Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he is staying in the top job to maintain “continuity” until a new leader of his United Conservative Party is chosen.
He made the comment Friday after reporters were invited in to watch, take photos and shoot video of cabinet ministers giving him a standing ovation at McDougall Centre government building in Calgary.
Kenney said the media opportunity was organized to demonstrate that his government is continuing its work, with a focus on public priorities such as growing the economy and reducing wait times in health care.
“I’ll be (leaving) as soon as the party has elected a new leader,” said Kenney, who spoke for five minutes.
“Yesterday, government caucus met and affirmed its support for this approach, allowing the government to maintain continuity and stability and to continue to focus on the people’s priorities.
“This is a critical time in Alberta history. We are determined to keep our eye on the ball.”
Kenney did not take questions and has not done so since announcing earlier this week that he was quitting as party leader following a leadership review.
A number of caucus opponents have called for Kenney to leave immediately to help heal divisions and allow an interim leader to take over until a permanent replacement is picked.
The most vocal, UCP member and co-founder Brian Jean, declined to comment Friday.
His spokesman, Vitor Marciano, said: “Brian Jean won’t be commenting today. He is going to let Albertans and the (party’s) grassroots digest the unusual events of the last two days.”
Kenney announced Wednesday night he would be stepping down after receiving 51.4 per cent of just over 34,000 ballots cast. The total was enough to technically stay, but Kenney said it was not enough to maintain confidence and quell disharmony in the ranks.
His press secretary said that night that Kenney would go once an interim leader was picked.
Political scientist Duane Bratt, with Calgary’s Mount Royal University, said the situation has been head-scratching.
“In the span of 24 hours, we have a premier say he won a leadership review, (then) announce he’s resigning anyway, but he’s going to stay in office,” said Bratt. “It’s absolutely bizarre.
“This is not moving on. This is causing more confusion.”
Bratt said it also muddies the leadership race.
“If you’re a cabinet minister going to run for the leadership, you need to distance yourself from the premier because there’s a reason the premier is resigning — he’s unpopular,” he said.
“How do you do that when Kenney is still the premier? That puts you in a very difficult position.”
UCP spokesman Dave Prisco said the leadership planning process is underway.
“The board met last night to review party bylaws and next steps,” said Prisco in a statement.
“The next task is to appoint a leadership election committee whose job it will be to develop the rules and procedures for a leadership race. That includes determining timelines and entrance fees as well as other procedures that build on existing rules in our bylaws.”
Opposition NDP critic Kathleen Ganley said Kenney’s government continues to be preoccupied with its internal woes at the expense of issues that matter to Albertans, such as rising food and energy costs.
“Over the last 48 hours, it has become clear that the UCP is completely adrift,” said Ganley. “The party is divided, their MLAs are divided.”
Kenney has said anger from party and caucus members over decisions he made to limit personal liberties during the COVID-19 pandemic ignited the anger against him and led to open criticism of his leadership and ultimately the underwhelming vote of support.
Opponents in caucus have said the dissatisfaction was not just over COVID-19 policies, but also over Kenney’s management style, which they deemed to be top-down, dismissive and undemocratic.
—Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press