Alberta’s former finance minister officially launched his campaign to succeed Premier Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party on Saturday by stressing the need for unity and warning against the dangers of division.
Travis Toews, who resigned from cabinet Tuesday to run for his party’s top job, told an audience of supporters that he was extending a call home to those who felt “wrongly categorized” and “disregarded.”
Kenney announced he would step down as UCP leader as soon as a new one is chosen after he received lukewarm support of 51.4 per cent in a leadership review last month.
He has blamed his demise on a faction of extremists unhappy with his decisions to bring in restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Toews noted the pandemic caused feelings of lingering grief and frustration, which he said has crept into communities, businesses and even families, and that healing is needed within the province’s conservative movement.
The party is working out the logistics of a vote and has not announced a date or any other details.
“There has not been a time in this generation when healing and reunification have been so necessary, not only across our society but within the conservative movement of Alberta as well,” Toews said in front of a stone fireplace in Rotary House on the Calgary Stampede grounds.
“Friends, our great conservative movement must once again focus on the values that unite us instead of the issues that divide.”
He noted that since coming to power in 2019, the UCP has set Alberta on a path for sustainable economic growth and has posted the first balanced budget in a decade.
Toews, 57, is a first-term member of the legislature from the constituency of Grande Prairie-Wapiti and has been finance minister since the start of Kenney’s government in April 2019.
He is a certified professional accountant and certified management accountant, is past president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and has a family-run cattle operation.
Energy Minister Sonya Savage, who introduced Toews at the campaign launch, echoed the call for the party’s next leader to bring unity in order to be re-elected in the next general election on May 29, 2023.
“It’s incredibly important on that day that this party has a leader who brings us together, someone who Albertans can trust to lead a team that will ensure Alberta is strong, prosperous and free,” said Savage, who is co-chair of the campaign along with Chris Warkentin, a Conservative MP representing Grande Prairie-Mackenzie.
Kenney has said that would not be endorsing a candidate for his replacement, but praised Toews during his regular Saturday morning radio phone-in show on CHED and CHQR.
“I want to say that he was a great finance minister. I’m looking forward to presenting a year-end report for the fiscal year ’21-’22 towards the end of June, and it should be some very good news as long as the economy continues to perform strongly,” Kenney said.
Former Wildrose party leaders Brian Jean and Danielle Smith are also seeking the job, as well as Todd Loewen, a UCP backbencher who has been sitting as an Independent since 2021 when he was voted out of caucus for publishing a letter urging Kenney to quit.