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Three Alberta parties launch their search for a leader

As of June 30, nine UCP members announced their leadership bids. Members of the party have until July 29 to enter the race.

Three Alberta political parties are searching for new leaders as the province gears up for the next provincial election May 29, 2023.

The parties holding leadership elections include the United Conservative Party, the Alberta Liberal Party, and the Independence Party of Alberta.

Leaders play a key role in the political party system, said Chaldeans Mensah, a professor in the department of political science at MacEwan University.

“If a leader is compromised, I mean inability to lead, that is a big weight on the political party. For example … the NDP, their whole program is formulated around the leader because the leader is popular,” he said.

The Liberal Party of Alberta

The pandemic has impacted the Liberal Party of Alberta and its search for a new leader, said Mensah.

The party, which currently holds no seats in the provincial legislature, has had Calgary lawyer John Roggeveen hold space since March 6, 2021.

“I think the Liberal Party is facing a very difficult situation right now politically, because the politics of Alberta has become polarized around the end — the UCP and the NDP — and that has made many progressive voters wary of splitting the vote on a progressive side,” he said.

Mensah said the Liberals want to be the middle party, and he thinks there is space there, but they would need to do two things.

“I think a name change is something that they seriously have to consider because of the baggage that [their name] conveys in many parts of the province. Also consider seriously potentially uniting with the Alberta Party to exploit that space in the middle politically, with pragmatic policies,” he said.

The Alberta Liberal Party began its leadership race on June 13, as announced on the party's website. Voting will take place between Sept 19 and Sept. 24. Results will be announced on Sunday, Sept. 25. 

So far, no one has been named as a candidate in this race.

Mensah said he thinks the party must consider getting some big names involved.

“I'm thinking about the two mayors of Edmonton and Calgary. Former mayors [Naheed] Nenshi and [Don] Iveson would be huge catch for the party. It would change its political fortunes overnight,” he said.

The Independence Party

The Independence Party started its leadership contest on June 1. The election date for the Independence Party is Sept. 10.

The party currently has constituency associations in Drayton Valley-Devon; Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche; Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills; and Livingstone-MacLeod. The party is looking to expand across the province.

The Independence Party would like to reduce Alberta’s dependence on the federal government. The party website states they would name a date for a referendum on independence within the first year of forming government.

“I don't think people are going to pay attention too much to the parties like the Independence Party, and so on,” said Mensah, adding it will take a couple of elections for parties such as the Independence Party to establish credibility.

Why are separatist parties forming in the province?

“There's deep dissatisfaction and alienation from the federal government, and I think people have a bit of concern about the way Canada has been run and they highlight, particularly, dissatisfaction with [the] Trudeau government, so they also feel that Alberta hasn't been treated well,” he said.

The United Conservative Party

Premier Jason Kenney stepped down as leader of the UCP following “disappointing” leadership review results on May 17, triggering the hunt for a new leader.

“The UCP leadership change is basically a response to internal dynamics in the party and dissatisfaction with [the] leadership of Jason Kenney,” said Mensah.

There are 10 people registered for the UCP leadership bid as of June 30, according to the Elections Alberta website.

Mensah said all the candidates have a chance, save for maybe one, “but all of them are within the call from the caucus, right? And they have, one way or the other, been part of this dissension. It will take a lot for the party to unite around this leader,” he said.

On June 14, the UCP released details on when and how the election for the party’s new leader would take place.

UCP members can vote either by mail-in ballot or in person. Eligible voters will have until Oct. 3 to send in their mail-in ballots. In-person voting will take place on Oct. 6.

“We will announce exact locations soon,” said Dave Prisco, UCP association spokesperson, in an email to The Gazette.

Prisco said there will be a polling station in each of the five provincial regions: north, south, central, Edmonton, and Calgary.

Party members can enter to become party leader until July 29, but there are some steep requirements, including a $150,000 entry fee and a $25,000 refundable compliance deposit.

Applicants must provide 1,000 signatures from UCP party members on their nomination petition and 200 must come from each of the UCP’s five provincial regions. A “comprehensive questionnaire” must also be submitted to the party’s leadership election committee.

Albertans have until Aug. 12 to join the UCP or renew their memberships to be eligible to vote.

“The UCP doesn't have much room to maneuver. It has to get around its leadership woes and try to unify very quickly around this leader because they are facing a very dynamic, very tough opponent in the NDP,” he said.

UCP leadership hopefuls

Danielle Smith, former leader of the now-defunct Wildrose Party, was the first to announce her bid to run as party leader on May 18.

