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Jason Kenney pledges to resign as premier, exposing a growing rift in Canada’s conservative coalition

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CALGARY — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney abruptly pledged to resign Wednesday evening after a narrow victory in a leadership review wasn’t enough to convince him he had the support of the United Conservative Party membership.

The result leaves the party to choose a new leader and premier of the province, in what is the culmination of a long and fractious resistance to Kenney’s leadership from the right sparked by his government’s measures to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The result is not what I hoped for or, frankly, what I expected,” said Kenney, to a room full of supporters. “I truly believe that we need to move forward united. We need to put the past behind us. A large number of our members have asked for the opportunity to clear the air through a leadership election.”

The party faithful had gathered at a sports facility south of Calgary to hear the results of the leadership review, which came out to 51.4 percent in favour of his leadership, and Kenney’s decision caused audible gasps from some members and left others in tears.

The UCP caucus will meet Thursday morning before the party launches a leadership election to elect Kenney’s successor as permanent leader and premier.

In a short speech announcing his intention to resign, Kenney urged party members to put the divisive pandemic politics behind them and focus on unifying the party.

“Friends, it’s clear that the past two years were deeply divisive for our province, our party, and our caucus. But it is my fervent hope that in the months to come, we all move past the division of COVID,” said Kenney.

Kenney placed all the blame for the party’s strife on the pandemic measures and said the UCP had “reunited the free enterprise movement in Alberta,” balancing the budget, winning a massive electoral mandate in 2019, and leading Canada in economic and job growth.

Many of Kenney’s public comments in the lead-up to the vote expressed frustration that the two-year COVID-19 health crisis and the anger at the subsequent restrictions were overshadowing his government’s record on fulfilling its election promises.Jason Kenney’s critics are wrong. Alberta is the only place conservatism is winning https://nationalpost.com/opinion/sean-speer-jason-kenneys-critics-are-wrong-alberta-is-the-only-place-conservatism-is-winning

The vote was the culmination of an extraordinary leadership review that exposed major rifts in the conservative coalition in Alberta and across the country.

The backlash to pandemic restrictions has been boiling in Alberta since the province first brought in widespread restrictions, but the issue erupted nationally earlier this year when Freedom Convoy protests seized the national political conversation for weeks.

Kenney drew a direct line from the trucker protests to his leadership review at a news conference in February.

“There will be an effort, obviously by many of the folks involved in these protests, who have perhaps never belonged to a party before, to show up at that special general meeting and to use it as a platform for their anger about COVID measures over the past two years,” Kenney told reporters.

The political energy fueled by pandemic fury bubbled up intermittently across the country.

The trucker protests that gridlocked Ottawa and blocked major border crossings between Canada and the U.S. caused a rift in the Conservative Party, in part leading to the downfall of Erin O’Toole.Where does Canadian conservatism go from here? https://thehub.ca/2022-02-04/where-does-canadian-conservatism-go-from-here/ Pierre Poilievre, the frontrunner in the subsequent leadership race, has centred his campaign around the idea of “freedom,” and has defended the trucker protests from criticism.Poilievre says vaccine mandates are based on ‘political science’ not medical science in conversation with Jordan Peterson https://thehub.ca/2022-05-18/poilievre-says-vaccine-mandates-are-based-on-political-science-not-medical-science-in-conversation-with-jordan-peterson/

Last year’s federal election saw the Liberal Party embrace vaccine mandates as a wedge issue against the Conservative Party and the campaign saw rowdy protests in response. The People’s Party of Canada focused on pandemic restrictions, drawing major rallies and its highest ever vote share.

The Ontario election has seen a new party emerge on the right flank of the Progressive Conservative Party, pushing opposition to pandemic restrictions and accusing Doug Ford of leading a “left wing” party.A new party sees an opening on Doug Ford’s right flank https://thehub.ca/2022-05-16/a-new-party-sees-an-opening-on-doug-fords-right-flank/

Nowhere has it been more furious than in Alberta. Along with a two-week blockade of the U.S. border near Coutts, the province has seen sporadic protests and simmering discontent in its rural areas.

For Kenney, the end of a long battle marks the beginning of a new trial for his party that may be even more daunting. With a general election scheduled for May 29, 2023, the future leader of the UCP will face a fierce NDP opposition led by a former premier and will be tasked with calming an unruly populist faction of the party.

Kenney’s speech focused on those divisions but wrapped up with an optimistic tone reminiscent of his early days in provincial politics, when he spent years campaigning to unite the right and wrestle power from an NDP government.

“While we have our internal differences, we must remember the shared values that unite us as conservatives,” said Kenney. “And we must always remember the promise of Alberta, this great land of opportunity, where dreams come true.”

Poilievre says vaccine mandates are based on ‘political science’ not medical science in conversation with Jordan Peterson

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Conservative Party of Canada leadership frontrunnerPolling shows Poilievre has the edge in early stages of Conservative leadership campaign https://thehub.ca/2022-03-25/polling-shows-poilievre-has-the-edge-in-early-stages-of-conservative-leadership-campaign/ Pierre Poilievre joined Dr. Jordan PetersonWhen asked at the latest CPC leadership debate in Edmonton to name a current book he was reading, Poilievre cited Dr. Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life, calling it a great book containing “a lot of good lessons. We all need to improve ourselves and I think he has a lot of good wisdom in that book that could help anybody.” on the Jordan B. Peterson Podcast, released Monday, to discuss his candidacy and a number of issues animating the campaign, including housing and inflation, defunding the CBC, and the Freedom Convoy protests that paralyzed Ottawa for several weeks this past winter. 

