If the UCP’s Leela Aheer still has political ambitions, she will likely need a new political party
If Leela Aheer hopes to continue her career in Alberta provincial politics, she’ll likely need to find a new political party.
Well, sure, the United Conservative Party MLA, which has become a frequent and vocal critic of Premier Jason Kenney of late, could still theoretically win the United Conservative Party nomination in their Chestermere – Strathmore rides east of Calgary for the elections expected in 2023.
Stranger things have happened. For example, Brian Jean, former leader of the Wildrose party, was allowed to win the nomination as the UCP candidate for the upcoming, but not yet scheduled, Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election.
Still, it cannot bode well for Aheer’s political ambitions that apparent allies of the Prime Minister have just staged a coup to take over the leadership of the Chestermere-Strathmore UCP constituency.
As the CBC put it, “At the association’s AGM on January 8, the existing board was overthrown and new leadership elected.”
As a result, the UCP now has its own stop-the-steal moment.
That’s because the old pro-Aheer board doesn’t recognize the results of the elections that elected a new pro-kenney board, claiming that the votes were cast by those who were ineligible on merit since they were not for the required 21 members of the Union days.
This may or may not be true, although no one who has followed Jason Kenney’s recent career will be shocked to think that the alleged mastermind and main beneficiary of the infamous 2017 kamikaze contestant affair that was supposed to ensure that Jean does not win, will be shocked the race for leadership of the UCP, may have engaged in electoral fraud.
In any case, John Kittler, the former president of the constituency association, said in a letter that more than 50 electors were ineligible to vote, “sufficient enough to void the AGM in its entirety.”
Meanwhile, Dustin Van Vugt, Executive Director of the UCP, says everything was fine and “the results of this meeting are in full force and effect”.
The battle that continues is not only about the future of Aheer or her challenger for the nomination, Chantelle de Jong, but also about the funds in the club’s bank account.
Someone soon leaked it to the media, so the UCP’s dirty laundry is now on display across the province.
As far as political stories go, this is all very entertaining for those of us who aren’t divisive conservatives.
However, the days when Aheer, who was first elected as a Wildrose Party candidate in 2015, was viewed as a major asset by Kenney and the newly formed UCP are clearly long gone.
In the fall of 2017, Mr. Kenney named her his vice-chairman – giving the party an attractive, modern face to show that it is open to the concerns of women and minorities.
But in 2018, former Wildrose and UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who had been kicked out of the caucus by Kenney for failing to disclose that he had been charged with illegal hunting and also for seeing his Strathmore- Riding disappeared due to redeployment, wanted to seek nomination at Chestermere-Strathmore to rejoin.
When the party said no, he accused the prime minister of paving the way for Aheer to be nominated. Despite his self-inflicted problems, this may have been true.
Following the UCP’s election in 2019, Kenney appointed Aheer to his cabinet as Minister for Culture, Multiculturalism and the Status of Women.
Perhaps her appointment indicated that those responsibilities were not a top priority for a boy-led party focused on pipelines and petroleum. Or maybe the Premier’s assessment of her talents was honest.
Regardless, the bloom was clearly gone from the rose last June, when Aheer publicly criticized the prime minister after his boozy rooftop “working lunch” in the midst of the pandemic at the notorious Edmonton Sky Palace was captured by an anonymous photographer with a long lens and a still had been recorded -unknown agenda.
She didn’t gain a favor by urging the Prime Minister to apologize, but she might have survived and remained in Cabinet – as did Social Affairs Secretary Rajan Sawhney – if she hadn’t dared Kenney’s toneless defense of John A. Macdonald the day before attack Sky Palace pot boiled over.
Despite the ugly history of Canada’s boarding schools, Premier Kenney’s concern to protect the reputation of Canada’s first prime minister is passionate and well known.
Three days later, Kenney cleaned out his closet. Sawhney was still there – perhaps helped by the fact that she had voiced her criticism of a radio show that was being broadcast in Punjabi rather than English.
Ahir was outside. As I wrote at the time: ‘Aheer is now Bupkes Minister. Sent message.”
She has remained a member of the UCP caucus, where she may soon be joined by her old boss Brian Jean, who has labeled Kenney an existential threat to the party and has promised to replace him.
She has also continued to criticize Kenney. When a harassment and alcohol scandal erupted in the Cabinet in October that eventually brought down then-Agriculture Secretary Devin Dreeshen, she called for the Prime Minister’s resignation, tweeting: “Premier Kenney – you knew it! Step down!”
Now a stronger message has been sent. If Aheer wants to run again, it’s probably not a candidate for the UCP.