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opinion

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley attends a news conference in Calgary on March 15, 2021.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Other than Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, there is likely no person more interested in the results of the United Conservative Party leadership review than NDP Leader Rachel Notley.

Ms. Notley, of course, once held the premier’s job herself. She lost it in a landslide defeat in 2019, one largely viewed as Alberta returning to some semblance of political normalcy. Back then, Mr. Kenney was viewed as the saviour of Alberta conservatives everywhere.

Today, not so much.

Mr. Kenney is viewed as a pariah in many parts of the province – and among a faction of his own party. Almost from the beginning of his mandate, the Premier’s tenure has been a slow-motion train wreck. All Ms. Notley has had to do is sit back and watch.

This is all to say that it’s good being Rachel Notley these days. As a colleague said to me the other day, her Twitter feed is “the Happiest Place in Alberta.” It’s hard to disagree.

There she is smiling at a Corb Lund concert. (Mr. Lund is one of the province’s most popular country singers and a critic of Mr. Kenney’s government.) There she is laughing as she hammers out a version of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star on an oversized xylophone. There she is grinning ear to ear posing with renowned magicians Penn and Teller in Edmonton. There she is running marathons and skiing in the Rockies with her husband. An opposition leader isn’t supposed to have this much fun.

What she hasn’t posted so far is a picture of herself praying Mr. Kenney survives next week’s leadership review.

It seems almost inconceivable that he won’t, given how low he has set the bar for what is deemed a vote of confidence: a 50-per-cent-plus-one majority. In a perfect world – well, in Ms. Notley’s perfect world, anyway – Mr. Kenney would receive support in the 50s or low 60s.

It’s a result that would almost ensure a mutiny inside his caucus.

The Premier has said that no matter how slim his victory, he will expect complete fealty among members of his caucus moving forward. That is something he hasn’t enjoyed in some time. Several of his MLAs have spoken out in the media about his disastrous time as Premier – how he has ruled as a dictator inside his caucus, not a consensus seeker.

In March, one of the Premier’s main political adversaries, Brian Jean, whom Mr. Kenney beat out for the party leadership in 2017, became a member of the UCP caucus thanks to a byelection win in Fort McMurray. Mr. Jean has vowed to get Mr. Kenney removed as leader.

Recently, the former Wildrose leader and federal MP accused the Premier’s camp of irregularities in the leadership vote process – of improperly financing bulk memberships, more than 4,000, on a handful of credit cards.

The assertion is that many of those people didn’t even know they were being signed up as members. Mr. Kenney has denied any wrongdoing. At the very least, the allegations seem certain to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of some party members about the validity of the final numbers.

Regardless, a showdown between Mr. Jean and Mr. Kenney seems inevitable.

If the Premier stays on, there could be an exit of several MLAs from caucus. (They would be joining a couple of others who were expelled by Mr. Kenney.) If enough go – and at least 10 have publicly voiced their discontent with the Premier – they could form a considerable rump group in the Alberta Legislature.

They could decide to register under a new banner – a nightmare scenario for Mr. Kenney. There has been conjecture (social media is filled with it when it comes to the goings-on in Alberta politics these days) that if this were to happen, the Premier might decide to call an early election, so as to not give this group time to gather momentum and inflict more damage.

Which brings us back to the ever-smiling Ms. Notley.

She would love nothing more than to sit back and watch an even bigger internecine war break out among the UCP, one that focused even more negative attention on the governing party.

A March poll by Léger Marketing showed the NDP with a nine-point lead over a Kenney-led UCP if an election were held now.

In the weeks and months to come, Ms. Notley will likely continue to amuse herself watching the chaos unfold on the government benches.

She’ll probably even have time to up her xylophone game. Come next year’s election, she might be banging out Chopin.

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