Premier Jason Kenney threw Alberta politics into a tailspin Wednesday when he narrowly won a United Conservative Party leadership review vote only to announce he was quitting the top job anyway.
To gasps of surprise from a few hundred supporters at an invite-only event in Calgary, Kenney said the 51.4 per cent support he received was not enough to stay on.
“The result is not what I hoped for or frankly what I expected,” Kenney said at the Spruce Meadows equestrian centre before a crowd that included several cabinet ministers.
The party announced the results at 6:30 p.m. during a virtual address streamed on the UCP website and Kenney made his speech immediately after.
Before leaving the stage, Kenney congratulated his party on a balanced budget and said he delivered on 90 per cent of his promises as premier.
Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver confirmed the UCP will have a caucus meeting on Thursday and more about the future of the party could be announced afterwards.
“We knew it could be close and it could be controversial,” said Conrad Van Hierden, a constituency association president. “I respect Jason’s decision. We need to unite as a party and we need to find a leader that can do that cause right now we’re divided.”
“Honestly, I was shocked,” said member Tarick Khan, although he applauded Kenney’s resignation. “To fight against Notley, this was the best decision.”
Exactly 34,298 members voted, party officials said, in a mail-in ballot process that began on April 9 as part of a virtual Special General Meeting.
Ballots were sent to nearly 60,000 eligible party members with the simple question: “Do you approve of the current leader? Yes or No?”
Rival and UCP MLA Brian Jean thanked Kenney for his public service and “honourable concession.”
“In the next several days I expect the party will announce a leadership race, and I intend to put my name forward,” his statement said.
“My campaign will demonstrate how we can do things differently, together, to recapture the enthusiastic support of the over one million Albertans who elected us in 2019. I will speak more on these issues in the coming days.”
NDP Leader Rachel Notley also thanked Kenney and said she’d have more to say Thursday.NDP Leader Rachel Notley also thanked Kenney and said she’d have more to say Thursday.