Premier Jason Kenney, leader of the UCP, took the stage at the party’s annual general meeting, which is being held in-person at Calgary’s Grey Eagle Casino.
“It is so great to see you folks, all of you friends from across this great province,” he said. “We were still debating a few weeks ago whether to hold this online or in-person. We were wondering if enough people would come in-person.
“This is an overflow crowd – this is a sign of the strength of Alberta’s conservative movement.”
Kenney was also quick to acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic as likely the toughest challenge the province has faced in its history.
“This crisis challenged each and everyone of us deeply,” he said. “We mourn the lives of those that have been lost. We regret how COVID dislocated our lives, separated loved ones, threw many into despair and caused so much incalculable damage.”
Some of that damage was inflicted on the government as well, he added.
“Like every government in the world, we’ve sought to lead through COVID by trail and error, often faced with only bad choices.”
Kenney also admitted his government made mistakes.
“As premier, I must take responsibility for that, but let me tell you, from the bottom of my heart, that our government has always strived to find the right balance.”
QUESTIONS OVER KENNEY AS LEADER
The keynote address comes as a number of sources inside the party suggest the UCP is on the verge of collapse.
While a review of Kenney’s leadership won’t take place at this weekend’s AGM, political experts say that won’t stop questions from being asked.
“Whatever is happening on the stage, whatever is happening on the agenda is going to take second place to questions surrounding Jason Kenney’s leadership,” said Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams.
Reports suggest nearly two dozen constituency associations have said the leadership review needs to happen now instead of in the spring.
“I think that is really a new leader, or a resounding leadership confirmation – one of the two, and I think we need to put it to bed and move ahead,” said Erhard Poggemiller with Olds-Didsbury.
“I really hope that we stay together, that we don’t split because I think the worst thing we can do is split as a party.”
BRIAN JEAN ATTENDS AGM
A short time before Kenney took the stage, a potential political rival was seen mingling with guests at the convention.
Brian Jean, former leader of Alberta’s Wildrose Party, attended the event as well.
Earlier this month, Jean made the announcement that he was seeking the UCP nomination for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, something he’s claimed will be a tough challenge because of “Kenney loyalists.”
He would then need to win a byelection to replace outgoing MLA Laila Goodridge before he’s within shooting distance of a potential leadership showdown with Kenney.
DOZENS OF PROTESTERS AT VENUE
As Friday evening’s events took place with Kenney meeting party members, a gathering of a different sort took place outside the Grey Eagle Casino.
Dozens of people, believed to be anti-vaccine demonstrators, forced the venue into a state of lockdown, preventing everyone from entering or exiting the building.
The group waved signs speaking out against vaccine mandates set by the provincial government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and calling for Kenney’s resignation.
Members of the Tsuut’ina Police Service were on hand to keep the peace and Grey Eagle officials told CTV News in a statement that they had been anticipating that sort of activity.
“Management at the Grey Eagle Resort and Casino are aware that protesters did attend the area of the UCP AGM,” said spokesperson Morten Paulsen via email.
“This was one contingency that was anticipated and security protocols are in place. The Grey Eagle Resort and Casino is working closely with organizers, and with Tsuut’ina Police.”
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