By Alex McCuaig
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Local political observers say the UCP government is in trouble as the divisions in the party came to a head with the party’s MLA from the Peace Country and caucus chair penned a scathing letter released Thursday.
Todd Loewen blamed the caucus dysfunction on Albertans’ perception the government is out of touch and arrogant.
He also called for Premier Jason Kenney to resign, “so we can put the province back together again.”
Less than 24 hours later, Loewen and fellow disgruntled UCP MLA Drew Barnes found themselves on the outside of the party looking in following a caucus vote to kick them out of the caucus.
In a statement from UCP Caucus whip Mike Ellis following the vote, the MLA from Calgary-West said the party is united behind Kenney.
“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.
“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.
“We look forward to moving ahead as a stronger, more united team.”
Earlier in the day, Medicine Hat College political scientist Jim Groom said the letter reveals the fine line Kenney is trying to dance along but also that he might be “bankrupt as far as strategy is concerned,” in dealing with the myriad issues Albertans face.
But Groom added, “I wouldn’t call him out yet.”
With years of experience in politics, Kenney has been in pressure situations before, said Groom, and he’s managed rough waters before.
But with an election still a couple of years away, it’s not voters he has to be worried about yet.
“He doesn’t have a fear of the electorate,” said Groom, “he has the fear of the party.”
That was the case with former Tory premiers in the last 15 years, ranging from the more gentle nudging of Ralph Klein out of office following a leadership vote to the splitting of the conservative vote with the emergence of the Wildrose Party under Ed Stelmach prior to his departure. The list culminated with the open revolt against Alison Redford, which saw her drummed out of office.
Groom cautioned this situation might fall along the lines of a Redford-style caucus rebellion, unless the 18 MLAs who signed or endorsed a letter against Kenney’s health restrictions get on board with Loewen.
“That would cross the line for a revolt,” said Groom.
Larry Samcoe, who spent 25 years as an organizer for the federal Reform Party and Conservatives as well as during the early days of the Wildrose Party in the city, said the letter itself is a problem.
“These people are publicly washing their dirty laundry,” said Samcoe, adding, “There is something very lacking in that organization.”
The big winner in the UCP internal battle is the NDP’s Rachel Notley as, “the UCP are doing her work.”
He said it’s a situation that appears to be “political immaturity.”
With the showdown between the backbench MLAs and premier ramping up, Samcoe says kicking out the rebel legislators would be unwise.