Two UCP backbenchers say the party’s new leadership review plan tilts the vote in favor of Premier Jason Kenney, who should step aside to make way for a new leader.
MLAs Jason Stephan and Peter Guthrie said Thursday the party’s decision this week to ditch the April 9 in-person meeting in Red Deer and use mail-in nerds undermined trust and opened the door to potential cheating.
The party’s new plan came as it reported more than 15,000 new members registered to participate for the event after Saturday’s deadline to get a membership.
Speaking to reporters outside the legislature Thursday, Guthrie, MLA for Airdrie-Cochrane, said the decision means trust among members has been destroyed.
“Our premier has performed one of the greatest acting jobs in the course of Canadian history. He drove around in a blue truck going town-to-town, acting like the ‘everyman’ with his blue jeans on and his top button undone, and then once he got elected, the Ottawa elite came out in him,” said Guthrie, who in a post to Facebook earlier Thursday called the review a “fiasco” that should be swapped for a leadership contest to save the party’s credibility.
Guthrie said the mail-in bundles are “ripe for manipulation,” and the change “reeks of desperation.”
Stephan, MLA for Red Deer-South, told reporters making the changes after the deadline turned the review into a “circus” and “disaster.”
“For the good of the province, for the good of the party, (Kenney) should consider the gracious thing to do would be to step down and to support a new leader,” he said.
“I’d ask the premier to consider what is in the best interests of the party, and what is the best interests of the province as he’s thinking about how to conduct himself,” said Stephan, who wrote in a public letter that many Albertans have already concluded Kenney was about to lose the vote if it went ahead as originally planned.
“He metaphorically grabbed the ball and ran away,” he wrote.
In a Thursday email to members, UCP president Cynthia Moore said they will need to provide government-issued ID for their ballot to be counted, and confirmed results of the vote won’t be made public until May 18.
Volunteers will verify the identification and declaration in the return envelopes, and an auditing firm will receive the ballots and oversee their verification and counting, Moore said.
‘This is not a Kenney-ocracy. This is Alberta’
Guthrie and Stephan’s calls came before seven United Conservative Party constituency association presidents gave party executives an ultimatum to restore the leadership review back to an in-person, one-day vote in Red Deer or resign.
Rob Smith, president for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills, said at a news conference outside the Alberta legislature they represent thousands of grassroots members and dozens of associations who have been ignored by the party executive.
“We are tired of your top-down autocracy. We are tired of it and we demand that you do better. This is not a Kenney-ocracy, this is Alberta, and grassroots Albertans run the show,” said Smith, adding the board is obligated to listen to those who represent the constituencies.
“You can’t change the rules midway through a process. It is not democratic, and it’s underhanded,” he said, suggesting concerns about parking and safety issues could be solved by expanding to an extra Red Deer venue.
Red Deer-South Constituency Association President Patrick Malkin said the changes go against what the executive board previously said was needed to ensure the integrity of the vote.
“They originally told us that doing the mail-in ballot wasn’t secure,” said Malkin.
Guthrie and Stephan were not the only UCP members of the legislature to stand in support of the constituency presidents. They were joined by MLA for Airdrie-East Angela Pitt, MLA for Calgary-Fish Creek Richard Gotfried, MLA for Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul David Hanson, along with Independent MLAs Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes. Both Barnes and Loewen were booted from UCP caucus after speaking out against Kenney.
Harrison Fleming, Kenney leadership review campaign spokesman, said in a statement they are pleased more than 55,000 UCP members will have an “equal, fair, and safe opportunity” to cast their ballots.
“It’s surprising to hear certain local constituency presidents who claim to value grassroots democracy criticizing a move by the party executive to make it easier for members to vote,” he said.
Prior to question period Thursday, a handful of UCP MLAs, including cabinet ministers, echoed that when speaking to reporters, saying the expansion of who can vote is good for democracy.
“Anybody going in a different direction, attempting to block tens of thousands of United Conservative Party members from voting, I think should take a few moments to reconsider that direction,” said Government House Leader Jason Nixon.
“The board is erring on the side of democracy and I think that’s always the right thing to do.”