Volunteers began verifying the identity of voters on Thursday during a mail-in examination of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and, if they wish, the public could watch a live stream of the work on the website of the United Conservative Party.
“Volunteers verify that each ballot received meets the requirements. If so, the sealed ballot secrecy envelope is placed in the ballot box to [future] count,” party spokesman Dave Prisco said in a statement.
“This whole process is supervised by the returning officer, the scrutineers and [third-party audit firm] Deloitte Canada.”
Prisco said the ballots must be counted and the results will be announced via live stream next Wednesday.
Ballots were sent out a month ago to nearly 60,000 eligible party members. The question is simple: “Do you approve of the current leader?” Yes or no ?
The vote was under a cloud.
Correspondence obtained by The Canadian Press indicates that Elections Alberta is investigating allegations of possible illegal bulk buying of party memberships.
Elections Alberta, by law, cannot confirm whether an investigation is underway. The party said it had not been informed of such a review.
It’s been a winding road to get to this point.
The review was delayed for a year, then pushed to an in-person vote in Red Deer, Alta., on April 9 after fierce demands from nearly two dozen riding associations.
The expected 3,000 or so voters rose to 15,000. The party executive, citing a logistical difficulty, announced that the vote would be extended to all 59,000+ members and that the ballot would be by mail.
Opponents of Kenney say the change was made because large in-person voter rolls indicated Kenney was going to lose.
The board denied this.
Kenney won the party’s inaugural leadership review in 2017 in a race marred by allegations of collusion and voting irregularities. A multi-year RCMP investigation into allegations of voter impersonation continues.
The fallout from that review, coupled with suspicions about last-minute changes to that vote, have raised concerns about whether it will be conducted fairly. UCP President Cynthia Moore said she was confident everything would be handled honestly.
Kenney said just this week that he was confident he would remain in the top job and that most of the party wanted to move forward united.
The leadership review has become the cudgel disgruntled party members and backbenchers have used to try to take Kenney to task for what they say are leadership failures, slow fundraising and lagging polls that suggest the door is wide open for an NDP victory in the upcoming spring election.
The members also criticized Kenney for health restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic which they felt were unnecessarily excessive.
Kenney and his team have publicly crossed swords with several caucus backbenchers who say he promised leadership guided by grassroots advice, but put in place a tight, top-down administration that ignored most contributions, with the exception of a small group of advisers.
Kenney, in turn, called his opponents extremists, hateful peddlers, lunatics, and lunatics seeking to oust him. He hinted that in doing so they risked removing the central pole of his big-tent Conservative party and reducing it to an angry rump ready to be destroyed.
Kenney needs 50% plus one to stay. If he doesn’t, he has promised to step down – in accordance with the rules – so a race can begin to choose a new leader.
If he wins, he said, his disgruntled backbenchers would have to line up or face consequences that have yet to be named.