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Two of Alberta premier's caucus members urge him to quit to renew party

EDMONTON — Two of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s backbenchers say it's time for him to resign after last-minute changes to a party review of his leadership next month.

Peter Guthrie and Jason Stephan joined other current and former United Conservative legislature members, along with some constituency presidents, on the steps of the legislature Thursday to demand the party executive reverse rule changes announced this week or quit.

"This (leadership review) was a circus. This was a disaster," said Stephan, who represents Red Deer-South.

“For the good of the province, for the good of the party … the gracious thing (for Kenney) to do would be to step down and support a new leader.”

Stephan, in a public letter issued hours earlier, accused Kenney of stoking fear and division while demonizing party opponents by labelling them extremists.

“Dividing and labelling others only produces contention and destroys trust," wrote Stephan. "That is not true leadership."

Guthrie, who represents Airdrie-Cochrane, said in a statement the decision to change the rules "reeks of desperation."

He said it’s time for Kenney to step down and call an immediate leadership race to save the party's credibility and repair trust.

Guthrie said he would be OK with Kenney running again for the leader’s job, but said the April 9 review is damaged beyond repair and must be abandoned.

He and other UCP grassroots members were sold a bill of goods by Kenney, he added. 

"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,” said Guthrie.

“Once he got elected, the Ottawa elite came out in him.”

Fellow UCP legislature members Angela Pitt, Dave Hanson and Richard Gotfried, along with Independents Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen, joined the constituency presidents on the legislature's east steps. 

Barnes and Loewen were voted out of the UCP caucus almost a year ago for criticizing Kenney. Loewen had called for him to quit.

With less than three weeks before the review, the UCP executive announced Wednesday it was scrapping the in-person vote in Red Deer, Alta., and replacing it with a provincewide mail-in ballot.

UCP president Cynthia Moore said Thursday that mail-in ballots are to be sent to voters after April 9 and must be returned to an independent auditor by May 11. Results are to announced May 18. 

The cutoff date for new memberships was last Saturday and the party is not accepting new ones for the revamped vote.

Kenney’s opponents call the new rules unfair and advantageous for the premier, while opening the door to membership fraud and vote-rigging. 

They say Kenney had to broaden the voting base because he didn’t have the numbers to survive April 9. Kenney needs to get majority support or a leadership race is triggered.

Rob Smith, the main speaker at the news conference, is president of the UCP’s Olds-Disbury-Three Hills constituency.

He said he consulted with at least three dozen fellow presidents before urging that the old rules remain.

“What a sad, sorry state of affairs the provincial board of the United Conservative Party has created,” said Smith.

“By changing the (review) rules in the dramatic way that they have, they have betrayed the rules and betrayed UCP members.”

Kenney has a team of staff from his own office who have gone on unpaid leave to rally support. The team did not respond to a request for comment.

Later Thursday, the intraparty strife spilled onto the floor of the legislature chamber during question period.

Opposition NDP critic Sarah Hoffman said the internal UCP discord bodes ill for all Albertans.

“If the premier will rig a vote among his own members to stay in ... imagine what he’ll do to the rest of us,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2022.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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