While Jason Kenney managed to balance budgets and create jobs as Alberta's Premier, he failed to uphold Charter Rights during the COVID pandemic — sullying an otherwise impressive legacy of public service.
On Monday, the Tory outcast 'jabbed' Albertans in the back during an exchange with journalist Amanda Lang, host of The Hub's new series The Business of Government.
Kenney prefaced his talk on why government works and sometimes doesn't work on the rise of 'alt-right' media during the COVID pandemic.
"There's greater polarization on social media," he said, attributing his short tenure as premier to their growing presence among the Conservative base.
Kenney helmed the party for five years — three as premier — after merging the legacy Progressive Conservative and the Wildrose under the UCP banner.
"I found […] in the COVID context, [it was] hard to communicate," continued Kenney, despite lauding himself as "a fairly persuasive communicator."
"I found it almost impossible to persuade or even speak to some segments of the population on COVID [as they opted out of mainstream media entirely during the pandemic]."
In May 2022, Kenney informed supporters he would step down as UCP leader after incurring 51.4% support from 34,298 United Conservative members, who voted "yes" to the question: "Do you approve of the current leader?"
The Tory premier repeatedly claimed he would remain party leader if he received 50% plus one of support.
"The mandate is not strong enough to continue," admitted Kenney as he announced his intent to resign as UCP leader, triggering a leadership race one year before the 2023 general election.
"Clearly, a large number of our members want to clear the air with a leadership election," he said, adding that he hopes the party can overcome the 'divisiveness' of COVID.
While Kenney acknowledged that large swathes of the population distrusted legacy media outlets, the Tory expressed grave concerns about alternative publishers monetizing anger as "their business model."
He accused alternative media of peddling stories about "nurses doing TikTok dances in empty hospitals" and claimed that "COVID was fake or massively exaggerated."
"Those folks never heard what I had to say [and made to believe] these restrictions were done […] for malicious reasons," he said.
Lang then asked Kenney whether the "COVID anomaly" signified a "new era" in politics, given the "deep emotion" it elicited from the United Conservative base.
Kenney replied: "I think there is a small sliver of the population — and it's a little larger in Alberta than the rest of Canada — that just seems incapable of getting past their anger [on COVID] on both sides."
"I found myself being regarded as a 'globalist shill' for the World Economic Forum and a craven, power-hungry dictator who arbitrarily violated people's fundamental freedoms," he said.
"It was bizarre," continued the Tory, adding that the UCP government never implemented draconian lockdowns during his tenure.
"We were trying to maintain the least restrictive COVID policy, yet 20% of the population thought I was cavalier about endless lockdowns."
"I was clearly struggling during COVID to avoid restrictions wherever possible, and I faced massive criticism from my opposition and many in the media," he said.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has publicly expressed remorse over the province's handling of the pandemic. She condemned the past failures to scale up hospital capacity as promised and questioned the "freedom-busting" health restrictions imposed on the public.
"I don't think I've ever experienced a situation where a person was fired from their job or not allowed to watch their kids play hockey or visit a loved one in long-term care or the hospital," said Smith last October.
Last October, the Premier fired the entire Alberta Health Services (AHS) board of directors as part of her plan to overhaul government health policy and the provincial health authority. She also let go of Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw — a popular maneuver that energized her base.
From January to February, the UCP worked quickly to establish the Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel. The province also named five members to the panel.
It will rely on expert insight and public input on "what changes should be made, if any, to the laws of Alberta to better equip the province to cope with future public health emergencies?"
Albertans must wait until November 15 to view the recommendations.