EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, buffeted by party infighting and a contentious leadership review, is rejecting speculation he may call an early election as part of a last-ditch effort to maintain control.
“I commit to the legislated election date in late May of 2023 unequivocally, period, full stop,” Kenney said Friday.
“That kind of speculation, I don’t know (where it comes from).
“I think that sometimes political hacks entertain themselves by inventing rumours like that. I have never heard anybody in the UCP discuss that as even an option.”
Kenney noted his United Conservative Party government recently passed legislation further narrowing the mandated three-month election window to a specific day — the last Monday in May – to ensure the voting day is not tailored to favour the party that gets to pick it.
Under the law, the next election is to be May 29, 2023.
“I have given zero consideration to a, quote, ‘snap election,’” said Kenney.
“I think it would be dumb. It would break a promise, but also we’re cooking with gas here in terms of Alberta’s economic recovery and I want to keep our eye on the ball.”
Despite such fixed-date legislation, governments are still free to call elections under the fluidity of a parliamentary system that must roll with the shocks of caucus defections and non-confidence votes. Leaders can also call them if they feel they need a mandate for major change, as former Alberta premier Jim Prentice did when he called an early vote in 2015 on a new vision for the economy.
Kenney’s comments came amid reports and speculation on how he will repair the open fractures within his party if he wins the crucial party leadership review vote.
Party members have been mailing in ballots for the last month, checking yes or no on whether they approve of Kenney’s job as leader and premier.
Voting is complete and party volunteers are now sorting through the envelopes to ensure everyone who mailed in a form is eligible to vote. On Wednesday, the votes will be counted and the results announced.
If Kenney fails to get support of 50 per cent plus one, he must quit and a leadership race would be held. Kenney has said he considers even a one-vote majority a mandate to stay.
Kenney opponent and UCP backbencher Brian Jean, who co-founded the party with Kenney in 2017, said that is not enough.
Jean, in a video posted on his Facebook page Friday, said conservative leaders in Alberta and nationally have abided by and know they need a high number at leadership reviews — 80 per cent support or more — to have party confidence.
“The premier knows all of this, which is why I believe that he will not attempt to keep power with a low number,” said Jean.
“If he cannot get a survivable number, he will leave. If he cannot get a number that shows that he has the moral authority to run our party and all our political lives, he will leave.
“It’s the honourable and decent thing to do.”
Kenney has said if wins, he expects the malcontents in his caucus to get in line behind him or face consequences.
One such option would be for Kenney to call a snap election, forcing party members to rally around him. The move would also leave caucus dissidents twisting in the wind, to run as Independents in the election with little time to organize a challenge against him.
The leadership review itself is under a cloud. It was altered by the party's executive at the last minute from an in-person vote of 15,000 to a mail-in ballot of all 59,000 members. Kenney's critics have said the change was made to bolster his chances, while the party said that is not so.
According to correspondence obtained by The Canadian Press, Elections Alberta is investigating allegations of possible illegal bulk buying of party memberships.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2022.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press