September 23, 2021

-Global News

While he did not face a confidence vote at a meeting with his United Conservative Party caucus on Wednesday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney will now face a leadership review in the spring, the party’s constituency associations were told later the same day.

As his government scrambles to try to keep the health-care system from collapsing due to skyrocketing COVID-19 cases amid the pandemic’s fourth wave, Kenney has come under fire from members of his party, including some UCP MLAs, over decisions he has made to deal with the public health crisis.

Some have criticized him for doing too little and too late to address this summer’s onslaught of coronavirus hospitalizations in the province, while others say he has infringed on people’s individual rights with his public health measures, like the recently announced vaccine passport program.

Late Wednesday night, Global News obtained a letter sent to UCP constituency associations by party president Ryan Becker. Many associations had been calling for an early party review and vote on Kenney’s leadership, according to Joel Mullan, the UCP’s vice-president of policy.

“I am writing to share with you our intention to schedule the 2022 annual general meeting, and the accompanying leadership review vote, next spring,” Becker’s letter read. “I have spoken with the premier, who specifically asked that we make this change so that we could deal with any leadership issues well in advance of the next election.

“We are all aware that recent government decisions on responding to the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused anger and frustration among some party members and there is a growing desire to hold a leadership review.

“We have determined the best way for members to be heard at this time and for our party to uphold our member-driven, grassroots tradition is for the 2022 AGM and leadership review to take place in the spring.”

Until this plan was announced, Kenney’s next leadership review was not expected to take place until late 2022.

Dave Prisco, the UCP’s director of communications, told Global News that the party is “working to confirm a date and venue to make it a reality.”

Global News has reached out to the premier’s office for comment on the spring leadership review and will update this story once we receive a response.

When asked Tuesday about his leadership being called into question by UCP members, Kenney told reporters he was focused on the COVID-19 crisis and not politics.

The fourth wave of the pandemic has hit Alberta harder than any other part of Canada. Amid the intensifying strain on the province’s health-care system, Kenney has apologized for trying to shift from a pandemic approach to an endemic approach to COVID-19. However, he has also said he does not regret lifting nearly all public health restrictions on July 1.

This week, Kenney’s government confirmed it has reached out to the federal government to ask for assistance should it be needed to transfer patients out of province if hospitals can no longer admit new people and to bring in critical care staff if needed.

“We are treading water as furiously as we can with this big tsunami that’s trying to drown us,” Dr. Paul Parks, president of emergency medicine with the Alberta Medical Association and an emergency room physician in Medicine Hat, Alta., said this week.

“I really don’t think we need ventilators or we need space or rooms or beds or materials. We need human beings for sure, for sure. And that’s been clear to us that for the last month or longer as the numbers are climbing.”

There are now 1,040 people in Alberta hospitals with COVID-19, the highest hospitalization number the province has seen since the pandemic started in March 2020.

On Wednesday, Alberta Health said it has identified 1,336 new cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, along with 20 additional deaths from the disease.

On Tuesday, Kenney announced Tyler Shandro had resigned as health minister and replaced him with former labour and immigration minister Jason Copping, arguing the health portfolio needed a fresh set of eyes. Shandro has been appointed to Copping’s former cabinet post.

Kenney has tried to address the intensifying crisis with a renewed effort to get more Albertans vaccinated. Those numbers have improved since last Wednesday, when the premier announced his government was bringing in a vaccine passport for non-essential businesses.