LAKELAND - Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson says he's standing behind fellow MLA Todd Loewen's decision to step down as the United Conservative Party's caucus chair, following the release of a letter written by Loewen late Wednesday night, calling on Premier Jason Kenney to resign.
Loewen's reason for his resignation is made clear in the letter that points to "dysfunction within the government."
In a late-night post on social media, May 12, Loewen included his letter of resignation to the Premier, and stated, "I will be stepping down as UCP Caucus Chair due to persistent issues of dysfunction within government. I desperately want to save the movement we have all built together and I'm committed to staying, but I believe we must remove the primary source of this dysfunction, Premier Jason Kenney."
“It takes a lot of courage to stand up to leadership, especially a Premier,” says Hanson, when speaking with LakelandToday on Thursday morning. Hanson commended Loewen's actions, saying he knows Loewen did not make the decision lightly.
When asked about his own thoughts on the concerns expressed by Loewen, Hanson says, "To be honest, I’ve felt frustration along with a lot of my colleagues.” Not having the opportunity for input as caucus has been a challenge, and last night's cancellation of caucus was a catalyst, according to Hanson.
On May 2, the Government of Alberta temporarily suspended the spring session of the Legislative Assembly for at least two weeks in response to rising cases of COVID-19 in the province. On Wednesday, it was suspended another week, until after the May long weekend.
When asked what steps he believes the Premier should take to rectify the situation, Hanson says Kenney "needs to start listening to rural Albertans" and the MLAs who have been elected.
Hanson has heard from a number of his supporters that they too are frustrated with the government, and he encourages constituents to continue to bring concerns forward to him. While a number of concerns he's hearing are related to the pandemic, such as those coming from hair salons and people involved in the restaurant industry, the issues go beyond that.
"There are a lot of things that are just building up," says Hanson.
He adds, “It’s all about unity. We fought very hard for unity,” referring to when the Wildrose Party and the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party merged in 2017. Hanson is a former Wildrose MLA.
He says those past efforts are "very much at stake now."
"People realized that in order to maintain a Conservative government, they had to join forces," says Hanson.
The letter from Loewen, dated May 13, states that it is "with a heavy heart that I must inform you of my decision to step down as UCP Caucus Chair. I have copied all members of caucus to inform them as well. I no longer believe that caucus can function properly; meetings have been cancelled without members' consent, significant decisions of government have been made without notice to members, and our input as elected members is rarely considered."
Loewen further writes, "I feel it is best to resign this position to be able to speak freely."
The letter points to "persistent problems," and the government's response to a "hostile federal government has been perceived as weak and ineffective."
Negotiations with physicians, issues around the coal mining in Alberta's eastern slopes, and a lack of trust in the leadership of the government are some of the concerns noted in Loewen's letter.
"The caucus dysfunction we are presently experiencing is a direct result of your leadership," writes Loewen. "Messaging from your government has been contradictory, confusing, and needlessly inflammatory."
Loewen says issues of concern have been brought forward repeatedly, "only to be ignored and dismissed."
"When the Premier chooses not to listen to caucus, is it any wonder why that people choose to stop listening to the government?" writes Loewen.
He adds that after helping build the conservative movement in Alberta for 13 years, he still upholds the principles and values "under which I was elected." He continues to represent the will of the party's grassroots and wanted to make it clear that he was not leaving the party.
In closing, Loewen also speaks to the notion of maintaining unity around shared principles.
"We did not unite around blind loyalty to one man. And, while you (Kenney) promoted unity, it is clear that unity is falling part. I know that many Albertans, including myself, no longer have confidence in your leadership. I thank you for your service, but I am asking that you resign so that we can begin to put the province back together again."
In response to Loewen's social media post, Hanson wrote, "Todd, I applaud your courage and stand behind your decision... Thanks for taking a stand."
LakelandToday also reached out to Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA Laila Goodridge, who declined comment on the issue.