Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has stepped down as leader of the United Conservative Party after narrowly winning the party’s leadership vote.
Kenney received 51.4 per cent support in voting results released tonight in Calgary.
He told supporters that the number is not what he hoped for and is not enough for him to continue on as leader.
If Kenney had received less than 50 per cent plus one, he would have had to quit as per party rules and a leadership contest would have been called.
Normally, leaders consider 75 to 80 per cent — or higher — the minimum credible mandate to continue leading their party.
Kenney had earlier said he would accept a slim majority, because the voting pool was skewed by last-minute members interested only in scuttling his big-tent conservative party.
“While 51 per cent of the vote passes the constitutional threshold of a majority, it clearly is not adequate support to continue on as leader,” Kenney said.
“I’ve informed the president of the party of my intention to step down as leader of the United Conservative Party,” he said to gasps in the audience.
“We need to move forward united. We need to put the past behind us. And a large number of our members have asked for an opportunity to clear the air through a leadership election.”
The leadership review took on heightened importance over the past year as Kenney was buffeted by poor polling numbers, sluggish fundraising and open dissent from some in his party and caucus.
It was also punctuated by controversy. It had already been delayed by a year when it was set for an in-person ballot on April 9 in Red Deer, Alta.
When 15,000 members signed up — five times more than expected — the party said it couldn’t handle the logistics and moved to a mail-in ballot open to all 59,000 members.
Critics said the change was made to give Kenney the edge as it appeared he was going to lose the in-person vote.
Elections Alberta is also investigating allegations of illegal bulk buying of memberships in the review. And the party remains under investigation by the RCMP over allegations of criminal identity fraud in the 2017 contest that saw Kenney elected leader.
Kenney had made it clear that the vote and open dissent had become a “soap opera” distracting the party facing a provincial election next May.
He also said that if he got the required support, he would expect dissenters in his caucus to rally behind him or face unnamed consequences.
Two backbenchers who openly criticized Kenney last year — Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes — were voted out of caucus and sit as Independents.
Backbenchers Jason Stephan, Peter Guthrie and Brian Jean — who helped Kenney found the UCP — have been the most vocal. They openly urged the premier to resign for the good of the party.
Kenney has tried to downplay the dissent by tying it directly to unhappiness over COVID-19 restrictions his government bought in to try to stop the spread of the virus.
Opponents in caucus say the dissatisfaction is also over Kenney’s policies and management style, which they deem to be top-down, dismissive and undemocratic. They say Kenney has not done enough to gain a better deal for Alberta with the federal government on shared programs.
Conservative leaders in Alberta have not fared well after middling votes in leadership reviews.
Former Progressive Conservative premier Ralph Klein left after getting 55 per cent of the vote in 2006. Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford received 77 per cent in their reviews, but stepped down from the top job when the party pushed back.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2022.