A byelection in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche will be held on March 15.
Premier Jason Kenney announced the date for the byelection during an unrelated news conference Tuesday afternoon.
“Today is the deadline for a writ to be issued. It was just approved by cabinet and should be signed by the lieutenant-governor by now or very shortly. It then goes to Elections Alberta for the formal issue,” Kenney said.
“That writ is issued today for March 15.”
Alberta’s chief electoral officer Glen Resler also confirmed the writ was issued Tuesday for the upcoming byelection.
“Appointments have been made for the returning officer and election clerk in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche and they are ready to conduct voting in the electoral division,” Resler said in a statement.
The seat in the northeastern Alberta riding has been vacant since August, when Laila Goodridge resigned to run for the federal Conservatives.
Former Wildrose leader Brian Jean is the United Conservative Party’s candidate for the upcoming byelection. Jean won the UCP nomination in mid-December.
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Jean ran in the 2017 UCP leadership campaign but lost to Kenney. Jean has previously called on the premier to resign and when he won the nomination in December, he said he hadn’t changed his mind on that front.
Jean doubled down on that sentiment one day after the byelection was called.
“Sometimes you need to know when it’s time to leave and I think everybody else in Alberta knows that except for, right now, Jason Kenney,” Jean told Global News in an interview Wednesday.
Jean said he’s been speaking with people in the area who have voiced their concern about the direction the UCP is taking. He believes now is the time to renew the UCP, which includes new leadership.
“I think that there’s no way that the UCP, under Jason Kenney’s leadership, will be able to win the next election.”
“They’re definitely expressing their worry and concern about next year, which in politics, next year is only tomorrow and they’re worried about next year that the NDP might have an opportunity to win an overwhelming majority and they want to stop it now.”
Jean admits he hasn’t received any campaign support so far from the UCP.
“I haven’t heard any direct support coming my way.”
The Alberta NDP candidate is Ariana Mancini, a teacher who formally kicked off her byelection campaign Tuesday afternoon in Fort McMurray.
“This is the rematch,” Mancini said of the byelection. She faced off against Jean in the Fort McMurray-Conklin riding in the 2015 provincial election. Jean, who was leader of the Wildrose at the time, won the seat.
“A lot has changed in seven years,” Mancini said. “So while this has traditionally been a Conservative riding, people feel betrayed. People are angry, people are frustrated, people feel that they have been taken advantage of.
“People can no longer stand behind Jason Kenney and his UCP government and they’re ready for change.”
The Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta’s candidate is Paul Hinman, the party’s current leader.
The Alberta Advantage Party also has a candidate on the ballot: Marilyn Burns.
The Alberta Party has announced Michelle Landsiedel will be their candidate. She is a project lead with Suncor.
University of Calgary political scientist Lisa Young said while byelections typically tend to have low voter turnout, she said this race is quite unusual.
“In the Canadian political system it is so extraordinary for there to be a candidate who is overtly opposed to the leader of the party, that they’re running on the banner of in the election,” Young said of Jean.
Young believes this is a race worth watching not necessarily because of what the outcome will reveal about where we are politically, but more because of what it means for the internal politics of the UCP.
“If we assume that Brian Jean is going to win, and this is a pretty safe constituency for the UCP, then we know that the premier will find himself with his most outspoken and highest-profile critic right there in his caucus and with only a year to go before an election,” she explained.
“I can imagine that there are those who are in the premier’s inner circle who would be content to see an NDP win. It would certainly make their lives much easier. It would be seen as a repudiation of not just Brian Jean, but also of the other critics of the premier inside caucus.”
Candidate nominations end on Feb. 25 at 2 p.m., according to Elections Alberta.
Under the province’s elections laws, Tuesday was the last date the byelection could be called and voting must take place within 28 days of it being announced.
“We’ve been very clear that we’re not going to call an election, in this case a byelection, in the midst of the Omicron wave,” Kenney said.
“We wanted to, as much as possible, defer discretionary political activities like that ’til we got well past the Omicron peak.”
Byelections follow the same procedures as provincial elections under the Election Act. In addition to voting on election day, electors will be able to cast a ballot at the advance polls (Tuesday through Saturday the week prior to election day) or by completing a special ballot at the returning office or by mail.
All polls will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on election day. Unofficial results will be available after the polls close on election day and official results will be announced on March 25.
There are 23,864 electors in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche riding. During the 2019 provincial election, voter turnout in the riding was 58.2 per cent, compared to the overall provincial voter turnout of 67.5 per cent.