Conservative leader Erin O’Toole got the boot. Is Jason Kenney next?
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/02/2022 (418 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Early last week, Jason Kenney strongly advised Conservative MPs to support Erin O’Toole for the sake of party unity.
The Alberta premier could have been pleading with his own caucus, which has become more unruly by the day as an illegal blockade by truckers at the Alberta/Montana border leaves him squirming in a trap of his own making.
Fortunately for him it won’t be his caucus that will make the decision about whether he stays or goes: party members will decide at a leadership review set for April 9.
To survive, Kenney needs to keep onside his core voters, most of whom live outside Calgary and Edmonton. That’s likely why the week before he openly encouraged the so-called Freedom Convoy as it headed for Ottawa and pledged to fight for truckers’ right not to be vaccinated if they are taking goods across the Canada/U.S. border. Then he left for a meeting of U.S. governors in Washington, D.C. hoping to get them on board as well.
By the time he got back to Edmonton a few days later, truckers had set up their blockade at the Coutts 24-hour border crossing in southern Alberta. Hundred of trucks on both sides of the border were backed up; no one could get through, no matter what they were delivering to grocery stores or the region’s agricultural sector.
For days the RCMP on the scene seemed reluctant to do anything but fruitlessly negotiate and then issue updates on the situation.
Most embarrassing for the premier was the fact that his government had passed legislation to counter the 2020 nation-wide railway blockades by Indigenous protesters that levies a hefty fine on any person or organization that messes with essential infrastructure. And surely a key international border crossing qualifies as essential infrastructure.
No doubt Kenney never thought that legislation would be used against the very people he considers to be in his corner and has been catering to during the pandemic. He was much more concerned about Indigenous groups and environmentalists blocking or disrupting pipelines or other oil and gas infrastructure.
To make matters worse, while Kenney was pressing his case with U.S. governors, the UCP MLA for the Coutts area drove to the border blockade with his three grandchildren and then had everyone pose for photos in front of a semitruck.
Even though he had supported the Freedom Convoy to Ottawa, Kenney denounced the Coutts blockade. Well, sort of. During a virtual media conference he said several times that he was “sympathetic” to the frustration protesters were feeling about pandemic mandates and restrictions. He also said that restrictions could not be lifted until the record number of people in hospital with COVID-19 began to significantly decline
But as Kenney was denouncing the blockade, UCP MLAs were reportedly carrying on negotiations with the Coutts truckers, who then decided they not only wanted the vaccine mandate for truckers lifted, they wanted the government to ditch all pandemic public health restrictions.
They seemed oblivious to the fact that Alberta’s overcrowded hospitals now have the highest number of COVID-19 patients since the beginning of the pandemic. Or perhaps they just don’t care.
By Thursday, some UCP MLAs, including Jason Nixon, a prominent cabinet minister and government house leader, were openly making the same demands as the truckers.
Kenney quickly caved in. On Thursday evening via Facebook Live he announced that the following Monday, cabinet would be considering a plan to relax restrictions. His insistence earlier in the week that hospitalization data would guide decision making seemed all but forgotten, even though hospitalizations had crept up since he made that commitment.
Kenney is obviously scared his own caucus may ruin his political career. So scared that he surrendered to a rabble of angry truck drivers and MLAs who just don’t seem to care who they harm or inconvenience.
But Kenney might get run over anyway. Just as O’Toole did.
Gillian Steward is a Calgary-based writer and freelance contributing columnist for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @GillianSteward