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Kenney critics sharpen knives after O’Toole removed as federal leader

Kenney, who has been a vocal supporter of O’Toole, is set to face a leadership vote of his own in April

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Critics of Premier Jason Kenney are calling for further change after federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole was ousted from his position Wednesday.

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O’Toole handily lost a caucus vote, with 73 votes for removal and 45 against, resulting in him being removed from the head of the party.

Calgary Heritage MP Bob Benzen was vocally behind the push to remove O’Toole after previously supporting the leader. After Wednesday’s vote, he said now is the time to bring Conservatives together across Canada.

“Today was about restoring trust with the caucus and the grassroots members,” Benzen wrote in an email to Postmedia. “We’ve had a socially conservative leader and a socially progressive leader and they got the same result nationally. Now we will be able to select a leader that our party and the nation can trust.”

Calgary West MP Ron Liepert told reporters in Ottawa that he believed the party needed a fresh start to pull together.

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In the wake of the vote, Alberta MLAs Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes, who were both removed from the United Conservative Party’s caucus by Kenney, released a joint statement congratulating the federal party on their vote and called for the UCP to follow suit.

“This truly demonstrates what elected officials can accomplish when they stand up for their constituents in the face of a leader who lies, flip-flops, and disregards the democratically expressed wishes of party membership,” said Barnes.

The MLAs said Kenney abandoned the grassroots of the Conservative party by implementing a vaccine passport.

Meanwhile, Brian Jean, who was nominated to run in a byelection for the riding of Fort McMurray as the UCP candidate, said that if the UCP had the same rules as the federal conservatives, Kenney would already have been removed. Jean ran against Kenney in the last UCP leadership race and has since been critical of Kenney’s leadership.

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“If the UCP caucus had secret ballot rules like these, then Kenney would have been removed a long time ago. But they don’t and bullying, threats and intimidation are how Jason Kenney keeps control,” said a post on Jean’s official Twitter page.

Brian Jean, left, shakes hands with Jason Kenney after it was announced that Kenney was elected leader of the new United Conservative Party on Oct. 28, 2017.
Brian Jean, left, shakes hands with Jason Kenney after it was announced that Kenney was elected leader of the new United Conservative Party on Oct. 28, 2017. Photo by Gavin Young /Postmedia, file

Kenney, who has been a vocal supporter of O’Toole, will face a leadership vote of his own in April. However, it will be the party membership voting for or against Kenney, not his caucus.

Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said Wednesday that while there are some similarities between the political pressures against O’Toole and Kenney, the differences are greater.

“The differences are much more striking — the difference between being the leader of the Opposition and being the premier,” said Bratt. “One of the reasons that the knives are out for O’Toole is he lost the election; Kenney won a landslide.”

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He said he believes Kenney will survive his leadership vote, but will still have a number of issues to resolve.

Bratt said Kenney’s UCP was significantly beat in terms of fundraising by the Opposition NDP, and he is facing pressures due to an ongoing blockade at the U.S. border crossing at Coutts .

An agreement between truckers and RCMP saw one lane of traffic opened each way at the Coutts border crossing on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022.
An agreement between truckers and RCMP saw one lane of traffic opened each way at the Coutts border crossing on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

A mirroring protest in Ottawa has caused noise and traffic issues as protesters call for the end of COVID-19 public health measures. The Ottawa protest has come under fire as Nazi symbols and Confederate flags have appeared, while protesters have been found to have taken food from a homeless shelter and danced on the National War Memorial.

Melanee Thomas from the University of Calgary agreed with Bratt that the Coutts protest and fundraising disparity are exposing cracks in the UCP. She said that part of the reason Kenney was elected in the first place was Conservative Alberta’s desire to remove Rachel Notley’s NDP from power. She said that desire can only hold a merged party together for so long and, given the issues currently facing the UCP, she said Kenney could be in for a rough ride.

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“If I had to predict right now — I was looking at the polls, looking at the donations data — victory is by no means guaranteed,” said Thomas. “If the animating feature for the UCP is simply we need to beat the other team, and that’s no longer there, then all of this same aggravation and disagreement” continues to build, she said.

“Coupled with, I think a lot of them just don’t like Mr. Kenney very much. How do you hold that together?”

Requests for comment from Kenney’s office were not returned Wednesday.

The premier took to Twitter thanking O’Toole for his service as leader and calling for unity among the party.

dshort@postmedia.com

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