EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is staying in control, for now, as he survived what was expected to be a tense caucus meeting on Wednesday.
The meeting came one day after a cabinet shuffle that saw Jason Copping and Tyler Shandro swap roles.
Kenny has faced harsh criticism for the provincial government’s approach to the fourth wave of the pandemic and has been dealing with a loss of confidence due to COVID-19 policies.
The timing of this internal rift is one that political scientist Lisa Young says is unfortunate as a leadership review still looms.
“But then we have to assume that everyone in the party will be very busy working on, you know, trying to ensure that they get their preferred outcome in that review so, you know, the UCP will continue to deal with their internal leadership problems, while the rest of us deal with COVID,” said Young.
Young says that these internal issues could be severely problematic going forward.
“This is really what appears like a caucus that is falling apart. There were all sorts of rumours going into (Wednesday’s) meeting that there would be a confidence vote, that, you know, there were around 20 MLAs who were willing to vote no confidence. And then nothing came of it.”
Young adds that this also raises questions of a possible provincial election if Kenney is removed as the leader.
The impact of a new premier during the fourth wave
The UCP caucus is fractured over Alberta’s pandemic response — leaving Jason Kenney’s future in doubt. But political observers say a new premier would likely solve little.
“Those divisions will remain and it may actually make it more difficult to manage the health care crisis Alberta currently finds itself in,” said political scientist Lori Williams.
Kenney has dismissed calls for his resignation, claiming that he’s focused on the pandemic and not politics.
“Political considerations have been front and centre for Kenney from the beginning, that explains if there is an explanation why he has been so slow to respond to the threats,” said Williams.
But could Alberta’s top doctor settle the political pandemic dispute? After all, she technically has the power to order new measures.
“So, there is that technical legal authority, but with government backing it up with enforcement and messaging it’s hard for it to mean anything,” said Lorian Hardcastle, who specializes in health law and policy.
To that end, an Ontario report examining that province’s long-term care COVID crisis discussed increasing independence for Chief Medical Officers.
“And they’re not going to trust public health officials as long as there are concerns about accountability, transparency, concerns that decisions are made for political reasons.”
Of course, that would do little to quell the UPC infighting over the issue — even if the opponents to health measures are outnumbered.
“Even though their numbers provincewide are small, their reliance on contributions and control within the party probably gives them an upsized impact,” said Williams.
But while any decision on Premier Kenney’s fate will likely have little immediate impact on health measures, it does create doubt the further Alberta dives into the fourth wave.
“The viability of the healthcare system, and ultimately the economic well being of the province, hinge on effective management of the pandemic, and this is a party that’s deeply divided on how that should be done.”