Kenney heads into the UCP convention with the “family” split over his leadership
This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, “The Missive” on Nov. 19, 2021. Subscribe for free at: https://jodymacpherson.substack.com/ or access background info and special content with a paid subscription.
I’ve just taken an unscheduled hiatus from writing my weekly newsletter for several weeks to doom scroll through days of #COP26 tweets and binge watch all three seasons of the HBO show Succession.
Do I have regrets? Not at all.
Last night, after I watched the latest episode of Succession, I decided this series was like watching Jason Kenney and the UCP party in Alberta. I went to sleep plotting my next newsletter post on a Succession theme.
This morning, I awoke to discover that political scientist and pundit Duane Bratt was also watching the show and had the same idea as I did the night before:
Damn. (be sure to read through the comments on Bratt’s tweet!)
Undeterred, I’m still thinking about the wonderful wry humour of the series and the uncanny similarities of Alberta’s political scene to the characters and story line of the show. I should point out that the show is also so white. See what I mean?
It’s one of the best written TV shows out there right now.
If you’re still unconvinced, think back to this photo of Kenney and his closest confidantes on the rooftop patio of the infamous Sky Palace this past summer. This is how they were caught by an intrepid photographer, as the inner circle enjoyed a “working dinner” in the hot sun, with wine and whiskey, fresh table linens and waiter service while the rest of the province struggled under physical distancing and masking restrictions. I rest my case.
Spoiler Alert: I’m going to talk about some things that happen in the TV show now.
For the uninitiated, Succession is about a family patriarch teetering on the edge of retirement or death (it changes from episode to episode). Logan Roy (played brilliantly by Brian Cox) is also the founder and head of a huge media conglomerate who spends his final days in power manipulating and torturing his four adult children, turning them against each other in a struggle for control of the company.
It’s not unlike the UCP patriarch, Jason Kenney, who is also teetering on the edge of losing political power and/or the death of his future political career. Kenney (played not-so-brilliantly by himself) is also spending his final days in power manipulating and torturing members of his caucus and his party. They are now openly turning against each other in a struggle for control of the UCP.
“There he is, the little man who started this big war.” (One sibling mocking her brother in S3E2 of Succession or Brian Jean mocking Jason Kenney on Twitter in every episode)
In Season Three of Succession, the Roy family’s reign seems genuinely in jeopardy due to a sexual assault scandal on their cruise line involving a coverup and the resulting Department of Justice investigation. In the days leading up to the annual shareholders’ meeting, recently estranged son, Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) works frantically to put together a plan to save the company and install himself at the helm.
Siblings Siobhan (Shiv) Roy (Sarah Snook), Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) and other family loyalists make their own play, under the watchful and sometimes loopy eye of their father, who is medicated and in failing health.
This weekend, the UCP’s reign seems genuinely in jeopardy due to a litany of scandals on their watch and their resistance to any type of investigation (or accountability). In the days leading up to the annual general meeting in Calgary at the Grey Eagle Resort and Casino (which started today), Brian Jean, who lost the leadership race to Kenney under circumstances still being investigated by the RCMP, announced his intention to run for election under the UCP banner again. But he would have to be nominated by the party first and that’s not a given.
He has made his desire to see Kenney step down very clear and if not for a “small” problem with an ugly racist Facebook post early this week, he may have been taken more seriously.
Twenty-two UCP constituency associations and at least one sitting UCP MLA made their own play for control of the party as the AGM approached by calling for a leadership review sooner than agreed upon (although not much sooner – by the end of February instead of April).
It was a tepid attempt at wresting control from Kenney that does resemble the bumbling actions of Shiv and Roman in Season Three as the Waystar RoyCo. company shareholder meeting gets underway and their father seems lacking control over most of his bodily functions.
“The world is wobbling here. Does no one understand what the f**k is happening? I’m losing juice.” (Logan yelling at his team in S3S2 or Jason yelling at his team ahead of the UCP convention)
At the eleventh hour, some wealthy corporate interests swoop in with cash and save the Roy family from a shareholder vote that would have meant losing control of the company.
Just 24 hours before the UCP AGM, Don Braid revealed in his column that an unnamed company executive had admitted to talking to Kenney’s senior staff about “rounding up a substantial number of existing and new members to attend the AGM and participate in the board voting.”
At $349 per ticket for the AGM, this influx of cash doesn’t come without strings of course. According to Braid, the company executive said:
“What I would like to do, is take this specific request from Kenney’s office to bring support, and leverage that into further, meaningful dialogues with his cabinet.”
“Look, here’s the thing about being rich, it’s like being a superhero, only better. You get to do what you want. The authorities can’t really touch you. You get to wear a costume, but it’s designed by Armani and it doesn’t make you look like a prick.” (Tom Wamsgans, husband of Sioghan Roy or possibly an unnamed company executive on speed-dial with Kenney’s staff)
Just days before the Braid column, UCP backbencher Peter Guthrie penned a letter which he read aloud in a caucus meeting and released publicly, calling for Kenney to “start listening and paying attention to the signs that we’re seeing and hearing.”
“Public opinion continues to wane and we may be at a point where this party cannot be salvaged.”
Kenney refused to comment and instead his loyalists are proceeding with a motion to raise the number of constituencies required to trigger a leadership vote from 22 to 29. It was also reported by CBC News this past Tuesday that the premier’s office sent staff written instructions encouraging them to downvote certain policy ideas including introducing a provincial sales tax, decentralizing 911 (again) and a moratorium on coal in the eastern slopes.
“That’s not the ‘grassroots guarantee’ that I ran on,” said Guthrie
The UCP AGM, like the Waystar RoyCo. shareholder meeting, reveals members being unable to vote on issues of concern and backroom posturing for control of the agenda. To be fair, this type of thing happens with all parties, but this is pretty extreme.
“This is a dynamic that you see, but I’m not sure every party would be foolish enough to write it down,” University of Calgary political scientist Lisa Young told the CBC. “This is a party where the insiders are in disarray.”
“The dinosaur is having one last roar at the meteor before it wipes him out.” (Kendall Roy predicting his father’s demise prematurely or maybe Rick Bell in any of his recent columns about Kenney)
In a recent news conference Bell pushed Kenney asking if he ever reflects on whether he made any mistakes or should have done anything differently. The premier did not answer and attacked him (like most other journalists have frequently experienced, by the way), which seemed to knock Bell back on his heels:
“The man I featured in many supportive columns is not amused. The man I called principled and even said so on the airwaves and said it more than once is not amused.”
Kenney challenged Bell to write not about political infighting but about the positive announcements of the week – the $3.8B child care agreement, the $2.5B petrochemical facility, new TIER projects – all possible job creation opportunities. But even Bell was not buying it.
It points to a big problem for the premier. His personal credibility has sunk so low, it’s getting in the way of every good news story. And he keeps stumbling around making new mistakes every day, destroying any hope of redemption.