Former Wildrose Party president Jeff Callaway has dropped out of the United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership race in a move one political analyst suggests is “suspicious.” Callaway has also linked allegations of bullying to Brian Jean, which Jean’s campaign has refuted.
A newsletter sent to Callaway’s email list, just hours after the news was made public, said he wanted the membership to be “made aware” of an intimidating email he received last week.
But Wednesday afternoon, Callaway told Global News that the “bullying” email had nothing to do with his decision to step out of the leadership race.
“I received an intimidating email from Brandon Swertz, a Brian Jean-appointee to the United Conservative Party (UCP) Interim Joint Board (IJB), who is obligated to remain neutral in the leadership process,” reads the newsletter.
“The email in question, in which he also criticized some of my ideas, ends with a threat: “if [he] were not on the IJB [he] would spend some $$ and pound a few nails in [my] coffin.
“Obviously Mr. Swertz is not upset with my ideas, he’s upset that I have been speaking out about the Wildrose’s $322,000 caucus deficit, which has resulted in staff layoffs,” it reads.
Callaway’s newsletter suggests the language is meant to “bully and intimidate me and my campaign.”
“It’s unfortunately characteristic of many of Brian’s most loyal supporters who are angry about me shedding light on the track record of Brian Jean during his time as leader of the Wildrose.”
Callaway said he has requested a written apology from Swertz and his resignation from the IJB.
‘Swertz was not a Brian Jean appointee’: Jean campaign
The Brian Jean campaign told Global News Swertz was not a Jean appointee.
“In fact, all of the people selected for the Interim Joint Board (IJB) from the Wildrose side of things were elected by the executive committee of the Wildrose, where Brian only had a single vote,” reads a statement.
“It was in fact Jeff Callaway who initiated the motion in support of Mr. Swertz and the others selected for the Interim Joint Board.”
The campaign spokesperson also directed Global News to a June tweet from Callaway that congratulated Jean for his “commitment to grassroots elections” and a retweet of Jean that Callaway posted to his followers, which said: “Big thank you to #wrp executive for endorsing the Unity AiP and for agreeing to slate of Wildrose members to form the Unity committees.”
UCP executive director Janice Harrington also told Global News Swertz was not a Brian Jean appointee.
“Brandon was nominated by the Wildrose board and then his appointment was ratified by the members,” Harrington said.
Former campaign manager Randy Kerr told Global News Callaway announced his decision to step out of the race at an event Wednesday morning in Red Deer.
Callaway plans to endorse Jason Kenney for the party leadership, but they don’t seem to agree on why Callaway abandoned his leadership bid.
Listen: Jeff Callaway explains his decision to drop out of the UCP leadership race
“I came to the conclusion, really after last night’s debate and looking at some other data that ultimately, Jason Kenney and I are delivering much the same message,” Callaway told News Talk 770.
“I came to the conclusion that I think that the right decision is to join forces.”
Watch below: Jeff Callaway says money was not the issue in his decision to step out of UCP race
When asked if the Friday cutoff for the remainder of the $75,000 UCP entry fee factored into the decision, Callaway said no.
“No, I had the money,” he said. “I mean I’m a finance guy, so money wasn’t an issue. It really was about I think clarifying the choice for Albertans.”
But Kenney told Global News the opposite.
“I think Jeff gave it an honest effort in this campaign but what he told me is that he has to make another major deposit to continue as a candidate, and financially, the support wasn’t adequate,” Kenney said. “So he had to make a decision to step out of the race.”
Watch below: Jason Kenney suggests money was reason for Jeff Callaway’s decision to leave UCP race
Callaway said he didn’t know why Kenney would say that.
“We haven’t discussed that. I guess that’s speculating on his part.”
Callaway recruited to go after Jean for Kenney: analyst
Mount Royal University professor Duane Bratt told Global News there had been rumours Callaway’s leadership bid was as a “stalking horse” for Kenney.
“Originally, Derek Fildebrandt was supposed to be the attack dog for Kenney vs. Brian Jean,” Bratt told Global News, suggesting that would have allowed Kenney to be above the fray.
But then Fildebrandt was forced to step down from the UCP caucus amid controversy over his conduct.
Fildebrandt had been renting out his taxpayer-subsidized apartment in Edmonton on Airbnb and when it made headlines, he reacted by saying his actions were “compliant with the rules” but added he would donate money towards paying for Alberta’s debt.
“Jeff Callaway, who had been critical of Jean’s leadership in the past, seemed to be recruited (at the last moment) to take Fildebrandt’s place,” Bratt said. “At both the Calgary and Edmonton debate, Callaway launched attacks against Brian Jean. He has done his job. And now to ensure that he doesn’t get any votes, Callaway is dropping out of the race.
“It all looks very suspicious.”
Kenney will face off against former Wildrose leader Brian Jean and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer in the race to lead the UCP.
Kenney said Callaway is a man of integrity and depth of character who “understands that unity will only work if we park the egos.”
“Throughout the campaign, Jeff has provided thoughtful and solid ideas to get Alberta back on track,” he said in a statement.
“With the support of Jeff, we will work to defeat the NDP in 2019, and have a government that is on the side of Albertans.”
Voting will take place by preferential, non-weighted ballot between Oct. 26 and Oct. 28.
The leader will be announced on Oct. 28 at the Metropolitan Centre in Calgary.
With files from Global News and News Talk 770