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Timeline: Dissent and controversy in the UCP caucus

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Discontent over the leadership of Premier Jason Kenney has been steadily brewing, but Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen is the first sitting MLA to openly call for the premier’s resignation in a letter posted online Thursday.

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The letter flags multiple concerns with Kenney’s leadership including weak dealings with Ottawa, ignoring caucus members, and botching conflicts surrounding doctors and mining.

While Loewen said in a radio interview that worries among caucus members about Kenney’s leadership began building long before the COVID-19 pandemic, the premier has also faced significant pushback from within his caucus related to COVID-19 restrictions. Here are some of the significant points over the last year:

June 17, 2020 — Drew Barnes, the MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, a member of the Fair Deal panel, posted a letter online to Premier Jason Kenney saying he was dissatisfied with the panel’s report and suggesting that Albertans would be looking to separate.

November 24, 2020 — Kenney apologized for spring restrictions that made a distinction between essential and non-essential businesses, a move he said more seriously impacted small businesses.

December 2020/January 2021 — Six UCP MLAs were caught up in scandal over the holidays after travelling to various international locations despite the government asking Albertans to stay home. Dubbed “Alohagate,” Tracy Allard lost her cabinet post as municipal affairs minister over the scandal and the others were demoted out of various committee posts, but all remained members of caucus.

February 8, 2021 — Following a public outcry, the government backtracked after quietly revoking a 44-year-old policy that had protected the eastern slopes and summits of the Rocky Mountains from coal mines.

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February 26, 2021 — Kenney’s government fought for more than a year with doctors after unilaterally tearing up the master agreement with the Alberta Medical Association that lays out how physicians are paid. A new contract was proposed but voted down by doctors a month later. AMA’s president admitted the no vote was likely partly due to a lack of trust in the government.

March 12, 2021 — UCP party officials sent out an  email to constituency association presidents confirming Kenney will face a leadership review at the party’s annual general meeting in 2022.

April 2, 2021 — Barnes and MLA for Airdrie East, Angela Pitt broke ties with a national anti-restrictions group after one of the group’s founders compared restrictions to Nazi Germany.

April 7, 2021 — The day after Kenney announced new restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, 16 UCP MLAs , about a quarter of the caucus, spoke out against them. The mostly-rural MLAs said closing dine-in service in restaurants and lowering capacity for retail stores and gyms is the “wrong decision.” Two other MLAs would later take to social media to raise concerns.

April 2021 — A letter reportedly circulated signed by members of UCP constituency association boards or recent members calling on Kenney to resign. That same month, reports surfaced that Kenney threatened to call a snap election, something he denied.

May 4, 2021 — In an evening address , Kenney announced more restrictions for businesses including closing patios and salons, increased fines for rulebreakers, and all K-12 students moving to online learning. The move applied to all regions, including rural hotspots, except for those with fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people and fewer than 30 active cases.

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May 13, 2021 — In the early morning hours, Loewen posted a letter to Facebook on Kenney to resign, saying he no longer has confidence in his leadership.

In a radio interview with 630 CHED at 11 a.m., Loewen said his concerns started long before COVID-19 and that Albertans have lost trust in Kenney. He said he made the decision to speak out to “save” the UCP and prevent the NDP from being elected.

Other conservatives expressed support for Loewen, including Brian Jean , who lost the UCP leadership to Kenney in 2017, and MLA for Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul, David Hanson, though no one else explicitly called for Kenney’s resignation.

At 7:45 p.m. caucus whip Mike Ellis released a statement stating that MLAs had voted to remove Barnes and Loewen from the government caucus.

— With files from the Canadian Press


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