The leader of Alberta's official opposition does not see a disgruntled UCP MLA's comments asking Premier Jason Kenney to resign as an opportunity for her party, but instead said it raises issues of governance through a pandemic and difficult times in the province.
“Albertans need their government focusing on their priorities, not their (UCP) caucus’s dysfunction,” said NDP leader and former premier Rachel Notley in an interview with the Western Wheel on May 13. “And that needs to happen quickly. This is the worst time you could possibly ever imagine in Alberta’s history to have a government that is lost in their own internal navel-gazing.”
Todd Loewen, MLA for Central Peace-Notley, stated in a letter posted on his Facebook page on May 13 to Kenney that he was stepping down as UCP caucus chair, due to dysfunction in the caucus under the Premier's leadership.
“The caucus dysfunction we are presently experiencing is a direct result of your leadership,” Loewen wrote.
Loewen added Albertans have lost trust in the government – saying they perceive it as “out-of-touch and arrogant.”
He did not say he plans to leave the UCP caucus.
Loewen’s letter to the Premier comes a little more than month after he and 15 other MLAs — including Highwood MLA RJ Sigurdson, Livingstone-Macleod MLA Roger Reid and Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin – signed a letter stating Kenney’s COVID-19 restrictions announced on April 6 were too hard on businesses and that they had heard from their constituents “they want us to defend their livelihoods and freedoms as Albertans.”
Notley would not speculate as to whether the two letters are related or are a groundswell against Kenney.
“What I do know is that we are in an historic crisis and at a time like that, it is incumbent upon the caucus MLAs from whom the Premier gains his authority to make decisions in the course of governing, to work with their government," she said.
“Particularly when we are in a situation which we are in now with a public health emergency where the buy-in of each and every Albertan is a critical tool in succeeding on this campaign.
“Having government MLAs undercut decisions taken by the government repeatedly means we are going to drag this out and we are going to do things like lead the continent in the number of infections, and we are going to have repeated lockdowns with no warning... and Albertans are paying the price.”
She added the UCP’s actions fuel incidents like the Bowden Rodeo which was held earlier this month in part to protest restrictions.
“Obviously, the people who organized that need to take responsibility for their own bad choices,” Notley said. “But I think the profound failure to communicate effectively, consistently, transparently with access to the recommendations that were coming from Dr. (Deena) Hinshaw to the cabinet, that failure to provide consistency... all of that undermines public trust and it is absolutely predictable that the buy-in from Albertans will decrease.”
One UCP caucus member is defending Loewen.
Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson says he's standing behind Loewen.
“It takes a lot of courage to stand up to leadership, especially a Premier,” said Hanson when speaking with Lakeland Today on Thursday morning.
While not directly asking for Kenney’s resignation , Hanson commended Loewen's actions, saying he knows Loewen did not make the decision lightly.
When asked about his own thoughts on the concerns expressed by Loewen, Hanson says, "To be honest, I’ve felt frustration along with a lot of my colleagues.”
Not having the opportunity for input as caucus has been a challenge, and Wednesday night's cancellation of caucus was a catalyst, according to Hanson.
Notley was the premier from 2015 to 2019 when her NDP majority was defeated by Kenney in the 2019 election.
Neither Highwood MLA RJ Sigurdson nor Macleod-Livingstone MLA Roger Reid had responded to the Western Wheel requests for comment as of publication time 3:30 p.m. May 13.
(Update: Both Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes, Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA, were voted out of the UCP caucus by members on May 13. Barnes was one of the 15 MLAs who signed the April 6 letter. In an interview on Rosemary Barton LIve on CBC aired on May 9, Barnes continued to question the government's restrictions)..
Following is Loewen's open letter to Kenney:
Dear Premier Kenney:
It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you of my decision to step down as UCP Caucus Chair. I have copied all members of caucus to inform them as well. I no longer believe that 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. Additionally, I feel it is best to resign this position to be able to speak freely.
We have faced persistent problems. The government's response to a hostile federal government has been perceived as weak and ineffective. Negotiations with physicians were not handled well. The government's action on the eastern slopes did not align with the expectations and values of Albertans. Albertans have lost trust in the leadership of our government and are no longer willing to extend us any benefit of the doubt on most issues. This makes it difficult for members to enact our policy agenda while effectively representing the concerns and interests of our constituents.
The caucus dysfunction we are presently experiencing is a direct result of your leadership. Messaging from your government has been contradictory, confusing, and needlessly inflammatory. Alberta now faces a troubling economic crisis with historically high unemployment, dying small businesses, and staggering levels of debt. The people of Alberta have lost trust in this government because you have not brought needed balance and reason to the discussion. Albertans and our UCP party members deserve better.
Albertans perceive our government as out-of-touch and arrogant, and they expect our caucus to bring their issues of concern to the government. Many of us have tried to do so repeatedly, only to be ignored and dismissed. When the Premier chooses not listen to caucus, is it any wonder why the people choose to stop listening to the government? Our supporters and those I represent can no longer tolerate this. These folks have not abandoned the principles and values of the UCP, but they have abandoned you specifically.
Personally, I have helped build the conservative movement in this province for 13 years and have served faithfully as a public servant. I still uphold the principles and values under which I was elected.
I believe I still represent the will of the party’s grassroots, and wish to make it clear that I am not leaving the party. My constituents overwhelmingly believe in a strong, united party and I must represent that belief.
Along with so many Albertans, our understanding was that we in the UCP had united around our shared principles, integrity, and common-sense approaches to governing—in short, an Alberta “strong and free.” We did not unite around blind loyalty to one man. And, while you promoted unity, it is clear that unity is falling apart. I know that many Albertans, including myself, no longer have confidence in your leadership. 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.
Todd Loewen, MLA