WATCH ABOVE: Newly-elected Wildrose leader joins Provincial Affairs reporter Tom Vernon live to discuss his win.
CALGARY — A former member of Stephen Harper’s Conservative caucus is the new leader of Alberta’s Official Opposition. Brian Jean, a 52-year-old lawyer from Fort McMurray, Alberta defeated two challengers to win the position. Jean resigned from federal politics last year.
Twice during his victory speech, Jean appeared to choke back tears while speaking about his son, Michael, who died earlier this month during the thick of the leadership campaign.
He thanked others who continued to campaign when he couldn’t in order to spend time with his family.
“Mikey was a very, very special person. When cleaning his room this week, I found a handwritten note on the table beside his bed,” Jean told party members at the convention in Calgary on Saturday.
“He wrote in his own handwriting, ‘What you do for yourself dies with you, but what you do for others remains and is immortal.'”
WATCH: Provincial Affairs reporter Tom Vernon reports live from Calgary on the election of Brian Jean as the new leader of Alberta’s Wildrose party.
The Wildrose leadership race became necessary when former leader Danielle Smith and eight Wildrose colleagues crossed the floor to join the ruling Progressive Conservative Party, leaving Wildrose with just five seats.
Jean edged out current Wildrose member Drew Barnes and former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk.
Members voted by telephone ballot for the last 13 days. According to the leadership committee chair, Jane Morgan, 35 per cent of the party’s 25,000 members voted, and Jean took 55 per cent of the ballots cast.
Jean, who represented a northern Alberta riding in the House of Commons between 2004 and 2014, said he intends to keep the PC government honest fiscally and to take it to task for its failing health care system.
The leadership date was originally set for June 6, but the Wildrose moved it up because of speculation that Prentice is about to call an early provincial election.
“Jim Prentice thought he was going to catch us flat-footed, that the PCs were going to take advantage of us. They thought by rushing an election, the Wildrose would not be organized, would not be ready, they would not be able to pick a leader and head into a campaign united and ready to fight,” Jean said.
“Not only are we ready to fight, not only can we fight and will we fight, but we will win.”
Longtime legislature member Heather Forsyth has been acting as interim leader since Smith’s departure.
Calgary political scientist David Taras predicted Jean would probably win, but Taras doubts a new leader will make much of a difference with the voting public.
“The downside is the vast majority of Albertans couldn’t pick him out of a lineup and his views are too far to the right for most Albertans,” said Taras from Mount Royal University before the convention.
“The party is in disarray and has very little time to get its house in order. But at least they will finally have a leader.”
Premier Jim Prentice issued the statement below following Jean’s win.
“Congratulations to Brian Jean, the new leader of the Wildrose party and incoming Leader of the Official Opposition.
“I extend my best wishes to all three candidates, their families, and their volunteer teams for their work. Leadership campaigns require a lot of energy and effort, and I appreciate their commitments to making Alberta a better place.
“We will not always agree on issues in the weeks and months ahead. For today, let me congratulate Brian on having earned these new responsibilities, and for his ongoing commitment to public service.”