Blowup in Aheer’s riding foreshadows battle during Kenney leadership vote
- Edmonton Journal
- 13 Jan 2022
- DON BRAID Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald. Twitter: @Donbraid Facebook: Don Braid Politics
The almighty brawl at the heart of the United Conservative
Party rages on, most recently in MLA Leela Aheer’s Chestermere-strathmore constituency.
Last Saturday saw an early skirmish in the main battle set for April 9, when UCP members will gather in Red Deer to vote on Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership.
Aheer’s riding board was voted out but won’t admit it, claiming votes were cast by people who had no right. There’s a struggle over the riding’s healthy bank account.
Aheer has been intensely critical of Kenney. When his office was sued over claims of sexual harassment, she said “Premier Kenney, you knew! Step down!”
By that time Aheer had already been kicked out of Kenney’s cabinet.
She had also criticized the premier for failing to apologize over lounging on the deck of the infamous Sky Palace, in violation of COVID-19 rules.
It’s no stretch to say Kenney would be pleased if Aheer failed to win the party nomination in Chestermere-strathmore for next year’s election.
He’s already stuck with Brian Jean, who won a nomination in Fort Mcmurray while vowing to get Kenney out.
Kenney loyalists tried to drum up enough allies to defeat Jean. They failed.
And then, along came the
Jan. 8 annual general meeting in Aheer’s riding.
Her supporters, including some on the board for years, were dumped by a surprise flock of new party members.
The central party says the contest was entirely legitimate. They suggest Aheer was simply out-organized by her opponent for the upcoming nomination, Chantel de Jong.
But John Kittler, who was (or is) the riding president, cried foul in a letter sent to UCP party president Cynthia Moore.
He said the vote was illegitimate because new members had been added to the list after a cut-off date.
“UCP staff distributed ballots based on that list to a number of those ineligible persons who then voted at the AGM,” he wrote.
Kittler said he was “denied access” to the party’s membership site, and so had no idea new members had been added after the deadline.
“The Board has determined that the ineligible votes cast at the AGM were sufficient in number to invalidate the AGM in its entirety,” Kittler said.
And so, the board “will continue to manage and administer the affairs of the Chestermere-strathmore Constituency Association.”
In other words, they won’t quit. And they refuse to turn over banking information.
That matters because the balance is a long way from zero. Aheer’s fundraising efforts, including a golf tournament, raised $27,275 in one quarter last year.
Aheer won’t comment on any of this. Neither will party president Moore.
But late Wednesday afternoon the central party sent a mighty blast of its own, over the signature of UCP executive director Dustin Van Vugt.
“I have personally investigated the matter and can advise that the allegations are unfounded,” he wrote.
The members on the list were “all in good standing.”
Van Vugt argued that the requests were submitted before the cut-off deadline and not yet processed, but “those memberships would be valid at the time they were received by the party.” Then came a sharp warning. “To be clear,” he said directly to Kittler, “you are not the president and must cease purporting to represent yourself as the president.
“In the event that any CA (constituency association) funds are used for any purpose, we will take steps to recover those funds from the individuals who disbursed them.”
Party insiders expect more riding skirmishes like this.
Some associations whose MLAS have been critical are said to be abruptly cancelling their annual general meetings.
The Chestermere-strathmore uproar is a perfect microcosm of the looming leadership vote.
For Kenney, it will be all about getting loyalists on the ground, in possession of party membership cards that are deemed to be valid, one way or another.