In a June 15 Twitter announcement, Smith said her first move as premier would be to introduce the Alberta Sovereignty Act.

“[The Act would authorize] our provincial government to refuse to enforce any federal law or policy that attacks Alberta’s interests or our provincial rights — because I will always be there defending you,” she said.

Brian Jean, MLA Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche since March 2022 and a former leader of the Wildrose Party, announced his intention to run for leadership on May 19. This isn’t the first time Jean has run for UCP leader. In October 2017, Jean came in second place against the current outgoing premier, Jason Kenney, for UCP leader.

Jean launched his campaign at the Courtyard Marriot Hotel in Edmonton on June 15.

“Autonomy for Albertans is the central theme of my campaign,” he said in a live-streamed YouTube video of the event.

Travis Toews, former finance minister and president of the treasury board for the UCP and MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti, announced his bid to run on May 30.

“I’m running to lead our party back to the foundations that united us. It’s time to lay aside our differences to focus on our shared vision — a hopeful future … on the foundation of a free and prosperous Alberta,” he said in May 31 press statement.

Jason Nixon, minister of environment and parks, was also appointed acting president of the Treasury Board and minister of finance on June 2, to replace Toews.

Todd Loewen, currently an independent MLA for Central Peace-Notley, was kicked out of the UCP caucus in May 2021 after calling for Kenney to resign. Loewen announced his intention to run for UCP leader on May 31.

“It’s time to get big money influences out of politics. It is time to build a movement for the little guy,” he said during a June 7 live-stream of his leadership launch in Valleyview.

Bill Rock, mayor for the village of Amisk, announced his bid to run for UCP leader on June 2. In a social media post, Rock said he won’t be hiring expensive strategy firms for his campaign.

“We will be doing a little thing called using common sense and talking with grassroots conservatives to create our policy,” he said.

Rock’s focus includes growing the rural economy, axing the industrial carbon tax, education, and Alberta Health Services reform.

Leela Aheer, UCP MLA for Chestermere-Strathmore, announced her intention to run on June 7. Aheer was the minister of culture and multiculturalism, but was shuffled out of cabinet in July 2021.

Before the shuffle, Aheer was vocal about concerns she had about Kenney flouting health restrictions after a photograph surfaced of the premier holding a rooftop gathering.

“I, and every Albertan I talk to, want — no, crave — a government that has a plan to both be open and remain open, bring stability to uncertain times, and maintain vigilance while ensuring health care is available for all,” her website reads.

Rebecca Schulz, MLA for Calgary-Shaw and former minister of children’s services, announced her bid for UCP leadership on June 14.

Schulz said she is running to unite the UCP and get Alberta back on track.

“We got off track and I’m running to change that … enough with the old boys’ club and the infighting … let’s get back on track,” she said in a June 14 social media update.

Minister of Community and Social Services and MLA for Calgary-Foothills, Jason Luan, was appointed as minister of children’s services to replace Schulz on June 14.

Rajan Sawhney announced her intention to run on June 13 at the Violet King Henry Plaza in Edmonton.

Sawhney, former minister of transportation and MLA for Calgary-North East, said she is running because she wants forward momentum and unity.

She plans to launch a public inquiry into the COVID response.

“We need to know what we did right, and we need to know what we did wrong,” she said during her kickoff speech.

Minister of Infrastructure and MLA for Calgary-Edgemont, Prasad Panda, was appointed as minister of transportation on June 14 as Sawhney stepped down from her role to run as leader.

Former Alberta Liberal Party leader, Raj Sherman, was accepted into the UCP leadership race on June 24.

Sherman made his official announcement at Lewis Estates in Edmonton on June 29. During the announcement, Sherman, who works as an emergency doctor, said he has seen enough suffering on the front lines.

“I need to add the voice of the front-line health-care worker to the health-care debate,” he said.

Jon Horsman announced his intention to run for UCP leader on June 28.

Horsman worked as senior executive vice-president of business at ATB Financial and as CEO of AltaCorp Capital until April of this year.

"I believe deeply in Alberta's values and know that Alberta's time is now. I am running for UCP leadership as it is my turn to give back," his LinkedIn profile states.

The Independence Party Contestant

Katherine Kowalchuk is the only person running for leadership of the Independence Party. She announced her intention to run on May 4.

Kowalchuk is a lawyer and is co-founder of Lawyers 4 Truth.

According to the party website, Kowalchuk “believes that it is our moral obligation to stop funding the government’s tyranny in Canada and that the only viable solution is for Alberta to become independent of Canada.”  

About the Author: Jessica Nelson

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