March 5, 2018 8:56 pm
Updated: March 6, 2018 9:19 am

Fort McMurray MLA Brian Jean leaving politics

WATCH ABOVE: United Conservative Party MLA Brian Jean is retiring after a career in provincial and federal politics. As Gary Bobrovitz explains, some analysts say his departure will hurt the UCP.

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Brian Jean, the United Conservative MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin and former Wildrose Party leader, is resigning from his seat in the Alberta legislature.

In a statement Monday evening, Jean said he didn’t make the decision lightly but needs to focus on spending time with his family.

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“Being elected to represent the people of Fort McMurray in different capacities since 2004 has been one of the greatest honours in my life,” he said.

“Alberta and Albertans are always close to my heart and mind, but I believe now is an important time in my life to draw closer to my family, my kids and my grandchildren.”

Jean won the leadership of former Wildrose Party just weeks before the 2015 election, assuming the helm at a tumultuous time for his family and for the party.

His 24-year-old son, Michael, died of lymphoma during the Wildrose leadership race. In the preceding months, the party’s former leader Danielle Smith and 10 more of its legislature members had crossed the floor to join the Progressive Conservatives under its new leader, Jim Prentice.

That left Wildrose with only five members in the legislature, and many wrote the party off. While they didn’t win the election, they captured 21 seats to remain the official Opposition.

FILE – From left Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, Liberal leader David Swann, Alberta Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice and NDP leader Rachel Notley stand for a photo op before leaders debate in Edmonton on Thursday, April 23, 2015.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

“Three years ago, I entered provincial politics because I believed Albertans deserved better from their government — whether it was an unresponsive health-care system, irresponsible spending or suffering from a decline in democracy,” Jean’s statement reads.

Both Wildrose and the PCs later voted to merge, but Jean didn’t come close to getting the support of Jason Kenney, who in October 2017 received nearly twice as many votes to lead the new party.

“We needed to set a bold new direction for conservative politics in this province and I’m proud that during my time as leader of Wildrose and as a member of the United Conservative Party, these policies are closer to coming to reality than ever before.”

READ MORE: Jason Kenney wins United Conservative Party leadership 

After the leadership vote, Jean was not given a critic portfolio — which he said was his wish.

At that time, Jean said he wanted to focus on his family and his constituents in Fort McMurray-Conklin. He also said he wanted to see what direction the United Conservatives would take at their founding policy convention in the spring before deciding whether to run in the next election in 2019.

“Conservatives are stronger together,” Jean said. “Together with my caucus and our movement, I worked hard to set out a vision of unity for Albertans and members of our party. It’s a legacy I’m proud of.

“More importantly, I cannot express how humbling it was to lead Alberta’s official Opposition for over two years. I was privileged to meet with Albertans from every corner of the province, listen to them and advocate for them in the legislature. I made friendships that will last a lifetime.

Brian Jean Jason Kenney, centre, celebrates his victory as the first official leader of the Alberta United Conservative Party with his opponents Brian Jean, right, and Doug Schweitzer in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

“Last fall, I was proud to run for the leadership of our United Conservative Party and was incredibly touched by the support I received. Our members set out a clear direction for our party, and I would like to wish Jason Kenney and the rest of my UCP colleagues the very best as they prepare for the next election.”

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: A harsh homecoming for Brian Jean 

Jean became a familiar face nationally during the Fort McMurray wildfires. The politician lost his own home in the massive blaze.

“My beautiful wife Kim was my greatest support during my time as MLA, leader and leadership candidate, and it’s time for us to take the next steps on our adventure together — including finally getting our home rebuilt in Fort McMurray,” Jean’s statement Monday reads. “I love this province. Thank you everyone.”

Watch below: Alberta Opposition Leader Brian Jean was one of the many who lost their homes in Fort McMurray. Tom Vernon had this May 4, 2016 report.

Kenney also issued a statement Monday evening, thanking Jean for his “huge contributions to the conservative movement” over the last 14 years.

“All Alberta conservatives are deeply grateful to Brian for his leadership, just as all Albertans should be grateful for his public service. Brian stepped up to the mantle of leadership at a difficult time for his family personally, and distinguished himself as a strong leader of the opposition at a key time in Alberta history.

“His compassionate response and leadership in the face of the Fort McMurray fire of 2016 demonstrated his strength of character.

“Following our party’s leadership election, I made it clear to Brian that he is a valued and important member of the [United] Conservative team.

“While it is a loss for our caucus that he has decided to return to private life, I understand and respect his personal reasons for doing so. His legacy in public life will endure in the United Conservative Party which he helped to create.”

Kenney said he spoke to Jean earlier on Monday and wished him and his family well.

Watch below: Brian Jean announces that he will seek to lead the new United Conservative Party.

On Monday night, Premier Rachel Notley issued a statement on Jean’s decision to leave politics, thanking him for his service on behalf of the province.

“Brian Jean has dedicated much of his life to the service of our country and province,” the statement reads. “As former Leader of the Official Opposition, Brian Jean took over his party at a difficult time and led it ably and conducted himself in a manner that demonstrated it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

“He represented his constituency with great dedication — no more so than during the Wood-Buffalo wildfires.”

Alberta Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, centre, talkswith police near a wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alta., on Thursday, May 5, 2016. Jean’s house was burned down in the fire. An ever-changing, volatile situation is fraying the nerves of residents and officials alike as a massive wildfire continues to bear down on the Fort McMurray area of northern Alberta.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Lori Williams, an associate professor of political science at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, said she wasn’t that surprised to hear Jean is leaving politics.

“We haven’t heard much from Brian Jean since the leadership race,” Williams said Monday night. “He seemed to be quite deeply affected by that loss and his engagement with the new party has been just non-existent.

“I do think it hurts Jason Kenney and it hurts the UCP,” Williams added. “They’re just on the eve of the start of a new legislative sitting with Jason Kenney in the house, so I don’t think it’s news that he [Kenney] wanted to receive today.

“On the other hand, it’s an opportunity, potentially — through the byelection — to get some kind of party renewal if he manages to get a good candidate to take Brian Jean’s place, that could offset some of the loss here.”

The Alberta legislature’s spring sitting gets underway on Thursday.

Before provincial politics, Jean was a lawyer and businessman who later became a Conservative MP representing the former constituency of Fort McMurray-Athabasca.

— With files from Phil Heidenreich, Global News, and Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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