Brian Jean pursues UCP nomination for Fort McMurray byelection, says some in party ‘will want to stop me’

Click to play video: 'Brian Jean sets sights on political comeback'
Brian Jean sets sights on political comeback
WATCH ABOVE: Premier Jason Kenney is facing yet another push from inside his own party to step aside. Brian Jean has announced a political comeback, and removing Kenney as leader is high on his priority list. Tom Vernon has more on the latest developments in Alberta's political landscape – Nov 4, 2021

The former leader of Alberta’s Wildrose Party, who lost the 2017 United Conservative Party leadership race to Jason Kenney, announced on social media Wednesday night that he is pursuing the UCP nomination for the yet-to-be scheduled byelection in Fort McMurray/Lac La Biche.

“I will need your help,” Brian Jean said in a post on Facebook. “The NDP won’t want me to be in the legislature. Some in the UCP will want to stop me as well.

“If you live in Fort McMurray or Lac La Biche or the communities in between, I will need your help.”

Global News reached out to Jean for an interview, but he declined to speak on Wednesday night.

Jean suggested if something does not change, “Rachel Notley will win the next election with an overwhelming majority.”

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“That will be bad for Alberta,” he said.

WATCH: Some Global News videos about Brian Jean

The Fort McMurray seat was left vacant when Laila Goodridge decided to run for the Conservative Party of Canada in this summer’s federal election.

Jean said he has filed papers with Elections Alberta to pursue the nomination.

The move comes on the heels of news that the NDP continues to raise more money from its supporters than the UCP does from its supporters, and as Premier Kenney continues to face criticism from members of his party for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to face leadership review in spring: UCP president 

Kenney will face a leadership review in the spring. The review was announced in September as Alberta battled a fourth wave of the pandemic, which led Kenney to belatedly introduced new measures to curb the spread of the virus.

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WATCH: Some Global News videos about Premier Jason Kenney and criticism he has faced from some UCP members.

Leading up to the announcement, a number of constituency associations had been calling for an early party review and vote on Kenney’s leadership, according to Joel Mullan, the UCP’s vice-president of policy.

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Jean has been openly critical of Kenney’s leadership. In a column published by Postmedia earlier this year, he said the premier’s “fight everyone” approach is not getting the job done for Albertans on critical issues, including energy and federal relations.

READ MORE: Brian Jean urges Alberta premier to ‘fire yourself’ from intergovernmental post 

The 2017 leadership race that saw Jean lose to Kenney continues to be investigated by the RCMP after allegations of wrongdoing were raised.

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Alberta’s Election Commissioner has levied multiple fines against multiple people in connection with the race.

Jeff Callaway, another leadership candidate, has been dogged by allegations his was a kamikaze campaign with the sole purpose of targeting Brian Jean, Kenney’s main opponent in the race.

Callaway ultimately dropped out of the race and threw his support behind Kenney, who later became leader and then premier.

Emails obtained by Global News in 2019 suggest Kenney staffers provided strategic direction, attack ads, speaking notes, speeches and media support to the Callaway campaign.

Throughout the 2019 Alberta general election campaign, Kenney denied involvement in the scheme.

“There was staff communicating on communications material and stuff like that,” Kenney told Global News Radio in March 2019 while speaking about his campaign staff’s dealings with members of Callaway’s leadership campaign. “This is not the least bit unusual that campaigns will communicate.”

READ MORE: 2nd fine in 1 week issued in relation to Jeff Callaway’s UCP leadership bid 

Kenney has also vehemently denied that he helped to finance Callaway’s campaign in any way.

Jean is a ‘major contender’

Chaldeans Mensah, associate professor of political science at MacEwan University in Edmonton, called it a significant development.

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“I think Brian Jean is going to be coming at this representing the former Wildrose fragments of the UCP. Definitely, if he puts his name forward when the position comes open after a review, he’s going to be a major contender for the leadership of the UCP,” he said Wednesday night.

“I think the realization is that Jason Kenney is not going to be able to take the party forward into the next election… I think Mr. Jean is preparing the ground for when that position comes up because it’s obvious to every observer that the UCP will definitely be looking for a leader after that review takes place next spring.”

Jean has hovered over the issue of party leadership, Mensah noted.

“But the question is: will the premier insert himself and prevent Mr. Jean from winning that nomination? I think it’d be problematic if he attempts to prevent Mr. Jean from contesting the nomination,” he said.

“It would be best for internal party unity to allow the process to proceed, allow Mr. Jean to run because this is a big tent party now.”

Mensah explained the party is “hobbling badly.”

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“What the party needs badly is a united caucus, and any attempt to interfere in this nomination process will really compound the problems that are part of the party, fracture it even more,” he said.

‘United’ or ‘divided’ conservative movement

Another former leader of the Wildrose Party says Jean is really shaking things up.

“It’s been pretty clear for some time that Brian Jean has been wanting to get back into politics and that he’s been unhappy with the current leadership,” Danielle Smith said. “It sounds to me like he’s prepared to put his name forward now that there’s a byelection opportunity and not only to run as the representative for that riding, but also to put himself in potential contention for leadership if a vacancy does occur.”

Smith said her fear is that Alberta will see another break in the conservative movement, where there is division — potentially two conservative parties — which could allow the NDP to win the majority of seats.

She said it will be hard for Kenney to affirm Jean as the UCP candidate when he’s openly criticized the premier and called for his resignation. But, if the premier rejects Jean, Smith said he’d just run as an independent.

“For Brian Jean to show up in that caucus, that’s going to amplify some of the voices that are unhappy with the premier’s leadership,” she said.

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“If he wants to maintain his leadership — and it appears that he does — then I think he’s going to have to find a way to truly bring the conservative movement together, embrace some of the Wildrose ideas, embrace someone like Brian Jean — who still has a lot of credibility with the Wildrose base — and keep the party unified.”

Smith said it’s clear Alberta is quickly becoming more progressive, as demonstrated by the NDP’s win in 2015, and the recent election of progressive mayors and councils in Edmonton and Calgary. In that environment, she doesn’t think a divided conservative movement can win in Alberta.

— With files from Kaylen Small, Adam MacVicar, Emily Mertz, Global News and Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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