By Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) – The premier of Canada’s Alberta province, Jason Kenney, faces a leadership review starting on Saturday, following months of criticism for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and top-down leadership style.
Ballots will be mailed out after an online Special General Meeting on Saturday, and ruling United Conservative Party (UCP) members will have until May 11 to return their vote on whether they want to keep Kenney as leader.
Results will be announced on May 18. If Kenney loses, the party will begin searching for a new leader before the next provincial election in spring 2023.
Alberta holds and produces more oil than any other province in Canada, which is the world’s fourth-largest producing country.
A poll released this week by ThinkHQ Public Affairs suggested if the election were held tomorrow, the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) would win decisively. The same poll showed only 29% of Albertans interviewed approved of Kenney as leader, while 63% thought he should be replaced.
“If Kenney stays, the UCP will have its work cut out for it,” said ThinkHQ President Marc Henry in a statement.
Kenney, a former federal Conservative minister who came to power in the western oil-producing province in 2019, has slumped in public opinions poll over the course of the pandemic.
His approach to tackling COVID-19 upset both Albertans who thought public health measures imposed were too strict, and those who argued the government should have moved faster.
The premier has also faced criticism for ignoring the concerns of grassroots party members.
“It’s his government style, COVID, there’s a sense he has isolated himself from the rest of the party with a very top-down approach,” said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Calgary’s Mount Royal University.
Even so the results of the leadership review will be hard to call, Bratt said, because a last-minute surge in UCP memberships and the switch to a mail-in ballot from in-person voting made it difficult to estimate how many party members will participate.
“There’s a lot of murkiness around this,” Bratt added.
(Reporting by Nia Williams in Calgary; Editing by Matthew Lewis)