, medical exemption or a negative rapid test result within 72 hours of a visit to facilities.
From September 20 to October 25, proof of a single dose is considered acceptable as long as the dose was given more than two weeks before visiting a facility. After October 25, proof of double vaccination is required.
All other vaccine-eligible visitors will be required to follow the guidelines set out for the Provincial Restrictions Exemption Program which can be seen here: https://www.alberta.ca/covid-19-public-health-actions.aspx.
Effective September 20, anyone unable to wear a mask will be required to provide a medical exemption letter from an authorized health professional. More information about mask exemptions is available at alberta.ca/masks
Please visit www.reddeer.ca/RecUpdate for more information about the Restrictions Exemption Program at our facilities.
Canadian women's hockey team to play B.C. Junior A men as part of Olympic prep
CALGARY — Canada’s women’s hockey team will play a pair of games against male Junior A teams in B.C. next month.
The national women’s team, currently centralized in Calgary to prepare for the 2022 Winter Olympics, will travel to face the Trail Smoke Eaters on Oct. 4 and the Cranbrook Bucks on Oct. 5.
Canada is coming off winning a women’s world championship Aug. 31 in Calgary, where the host country edged the United States in overtime for gold.
Twenty-six skaters are trying out for 20 spots on the Olympic roster.
Three goaltenders have already been named to the Beijing-bound side: Ann-Renée Desbiens, Emerance Maschmeyer and Kristen Campbell.
The women are accustomed to a regular slate of games against male midget triple-A clubs as part of their Olympic prep, but games against Junior A teams are more rare.
Goaltender Shannon Szabados made 52 saves in Canada’s 3-2 win over the AJHL’s Calgary Canucks on Dec. 5, 2009.
Canada split a pair of Maritime Junior Hockey League games in September of 2019, when the women lost 4-2 to the Valley Wildcats and downed the Pictou County Crushers 4-1.
“We are grateful to both Trail and Cranbrook for their willingness to be part of our training as we start our season,” said Gina Kingsbury, Hockey Canada director of operations for the national women’s teams, in a statement Monday.
“The level of competition we expect to face is crucial in our journey and we look forward to showcasing our athletes to hockey fans in both communities.”
Fans can buy tickets and attend both games subject to meeting B.C.’s COVID-19 requirements.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2021.
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