A familiar name in Alberta politics has put her name on the ballot for the next UCP leadership race. Leela Aheer has announced Tuesday she will be running to be leader of the United Conservative Party.
She confirmed with Global News Tuesday morning, she will be running for the UCP top spot. It makes her the sixth person to enter the race.
As of Tuesday morning, Aheer along with UCP backbencher Brian Jean, former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, former UCP finance minister Travis Toews, Amisk Mayor Bill Rock, and Independent (former UCP) MLA Todd Loewen have put their names forward.
Joining Rob Breakenridge on 770 CHQR and 630 CHED on Tuesday afternoon, Aheer likened being the leader of a so-called “big tent” political party to leading a choir.
“You have to get everybody singing from the songbook with all of their different voices and the colors and the timbres and the tone to make a beautiful sound. And that takes practice. It takes time. It takes compassion. It takes relationship building. It takes the ability to be humble.”
The Chestermere-Strathmore MLA also stressed the importance of the message coming from leadership.
“If language is coming out that is divisive and hurts people and is expected that your caucus and cabinet will stand behind you, you can’t expect people to stand behind divisive language,” Aheer said.
Aheer entered politics in May 2015 as an MLA and was then re-elected for the newly formed Chestermere-Strathmore riding in 2019.
She was Jason Kenney’s former minister of culture, multiculturalism and the status of women, but was critical of Kenney’s actions earlier in the pandemic and was kicked out of cabinet in July, although the premier denied the demotion was punishment for her remarks.
The large number of would-be UCP leaders with Wildrose Party roots wasn’t lost on Loewen, saying it’s more of a coincidence than anything.
“Those are some great people that have decided to step forward and I look forward to the race with them,” he told Global News. “I think we’ll have a great discussion moving forward.”
Loewen is launching his leadership bid Tuesday evening in Valleyview, Alta.
The MLA for Central Peace-Notley was ousted from the UCP caucus in May 2021 after publicly calling for Premier Jason Kenney’s resignation. Drew Barnes also sat as an independent MLA following that caucus decision.
Loewen said being on the outside of caucus as an independent was a strength when party members compare him with other UCP MLAs.
“I think there’s a lot of things that the government has done, I think there’s a lot of things that the leader has done that I don’t have to wear as an independent, but the others do,” he said.
Aheer said the leadership campaign is an opportunity to reunite a splintered party.
“This campaign for us is not about talking about other people’s mistakes. We know the mistakes that have been made,” she told Breakenridge.
“In order for somebody like me to be successful, it’s actually about what I bring to the table and the solutions that I can provide.
“We’re required to not continue the division and the frustration and anger, and Albertans expect better from us. And they expect the ability for us to work together and to have the maturity to have honest conversations, and also to call out the mistakes when they happen.”