Albeta’s political order continued to face turbulence today as Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party Caucus voted this afternoon to expel rebel MLAs Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen.
The results were announced to the caucus and passed to the Western Standard after a two hour vote.
The move comes as the caucus and party has been wracked by internal infighting over issues of Kenney’s “Fair Deal Panel,” and most significantly the government’s reaction to COVID-19.
News broke early in the morning MLA for Central Peace-Notley Todd Loewen had published an open letter calling on Kenney to resign as premier.
“I no longer believe caucus can function properly; meetings have been cancelled without members’ consent, significant decisions of government have been made without notice to members, and our input as elected members is rarely considered,” wrote Loewen. “Additionally, I feel it is best to resign this position [caucus chairman] to be able to speak freely.
“The government’s response to a hostile federal government has been perceived as weak and ineffective. Albertans have lost trust in the leadership of our government and are no longer willing to extend to us any benefit of the doubt on most issues.
“I thank you for your service, but I am asking that you resign so that we can begin to put the province back together again.”
Soon after, MLA for Bonnyvile (Cold Lake – St. Paul) David Hanson publicly backed Loewen’s call for Kenney’s resignation.
“Todd, I applaud your courage and stand behind your decision. I hear the same thing from our supporters in my area. I along with many of our colleagues share in your frustration,” Hanson wrote. “We, along with many Albertans worked too hard to unite Conservatives to hand this province back to the NDP. Thanks for taking a stand.”
Drew Barnes has been an increasingly vocal critic of Kenney’s policies, beginning with his dissenting report on the Fair Deal Panel, which he said did not go far enough. Disagreement between Barnes and Kenney continued to escalate as lockdowns were reimposed, removed, and reimposed again.
A scheduled caucus meeting for the morning was canceled, but MLAs were then called to a hastily called “mandatory” emergency caucus meeting for 12:30 pm MST.
The meeting opened with a heated debate about repeated leaks of caucus discussions to the Western Standard, which was promptly leaked to the Western Standard.
Sources inside the virtual caucus meeting then told the Western Standard UCP Caucus Whip Mike Ellis gave an “executioner’s speech” about the need to expel the rebel MLAs, after which Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie moved a motion to remove Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen from caucus.
While large numbers of non-cabinet MLAs spoke up in defence of the two rebels, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Transportation Minister Ric McIver joined calls for them to be removed.
Discussion eventually turned back toward leaks to the Western Standard, which was immediately leaked to the Western Standard.
Todd Loewen reportedly pleaded for Kenney and the government to change direction, end the lockdown, and “do the right thing.”
Premier Jason Kenney addressed the caucus, telling them they should be “grateful for the input that it gets,” there aren’t any major problem’s with the government’s approach, and “I don’t understand why everyone is so upset.”
According to one UCP cabinet minister in the meeting, “They had first decided all the vote results would go to Brittney who runs caucus services until MLAs freaked out.” It was then decided that Loewen’s replacement as caucus chairman, Nick Millike, would conduct the vote.
The voting to expel the two MLAs was not taken by secret ballot, but by text message to the chairman.
While voting from the 61 MLAs started at 5:20 pm MST, the results were not released to the caucus until after 7:30 pm.
In the end, both MLAs were removed from the caucus.
Story will be updated as it develops.