Premier Jason Kenney scraped by with a victory for the much anticipated UCP leadership review taking 51.4% of the vote — moments later shocking the crowd at Spruce Meadows by announcing he was stepping down.
"Well, while 51% of the vote passes the constitutional threshold of the majority, it clearly is not adequate support to continue on. And that is why tonight I've informed the president of the party of my intention to step down as leader of the United Conservative Party," said Kenney
"We inherited profound physical economic challenges. And then we went through three once-in-a-century crises — the largest public health crisis in a century, the collapse of the world economy in nearly a century, and the first time ever experienced negative oil prices."
"Despite all of that, we got the job done, delivering on nearly 90% of our election commitments while turning around the economy so we're leading Canada in economic and job growth, balancing the budget for the first time in 14 years."
Kenney says he fully respects those who voted against him.
"While we have our internal differences, we must remember the shared values that unite us as Conservatives. And we must always remember the promise of Alberta."
"Now, let's get on with the real show tonight, The Battle of Alberta. As Darryl Sutter said yesterday it's bringing our province together. It's the best thing ever. I couldn't agree more. God bless you all, and God bless the province of Alberta."
Kenney, a former Cabinet minister in the Stephen Harper government, won his place as leader of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta in 2017 on the platform of uniting his party with the Wildrose Party. The two merged to form the United Conservative Party or UCP.
From its formation in 2017, the party took a large lead in the polls and went on to win a large majority in the 2019 provincial election, defeating incumbent NDP Premier Rachel Notley with a haul of 63 seats and nearly 55% of the popular vote.
Within his first year as premier, Alberta, and the world, was plunged into the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, and the following spring, calls for a leadership review for Kenney began.
In April 2021, 16 MLAs wrote a letter to Kenney criticizing his response to the pandemic and bringing in strict COVID-19 measures. Following that, Kenney received another letter from dozens of constituency association (CA) board members requesting him to resign.
MLAs Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes, who openly criticized Kenney were expelled from caucus. Several other MLAs were demoted.
The following September, more than 30 UCP CA presidents pushed for an early review and by November's UCP annual general meeting (AGM), 27 of Alberta's 87 CAs forced the early review. During that time, Kenney attempted to raise the threshold from 22 to 29 CAs needed to sign on to force an early review, but failed.
An in-person vote was set for a special general meeting (SGM) on April 9 in Red Deer, however, as the purchase of memberships grew and the expected turnout ballooned to 20,000 members, it was determined the Red Deer venue would not suffice.
Venues in Alberta's three major cities — Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer —were floated until the UCP switched altogether to a mail-in ballot system, even though 33 CA presidents demanded the vote remain in-person at the SGM in Red Deer.
With the SGM cancelled, the UCP refunded the $99 fee for members to attend.
Member protests were ignored and fears a mail-in ballot would be chaotic were realized with some members receiving double, even triple ballots and others not receiving one at all.
While Kenney was busy with membership drives, grassroots movements dedicated to seeing Kenney voted down during the leadership review including Take Back Alberta piled on the pressure.
Kenney, obviously feeling the pressure, was quoted at an event in northeast Calgary told the audience he needs to stay on to protect Albertans from the "extreme views" and "racism" of those looking to end his leadership of the UCP.
“Folks, I’ll tell you what does not belong. As long as I am leader of this party and premier of Alberta, voices or racism, hatred, and intolerance will find no home in this party,” he said.
Pressure mounted again with the controversy around Kenney confirming he was interviewed by the RCMP in March regarding allegations of voter fraud in the 2017 UCP leadership race he won. As well, it was revealed Elections Alberta is currently investigating allegations about bulk UCP ballots purchases from a few credit cards.
In April, more bad press hit Kenney when Al Browne resigned from his position as Calgary-Hayes CA president highlighting the bullying of MLAs and divisive treatment and statements towards Albertans from Kenney's staff.
UCP President Cynthia Moore said the leadership review has seen membership double saying the "engagement has been extraordinary."
More to come...