Culture of Fear: Critic Says Alberta PM Reaps Benefits of Leadership Divisiveness

Caucus member Jason Kenney says Alberta’s premier is reaping what he sowed with his personal attacks, dividing people and intimidating opponents.

“It is this negativity that has developed in a culture of fear that is destroying unity,” Airdrie-Cochrane United Conservative Party member Peter Guthrie said Tuesday in a five-minute video posted on his Facebook page.

“The premier encourages disrespect through his actions,” Guthrie said.

“It was this approach and leadership style that drove a wedge between the (Conservatives United) caucus and the executive branch, forcing opinions to harden against Jason Kenny.”

The prime minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Criticism of Kenny by some members of his own congregation has been surfacing for more than a year due to disappointing polling and fundraising results.

Kenny said it was out of resentment over some of his COVID-19 decisions. But Guthrie and other UCP legislators say the prime minister runs a close-knit top-down command structure that is not subject to grassroots advice.

Criticism has become sharper and more vocal in recent weeks after the party’s leadership made last-minute changes to send ballots by mail rather than holding in-person ballots while checking Kenny’s leadership.

Critics say the changes were made in order for Kenny to get majority support. Without this, he would have to resign in accordance with the rules of the party, and a race for the leadership would follow.

Guthrie, along with other dissident Assemblymen and Kenny supporters, publicly attacked each other on mainstream and social media.

Last week, several defenders expressed deep concern about Kenny in a newspaper column. Leela Ahir, who was demoted last year after criticizing the prime minister, said she feared the UCP was being equated with corruption. MLA Angela Pitt described the government as a vicious circle of decision makers who scorn the voices of dissent.

Another MLA, Jason Stefan, said unity does not mean marching off a cliff together. Newly elected UCP member Brian Jean compared Kenny to a millstone around the party’s neck that would lead it to defeat in the 2023 provincial elections in Alberta.

In response, Kenny’s manager of affairs, Brian Rogers, tweeted that he compared the dissidents to clowns. Guthrie accused Harrison Fleming, Kenny’s deputy director of public affairs, of calling dissidents a “sad set of sour MLAs” on the anonymous party’s Twitter site.

Kenny himself – in a leaked audio recording – called his critics “crazy” and “cranks” and likened them to insects attracted by the bright light of his party’s success.

“This intimidation by the administration goes unnoticed by the premier because it supports his goal,” Guthrie said.

“In their opinion, it’s okay to do something unethical or tasteless as long as it benefits their cause or a means to an end.”

Guthrie’s post is one of the longest and most focused assaults on Kenny’s lead since being dumped by quarterback Todd Lowen a year ago. Loewen was immediately expelled from the caucus, as was another of Kenny’s critics, Drew Barnes.

Members of the UCP are currently mailing out their newsletters on Kenny’s leadership. The results are to be announced on May 18th.

Last week, Kenny urged all parties to stop public attacks. He added that he was probably being too lenient with the dissidents and promised that if he got a majority of the votes, all members of the caucus would be expected to support him.

Political scientist Lori Williams said that Kenny’s aggressive political style of “trying to use anger” is coming home.

“There is this strategy, consistently led by Jason Kenny himself, of not protesting and explaining why the people who criticize them are wrong, but (instead) attacking them personally,” said Williams of Mount Royal University in Calgary.

“All those who do not agree with him are (called) socialists. They are crazy. They are extremists. They are union members.

“It will cause anger. This will increase the separation.”

– Dean Bennett, CANADIAN PRESS

Jason KenneyUnited Conservative Party