Brian Jean says Alberta premier is too soft on Ottawa, gets verbal slap in return

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Jason Kenney's arch-foe in caucus took his fight with the Alberta premier to the floor of the legislature Thursday and received in return a backhanded verbal slap from a cabinet minister.

Brian Jean, recently elected as a United Conservative Party member of the legislature, used his first questions in the house to suggest Kenney is failing to fight for a fair deal for the province in Confederation.

“What will it take to make the government of Alberta stand up for the needs and worries of Albertans and start the process of fixing Canada?” Jean asked Kenney during question period.

Kenney was not in the house at the time, so Justice Minister Tyler Shandro answered for him.

Shandro said Kenney and his government have fought the federal government on Alberta's behalf on a range of files, including firearms legislation, equalization, carbon pricing and changes to environmental rules for large energy companies.

“This government makes no apologies for standing up for the people of Alberta,” Shandro said after delivering a not-so-subtle dig at Jean by pointedly ignoring him as one of the co-founders of the UCP.

“Thank you to the member and welcome to him to coming back to the house.

“And, as well, thank you to the premier for being the only politician in Alberta with the vision to bring two political families together to defeat the NDP to form a conservative government that got more votes than any other party in the history of this province.”

Shandro's comments elicited laughter, hoots and shouts from both sides of the aisle.

It was the second time Jean made his voice heard in the chamber after being sworn in on April 7 as the new member for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche after a byelection in which he campaigned against Kenney's leadership.

On Monday, Jean delivered his first member's statement. He used it to admonish Kenney's government and to suggest more respect be paid to members of the governing caucus.

“We need to improve how we do things around here, how we write laws, how we govern, and how we show Albertans that we care about the things that matter to them,” Jean told the house.

“The most important role is that of the government caucus. It is the government caucus's job to know Albertans the best.”

His statement was met with icy silence on both sides.

Kenney is facing a crucial vote on whether he remains party leader and premier.

His leadership is being openly opposed by Jean and some other backbenchers who have, to varying degrees, accused Kenney of running a strong-arm, top-down administration despite promises to listen to and work with grassroots members.

Almost 60,000 party members are now voting by mail. Kenney needs 50 per cent, plus one, in the review or he will have to step down and a leadership race will be called.

Kenney's critics say he needs far more than a slim majority for an effective mandate.

Votes must be in by Wednesday. Results are to be announced May 18.

Kenney, speaking to the media in Calgary on Thursday after an unrelated announcement, reiterated that a simple majority is good enough.

“In a democracy, a majority is 50 per cent, plus one. I don't think that's even debatable. That's just a statement of fact,” he said.

Kenney's Progressive Conservatives and Jean's Wildrose Party joined in 2017 to form the United Conservatives.

Jean then lost to Kenney in a leadership race fraught by allegations of corruption still being investigated by the RCMP.

Jean quit politics in 2018 but returned this year. He has said repeatedly that the UCP is doomed to fail under Kenney.

He has been given a seat in the back row of the chamber, farthest away from Kenney and farthest from the door used by UCP members.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2022.