Jason Kenney rejects the return of political enemy, UCP co-founder Brian Jean as ‘a distraction’

Kenney made the comments after Jean announced last week that he would retire to run for the UCP with the goal of ousting Kenney as party leader and prime minister.

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EDMONTON – Alberta’s Prime Minister Jason Kenney rejects the challenge of a defeated enemy who was a renewed rival, characterizing United Conservative Party co-founder Brian Jean as a petty, flying plague.

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“Mr Jean has been trying to destabilize our party for three years now. I consider it a distraction,” Kenney said on Tuesday.

“Our focus is to do the people’s business right now on economic recovery.

“I will not be distracted by anyone trying to determine results with internal political games.”

Kenney made the comments after Jean, who co-founded the United Conservative Party with Kenney in 2017 only to lose to him in a fierce leadership contest, announced last week that he would retire to run for UCP with the goal of ousting Kenney from the top job as party leader and prime minister.

In mid-February, Kenney will print a by-election in the riding of Fort McMurray – Lac La Biche, which is Jean’s hometown, to replace UCP member Laila Goodridge.

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Goodridge is now in Ottawa after resigning his seat to successfully conquer the federal riding of Fort McMurray-Cold Lake for the Conservative Party in September.

Jean said Kenney has failed to get the job done and that Kenney’s declining popularity poll has opened the door for Rachel Notley’s NDP to return to power in the 2023 election.

He said he wants to line up under the UCP banner but will line up as an independent if needed.

Jean could not be immediately reached for comment.

Kenney has said he will support Jean’s nomination to run for the party if he is the successful candidate, but urged party members to take a closer look at a Jean, saying his track record suggests a lack of commitment.

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Kenney noted that Jean left his MP job before the election period had expired and then did the same as a provincial UCP member in March 2018. He noted that Jean’s name also surfaced due to rumors of leading other young parties.

“I think (party) members might want to ask about how serious he is and (how) committed, or if this is just another unpredictable development in his political ambitions,” Kenney said.

Kenney also challenged Jean’s claim last week that he left the UCP after being frozen out of Kenney in the months following the leadership race.

Not so, Kenney said.

Kenney said he reached out to Jean after the party leaders’ vote, urged him to stay, promised him a role on the front bench if he wanted to, but never heard from Jean before telling him he was leaving politics.

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“We did everything we could to invite him to take on a meaningful leadership role,” Kenney said.

This is the latest salvo in what has become a bitter and bruised public feud between Kenney and Jean. It began shortly after Kenney defeated Jean in the UCP leadership race in October 2017, followed by Jean leaving his seat in the Legislative Assembly to focus more on his family and rebuilding a house that burned down in the catastrophic forest fire in Fort McMurray in 2016.

Wildrose party leader Brian Jean, left, and Alberta PC leader Jason Kenney announce that they have reached an agreement to merge the parties and create the United Conservative Party, May 18, 2017.
Wildrose party leader Brian Jean, left, and Alberta PC leader Jason Kenney announce that they have reached an agreement to merge the parties and create the United Conservative Party, May 18, 2017. Photo by David Bloom / Postmedia / File

After leaving, Jean posted newspaper editorials and social media posts that were critical of Kenney and his policies.

In March 2019, even before the UCP’s successful election victory, Jean publicly accused Kenney of selling “fiscal adventures” by promising to balance the books with deeply unrealistic predictions about economic growth.

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Criticism escalated this year as the Kenyan government struggled to stay ahead of the second, third and fourth waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing hospital capacity to the brink and leading to open disagreement within the United Conservatives caucus over Kenney’s leadership.

In an open letter published in February, Jean Kenney accused of not getting the work done on multiple files, downplaying what he called the government’s militant approach to politics and public relations. He encouraged Kenney to listen to his caucus, eat better and get a good night’s sleep.

In June, he urged Kenney to quit, suggesting that his top-down, thin-skinned bully boy’s approach to the government prompted the Albertans to leave the UCP in droves.

“The premiere seems to think that anyone who is not 100 percent loyal to Jason Kenney is an enemy of this government,” Jean wrote.

The United Conservative Party was formed in 2017 when the Jeans Wildrose Party and the Kenyan Progressive Conservatives agreed to merge.

Jean and Kenney then chose to run for the leadership of the UCP. Kenney won with 61 percent of the vote, roughly double that of Jean.

Since then, it was revealed that Kenney’s team had coordinated communications with another leadership candidate, Jeff Callaway, who attacked Jean throughout the campaign before stopping to support Kenney.

The RCMP investigates allegations of identity fraud in management’s poll.

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