Poilievre reiterated his support for the peaceful protesters among those that gathered at the nation’s capital, saying that the vaccine mandates targeting the truckers were “unscientific and malicious” and that “this was never about medical science, it was about political science. It was about demonizing a small minority for political gain, and I’m proud of the fact that people stood up and fought for their freedoms in that case.”

To prevent future impositions on civil liberties, Poilievre pledged to reexamine the Emergencies Act:

“I’m consulting with legal scholars on how we can curtail the power and limit the use of the Emergencies Act in the future. I want to be very careful though in how I do it because this is an incredibly blunt instrument—in times of war or foreign attack or something like that you can understand why there might be an occasion where these powers might be needed—but I do think we need to craft changes to the Act that will prevent it from being abused for political purposes like this again.”

In contrast to the first official CPC leadership debateBitcoin takes a beating in the markets and the Conservative leadership debate https://thehub.ca/2022-05-12/bitcoin-takes-a-beating-in-the-markets-and-the-conservative-leadership-debate/ where candidates were forbidden from speaking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s name, Poilievre here took the opportunity to forcefully denounce Trudeau, calling him an “egomaniac” and “objectively unpopular.”

Trudeau was not the only political figure to draw criticism, as Poilievre also took aim at Steven Guilbeault, the minister of environment and climate change, labelling him “bonkers” and a “total nut.” Peterson in turn characterized New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh as “stunningly and singularly devoid of ideas, and I haven’t seen anything come out of the NDP federally that isn’t woke nonsense.”

Poilievre also expounded on many of the messages that have served to draw substantial crowds to his rallies, including the importance of removing gatekeepersGoing after Canada’s elite gatekeepers could be a winning strategy for the next Conservative leader https://thehub.ca/2022-02-21/going-after-canadas-elite-gatekeepers-could-be-a-winning-strategy-for-the-next-conservative-leader/ and increasing freedoms, commenting that there is a growing gap between the “the have nots and the have yachts.” 

Summarizing his own motivations for leadership, he contrasted his message as one of hope for Canadians of all classes, especially the workers who are being left behind:

“What bothers me most about politics in Canada is that there is a comfortable establishment that sits on top and governs for itself at everyone else’s expense, and the people who do the nation’s work—the plumber, the electrician, the truck driver, the police officer—have almost no share of voice. I want to empower those people and disempower the political establishment. That’s my mission, that’s my purpose, and I believe in it. I actually do believe in what I say. I truly believe that the ideas and the political approach that I advance are right. So having that purpose allows me to persevere through all of the nastiness and the exhaustion of political life.”

Also in the line of fire was the CBC, which Poilievre again committed to defunding if he were ever to become prime minister. He says he is unworried about the backlash from Canada’s mainstream media, who he claims were just as unfair to his Conservative predecessors even though they did not challenge the CBC directly.

“Yeah, they’re going to come after me guns blazing, I know that,” he said, “But they would do that even if I weren’t taking the principled stand on defunding them.”

Appearing on Peterson’s podcast might be a sign that Poilievre is doing an end-run around traditional media outlets, preferring to bypass the “left-wing media,” as he described them in the first leadership debate. To date, his media strategy has prioritized non-traditional, direct conversations to reach voters, such as this March 29 video from Tahini Mediterranean Cuisine’s YouTube channel that featured Poilievre smoking shisha and discussing Bitcoin.

Peterson’s podcast is a platform with a substantial reach that even outstrips traditional news channels. Peterson’s YouTube page has nearly five million subscribers and his videos average over half a million views. The Poilievre interview had more than 200,000 views by mid-day on Tuesday.

Peterson, who Tyler Cowen has called “one of the world’s leading public intellectuals” and who David Brooks described as “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world,” rose to prominence due to his opposition to the federal Bill C-16, which he resisted on the grounds that it legislated compelled speech.

While Peterson has generally stayed uninvolved in Canadian politics outside of his youthful dalliance with Alberta’s New Democratic Party, Peterson did interview the People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier during the last federal campaign.

Speaking with Poilievre, Peterson commended his courage for agreeing to be interviewed:

“I’ve asked other politicians, including some on the conservative side, and I’ve had some agree to speak with me, but generally they seem intimidated by the span of time that stretches out in front of them. Or perhaps, [they’re] not cognizant fully of the power of YouTube dialogue.”

Peterson has grown increasingly critical of Trudeau’s vaccine mandates and his recent handling of the Freedom Convoy protests, calling him a liar and a narcissist in an interview at the Hoover Institution on May 9. On February 19, Peterson released an original song, “Wake Up”, that was “Dedicated, under the current unfortunate conditions, to the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honorable Justin Trudeau.”

At the height of the protests on January 31, Peterson took to Instagram to directly appeal to several conservative politicians, naming Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Ontario Premier Ontario Doug Ford, and then-opposition leader Erin O’Toole, and urging them to support the movement and remove the vaccine mandates.

“What in the world are you waiting for? It’s your moment. You’ve got a huge number of Canadians occupying Ottawa, expressing their dismay with the suspension of our charter rights in the face of this so-called emergency,” Peterson said. “Our prime minister has literally abandoned the city, run away, as far as I can tell.”

He continued, “You’re not going to get a better opportunity. This is your moment, conservatives in Canada.”