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Possible leadership review for UCP, Kenney: reports

Last Updated Mar 9, 2021 at 2:00 pm MDT

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

CALGARY (660 NEWS) – Rumours are swirling about a possible leadership review for the United Conservative Party as some constituency associations are hearing members are displeased with Premier Jason Kenney.

The CBC is reporting several associations have discussed a review, and one had 80 per cent of the board expressing dissatisfaction.

“There are significant differences within the party,” said Political Scientist Lori Williams with Mount Royal University.

Williams said there are concerns from some MLAs, notably Cypress-Medicine Hat rep Drew Barnes, as there are different feelings on how the pandemic should be approached.

She added that Kenney’s troubles aren’t just because of COVID-19.

“Economic issues are absolutely essential here. Alberta’s economy is doing among the worst in the country and that might actually be affecting the judgment on the pandemic. The reality is that although he’s got a leadership crisis, a health crisis, and an economic crisis put together, which is a pretty tough thing to manage, two of those three are not going to be gone because the pandemic is over.”

WATCH: Two UCP MLAs join national group fighting lockdowns

Last month, Barnes, along with Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, joined the End the Lockdowns national caucus, part of a group called Liberty Coalition Canada fighting against lockdown measures.

The group includes past and present federal, provincial and municipal politicians, including Paul Hinman, the interim leader of the Wildrose Independence Party, a right-wing rival to Kenney’s United Conservatives.

Kenney responded to the actions of his fellow MLAs saying it’s a matter of free speech and that Barnes and Pitt are representing their constituents.

“We, unlike some other parties, allow people to speak their minds and represent the views of their constituents,” Kenney said at a virtual news conference on Feb. 10. “Whenever our caucus meets, the impact of COVID policies is a lively topic for discussion.”

Alberta’s current economic restrictions have been in place since mid-December when surging COVID-19 case numbers put daily infections at 1,800 and those in hospital with the virus at 800.

The numbers have been dropping ever since. Daily case counts are well under 300.

The government began reopening on Feb. 8 after some restaurants opened illegally to in-person dining, arguing if they didn’t violate the rules they would have to close for good.

Williams suspects the premier is having closed-door meetings to try and spark more unity, but it’s also possible that some in the caucus could jump ship and join a different party.

At the beginning of February, a poll from Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies showed Kenney’s approval rating fall to 26 per cent.

-with files from Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press