Drew Barnes On Jason Kenney's Failed Leadership And The Future

June 1st, 2021 | RR

This is an interview with the newly independent Alberta MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, Drew Barnes, who was thrown out of the UCP caucus by Jason Kenney. 

Albertans have soured on Jason Kenney after his historic win against Notley. Do you think that will change after the pandemic?

Drew Barnes:  This is a line the Premier’s office has been pushing for five months now. Premier Notley tried the same tactic when she blamed all of her big government failures on the drop in global oil prices. It’s not true. While it is convenient for the Premier to lump all concerns to his leadership together and blame it on the pandemic, it just proves he has stopped listening. People have numerous concerns on a wide variety of issues on which this Premier promised action but failed to deliver. Pandemic response is just the tip of the iceberg.

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If Kenney loses and the conservative vote splits with other parties, does that not pave the way for another NDP government?

I would prefer to keep all conservatives united, but that simply is not possible under Premier Kenney’s failed leadership. The lifeblood of any political party is its base membership, its volunteers, and its donors. Every day, more and more of these folks are leaving the UCP. People are voting with their feet. The longer the Premier pretends to ignore it, the more divided the conservative movement becomes.

Would you consider running for the UCP leadership, despite being kicked out? Is that even possible?

The short answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know what the process would be for re-joining the UCP caucus, or even if my constituents would want me to do so. All I know for sure is that nothing will change as long as Jason Kenney demands that MLAs put party interests ahead of constituent representation.

How shocked were you after Kenney expelled you? Did you expect that it could happen at all, eventually?

I was surprised. I joined this party and worked hard for unity under the impression that an MLA’s first job is to represent the concerns and interests of constituents. Just a month beforehand, he stated to the media that he welcomes debate on issues from his MLAs. But behind closed doors he has been cracking down on MLAs who dare question the government’s policies. Now we know where he stands.

Are you running in the next provincial election?

I believe I have the energy, ideas and ability, but the final decision will be up to my constituents. 

As an independent in your provincial riding, how confident would you be in beating a UCP rival in the next election?

We are still in the early days, and I am still in the process of reaching out to my constituents to get their opinions on what I should do next. I might be an independent two years from now, but I might not. I don’t want to put the cart ahead of the horse.

Separatism has been on the upswing in Alberta lately, would you ever consider running as a separatist?

For lack of a better term, I am a Fair Deal-ist. I served on the government’s Fair Deal Panel, and my top priority is getting a fair deal for Albertans. Getting a fair deal is not the current Premier’s top priority, and that is why I fear he will never be able to deliver on his promise to get a fair deal for Albertans. Alberta should be the most free and prosperous place, whether that is within Canada or not. Ultimately, I am accountable to the desire of my constituents.

Is a referendum on equalization really enough?

Of course not. I support the referendum because it is something we campaigned on that will bring the issue to public attention, but this referendum alone will not make the changes we need. For real change we need leaders who are willing to get tough, take risks and fight for our province.

There is a new Wildrose Independence Party in Alberta. Thoughts?

The Wildrose has greatly benefitted from Jason Kenney’s collapse. I recently saw a poll that had them in the mid-teens of provincial support, even without a permanent leader. The UCP should be afraid, objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

The federal Maverick Party is gaining steam across Alberta. Have you heard of them?

I have heard of them. Jay Hill is doing a good job as interim leader and is greatly benefitting from Erin O’Toole’s recent flip-flop on the carbon tax.

Erin O'Toole. He has some of the lowest approval ratings among conservatives than any previous leader. He endorsed and defended Kenney. What are his chances of beating Trudeau?

What the CPC needs to understand is that political parties are driven by the grassroots, and O’Toole’s grassroots are not particularly enchanted with O’Toole’s presto change-o conversion from “true blue conservative” into just another Ontario centrist. The people lining up to vote for Trudeau know what they are getting. The people who voted for O’Toole’s leadership now have no idea what they are getting.

Do you see federal politics in your future?

Never say never, but I am firmly focused on Alberta and I won’t run for a party that puts party discipline ahead of constituent representation.

Trumpism is a big criticism used by the left in Canada to attack right leaning politicians. For the most part, the attacks work, but would you consider it an insult if it was used against you or a conservative colleague?

I’m not sure what the definition of Trumpism is, and I have never actually met President Trump in person. His administration had both successes and failures. For example, on the economy he followed through on his promises to bring manufacturing jobs back to America, but at the same time he continued to run massive federal deficits. That runaway spending and debt is an approach I could never support, so does that make me anti-Trump, or anti-Obama, or anti-Biden? I’m not sure. The US is clearly trending in the wrong direction, and it will have very real implications for the global economy.

You've spoken out about lockdowns. What would you have done differently in 2021 than Kenney?

My beliefs are out there. Common sense dictates that mandatory restrictions like those employed by Kenney can only work in the short term, because the longer they are in place the less likely people are to comply with them. I warned them that compliance would drop, and it did. Instead of acting rationally to rebuild public trust, the premier went full bore authoritarian, barricading churches and arresting pastors, jacking up fines and vilifying Albertans who just want to live their lives. Strong and free, indeed.

Being totally honest, how grave a threat, really, do you think Covid is to an ordinary Albertan under the age of 60?

The statistics indicate that it is very rare for people under 60, in good health, to die from this disease. That being said, it is far more severe than a cold or flu. I would encourage people to do what they can to avoid getting it.

Can we trust the numbers being put out by AHS and media about deaths from this virus?

The raw data is trustworthy, it’s just that very few people know where to find it. For example, to find information of comorbidities you have to search through several pages of the government’s website to learn that 85.4% of people who died with Covid-19 also have hypertension and more than half have cardiovascular disease. These are things people should know when assessing their personal risk, but there has been very little media coverage about it and government leadership and clarity have been lacking.

What comes after politics for you?

My family first. They have made tremendous sacrifices to support me, and I could not have done what I have done without them. They also are still active in business and our local SE Alberta Community.

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