OTTAWA — All that was missing were pitchforks and torches when the United Conservative government MLAs gathered this week to decide the fate of their dead-premier-walking.
The caucus was seething – and fearing for their political lives – as fourth-wave case counts went tsunami, forcing the province to go bended-knee to the feds to help with ICUs filled to cattle-car capacity by the ventilated and the unvaccinated.
But then came a sign you should probably never underestimate Jason Kenney.
The premier pre-empted the kill-Kenney mood in the room by offering a leadership review next year so he could build the party back from the grave. If that vote tilted against him, he pledged to quit quietly and leave the party in recovery mode for his successor.
And then sources say a strange thing happened – Kenney stayed mostly silent for about five hours as MLAs vented at his failed coronavirus containment measures, which have made Alberta’s viral spread the worst in the country.
This is not normal Kenney behaviour. He’s a lousy listener, particularly in his caucus, and reacts harshly when challenged.
But despite slipping the noose until next year, a reprieve where he will no doubt use next month’s provincial referendum on ending equalization (which will never happen) to whip up anti-Ottawa hysteria, his reign as premier is in extreme peril.
- You can now sign up to CTV News’ Nightly Briefing newsletter, our evening reading recommendation. You can sign up here to receive it each weekday night.
Voters dump political leaders for strange reasons; be it dithering (Paul Martin), poor House of Commons attendance (Michael Ignatieff), botched TV interviews (Stephane Dion) or simply because they’re tired of them (Stephen Harper).
But Kenney is confronting a full-throated justification for a pink slip thanks to his chronic tone-deafness during the pandemic, incredulously topped off by taking a two-week vacation in Europe this month as Albertans were dying from the consequences of his policies.
He’s lurched from pathetically bribing the vacillating unvaccinated with $100 to get their shot to now unleashing his Restriction Exemption Program, which is essentially the vaccine passport he promised to never introduce.
He’s shown more enthusiasm in funding a $30-million Ministry of Truth to attack those who tarnish the oil industry’s halo than he has refuting the epidemic of fake news driving vaccine hesitancy in Alberta.
And he couldn’t contain his own out-of-step ideology early in the pandemic by taking on doctors over their compensation scheme, triggering some to exit the province in its hour of greatest need.
If his leadership survives the party membership vote – a huge IF in my view – Kenney has two years to resurrect the UPC fortunes before facing the voters.
Now, lest we forget, Jason Kenney can change a lot in two years.
Kenney performed his version of Ralph Klein’s Miracle on the Prairie when he quit being an MP to claim the Alberta PC leadership, to merge that party with the Wild Rose Party, to clinch the leadership of the reunited Conservatives to winning a legislature seat to becoming premier, all of that in under three years.
But it’s now almost a given Kenney will enter the Alberta history books as a one-term blunder.
This week his negative influence was partly blamed for giving federal Liberals and the NDP a combined four-seat stake in their Alberta dead zones.
And there are concerns his raging unpopularity could contagion into Saskatchewan, Ontario and even New Brunswick if all conservative premiers are unfairly tarred as vaccine-hesitant and passport-adverse.
Jason Kenney, one of the most successful federal cabinet ministers under Stephen Harper, has become the Canadian textbook on how to do things wrong in a pandemic.
It’s been almost 30 years since Kenney’s star first started to shine as the anti-tax advocate who confronted then-premier Klein over the province’s lucrative MP pension plan.
Klein smelled a political threat from the articulate youngster, admitted it was too rich and cancelled the MP pension plan outright while asking voters to forgive him for being human.
The pugnacious Kenney, who dodges blame for his many mistakes and delivers cold shoulders better than empathy, would never consider going full reverse-thrust into such drastic change – and couldn’t successfully sell it even if he did.
That’s why the un-Klein of Alberta is in rapid decline with no Miracle on the Prairie repeat in sight.
That’s the bottom line.