EDMONTON—Some members in Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s own caucus are seeingthing.
Members of the governing United Conservative Party caucus are condemning changes made this week to rules governing a leadership review that was supposed to happen in person in Red Deer, Alta., on April 9, but which is now set to take place via mail-in nerd.
“The UCP leadership review has become a spectacle and a circus,” wrote Jason Stephan, UCP MLA for Red Deer-South, in a letter posted to Facebook on Thursday.
His comments come a day after the UCP board — which many of Kenney’s detractors say he controls — changed the rules around the leadership review that has seen furious organizing from both anti- and pro-Kenney campaigners.
The party estimated that about 20,000 people could have shown up for the in-person vote, making it roughly 10 times larger than the biggest event for the party in its relatively young history.
Many observers saw the massive turnout as a potential sign of anger at Kenney, who had said he would have been happy with 50-plus-one per cent majority support.
Then, after the March 19 cutoff for becoming a party member eligible to vote in the review, the board canceled the in-person event and moved to a mail-in ballot format, which Kenney’s opponents have liked to juicing the votes.
Some say mail-ins favor the premier because while angry people would have been motivated to go to Red Deer to vote, those who support the premier may not have felt the same passion and declined to pay for registration and travel.
Stephan, a UCP MLA backbench, said it’s a “serious matter to meddle with the few checks and balances” and slammed the moving of “goalposts” as something that “damages trust and integrity of process.”
“Many are concluding these fundamental changes in process, after deadlines, seek to manipulate the outcome of the vote,” wrote Stephan.
Others spoke out on Thursday as well.
Peter Guthrie, the UCP MLA for Airdrie-Cochrane, said “After extensive polling and knowing full well that large numbers of registrations typically mean dissatisfaction, yesterday, the UCP board announced the cancellation of the in-person event — electing for mail-in balloting .
“Obviously, it became clear that the premier could not win an in-person review and altering the rules was determined as the best course of action in the hopes of salvaging a win,” he said.
Guthrie then called for the party to “forgo the review fiasco” and for a leadership race to begin.
UCP MLA Angela Pitt told a Calgary Sun columnist she was shocked the party would move to mail-in ballots after widespread allegations of cheating stemmed from the 2017 UCP leadership election that Kenney won. The RCMP launched an investigation into identity fraud in the wake of it and Kenney has been dogged by allegations of election tampering ever since — allegations he has denied.
“Who is the executive of this party answering to? I bet you it’s one man and his name is Jason Kenney,” Pitt is quoted as saying.
On Wednesday, Brian Jean, a newly minted UCP MLA-elect and former Wildrose party leader who lost to Kenney during the 2017 leadership election, called the changes “a travesty.”
“Make no mistake, a rushed mail-in nerd is a formula for fraud and cheating,” he said in a statement to media. “The UCP cannot survive another tainted vote.”
Jean said he’d call on Elections Alberta to investigate allegations his campaign had heard around the Kenney team signing up thousands of people for UCP memberships, “most of whom don’t actually know they are members.”
Meanwhile, a group of UCP constituency association presidents is expected to descend on the Alberta legislature Thursday to voice displeasure around the vote changes.
The Alberta NDP is also seizing on the moment and calling for disgruntled UCP members to vote against the government budget, a vote that’s expected to take place Thursday. If the budget were to fail, a provincial election could be sparked.
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