You got your dead skunk in the middle of the road and he is stinking to high heaven – Loudon Wainwright III
As the pandemic wears on, support for political leaders is eroding. At first Canadians ‘rallied around the flag’ to support the leaders who were trying to cope with an unprecedented health emergency.
But after the second and third Covid-19 waves the public have become much more critical. About 50% of Canadians disapprove of how the federal government is handling the pandemic. 72% of Albertans disapprove of how Kenney has handled the pandemic. Kenney’s overall approval rating has fallen to 32%. If an election were held today one pollster estimates the government would lose 30 seats.
But wait it gets worse! Within the United Conservative Party (UCP) caucus there is a rebellion. 17 MLAs signed an open letter opposing the restrictions used to combat the second and third waves of infections. One MLA is completely rogue, continuously complaining about the restrictions. Another MLA wrote a stinging letter about the multiple failures of leadership and demanding Kenney resign. A caucus meeting called to deal with the two rebels took seven hours to decide to kick them out of the party.
Meanwhile a former leadership contestant has begun to weigh in on Kenney’s leadership shortcomings. And there is a petition circulating among party members asking for Kenney’s resignation.
It isn’t just the handling of the pandemic that has caused this crisis in Kenney’s leadership. Alberta is struggling to recover from 5 years of economic hardship. There are many mishandled files, fights with doctors over costs, sneaky behavior around coal mining permits and investment losses from pipelines and rail cars. Kenney has also been singularly unsuccessful at pushing or pulling the federal government to support Alberta’s priorities.
The major factor that once united the conservatives was ‘Get rid of the ND government!’ But now the many schisms and policy differences within the UCP big tent are more pronounced.
The political calculations for MLAs have changed. Once they believed they owed much to Kenney for their election. Now as Kenney’s popularity plummets, they calculate that he may cost them their seat in the next election.
So, what is next? Severely normal Albertans can expect:
- It is probable that some MLAs will leave the UCP and sit as independents
- The push to have a UCP leadership vote may result in a leadership review sometime next winter
- The NDP will work hard to be more competitive in Calgary in the next election
- The Alberta Party and the Wildrose Independence Party are holding leadership elections hoping to attract voters alienated from the UCP. The Wildrose Independence Party may even be able to attract dissident MLAs to join their party.
- The UCP will try to ‘thread the needle’ on imposing Covid-19 restrictions and policing the scofflaws that openly challenge the rules.
- Kenney will modify his approach to the public, becoming more conciliatory and less combative. He will hope for a rebound in support as the pandemic fades and the economy strengthens.
- Kenney will shuffle his cabinet to try to change the channel within his caucus and public perception.