Former Wildrose leader Brian Jean declines key role with UCP

File: Alberta MLA Brian Jean. Global News

Former Wildrose leader Brian Jean will not be taking an active role in the United Conservative Party Opposition at the Alberta legislature — at least for now.

Jean was not given a critic portfolio Tuesday by new United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney, but Jean said that was his wish.

“I advised Mr. Kenney at this time that I will be focusing on my constituency,” Jean said.

“As a leader of the (former Wildrose) opposition and frankly since my son’s death, I haven’t had time to concentrate on anything else,” Jean said, holding back tears.

Jean lost his 24-year-old son, Michael, to lymphoma in March 2015 during the thick of his Wildrose leadership campaign.

“And as you know my house burned down 18 months ago (in the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire) and I haven’t looked at (the new house) plans yet.”

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READ MORE: Alberta Wildrose Leader Brian Jean loses home in Fort McMurray wildfire

The Fort McMurray-Conklin MLA was asked if he will run again in the next provincial election, set for the spring of 2019.

He said the decision will hinge on the direction of the party as it prepares for a founding convention in May.

Jean lost the leadership race to Kenney on the weekend for the party, which was formed in the summer when Jean’s Wildrose and Kenney’s Progressive Conservatives merged.

READ MORE: Jason Kenney wins United Conservative Party leadership

Kenney does not have a seat in the house and hopes that Premier Rachel Notley will soon call a byelection.

United Conservative member Dave Rodney is resigning his seat in Calgary-Lougheed on Wednesday to allow Kenney to run.

Kenney unveiled his caucus leadership team Monday, with former Wildroser Jason Nixon as the new boss in the house until Kenney gets a seat.

READ MORE: Floor crossing, revitalized UCP mark start of Alberta legislature session 

On Tuesday he released the new critic portfolios.

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Medicine Hat area member Drew Barnes is the new finance critic while Fort McMurray’s Tany Yao will handle the sprawling health portfolio.

Calgary MLA Prasad Panda is in charge of the energy file and Drayton-Valley Devon member Mark Smith will critique education.

Former Progressive Conservative interim leader Ric McIver is the caucus whip.

The United Conservative Party (UCP) is also parting ways with an undisclosed number of legislative staff this fall session.

“I’m not going to get into the specific numbers with respect to all the people that are involved, but we’re in a transition period and it looks like we’re almost done that process and we have a team coming together that’s ready to serve the official opposition so we can do our work here in the legislature,” UCP MLA Jason Nixon told reporters on Wednesday.

“We have a situation where we’re bringing in a new leader and we have to build a team that works for caucus at its current level and that leadership. We also had a situation, where quite frankly, the official opposition was overstaffed with people that were away on campaigns and there wasn’t room for everyone to come back.”

Nixon was asked a number of questions by reporters on Wednesday about how the staffers’ severance was being paid and by whom.

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“These are Legislative Assembly Office (LAO) employees and the LAO would be handling any connection with the official opposition during the severance process,” he said. “Technically, these employees don’t work for us. They work for the Legislative Assembly Office.”

-With files from Phil Heidenreich

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