Volunteers began checking voter identification Thursday in a mail-in leadership review of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and, if so inclined, the public could watch a livestream of the work on the United Conservative Party website.
“Volunteers are verifying that each ballot package received meets the requirements. If it is, then the sealed ballot secrecy envelope is placed in the ballot box for [future] counting,” party spokesperson Dave Prisco said in a statement.
“This entire process is being overseen by the returning officer, scrutineers and [third-party audit firm] Deloitte Canada.”
Prisco said ballots are to be counted and the results announced via livestream next Wednesday.
Ballots were sent out a month ago to almost 60,000 eligible party members. The question is simple: “Do you approve of the current leader? Yes or No?”
The vote has been under a cloud.
Correspondence obtained by The Canadian Press indicates Elections Alberta is investigating claims of illegal bulk buying of party memberships.
Elections Alberta, as per legislation, cannot confirm whether an investigation is ongoing. The party has said it has not been informed of any such review.
It has been a winding path to get to this point.
The review was delayed by a year and then pushed up to an in-person vote in Red Deer, Alta., on April 9 after fierce demands from almost two dozen constituency associations.
The expected 3,000 or so expected ballooned to 15,000. The party executive, citing a difficulty of logistics, announced the vote would be expanded to all 59,000-plus members and balloting done by mail.
Kenney opponents say the change was made because the large in-person voter rolls indicated Kenney was going to lose.
The board has denied that.
Kenney won the party’s inaugural leadership review in 2017 in a race marred by claims of collusion and voting irregularities. A multi-year RCMP investigation into allegations of criminal voter identity fraud continues.
The fallout from that review, coupled with suspicion over last-minute changes to this vote, has led to concerns over whether it will be conducted fairly. UCP president Cynthia Moore has said she is confident everything will be handled above board.
Kenney said as recently as this week that he is confident he will stay in the top job and that most of the party wants to move forward united.
The leadership review has become the cudgel that disgruntled party members and backbenchers have used to try to take Kenney to task for what they say are failures in leadership, sluggish fundraising and lagging poll numbers that suggest the door is wide open for an NDP win in next spring’s election.
Members also criticized Kenney for the COVID-19 pandemic health restrictions they consider needlessly excessive.
Kenney and his staff have publicly crossed swords with several backbench caucus members who say he promised leadership driven by grassroots advice, but has delivered a tight-fisted, top-down administration that has ignored most input except for a small group of advisers.
Kenney in turn has characterized his opponents as extremists, hate pedlars, lunatics and kooks seeking to oust him. He has suggested that, by doing so, they risk pulling out the center pole of his big-tent conservative party and reducing it to a rump of anger ripe for destruction.
Kenney needs 50 per cent, plus one, to stay on. If he doesn’t, he has promised to quit — as per the rules — so a race could begin to pick a new leader.
If he wins, he has said, malcontents on his backbench will be expected to fall in line or face yet-to-be named consequences.