Another candidate has announced their intention to seek the leadership of Alberta’s United Conservative Party.
Rajan Sawhney said Monday morning she is running to be the leader of the UCP to move Alberta forward.
“I want a better future. Not more of the same,” she said from the Alberta legislature grounds.
“I am an economist. I am one of those people who fiddle with numbers to figure out what will happen, as opposed to accountants who fiddle with numbers to figure out what did happen.”
Sawhney had Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt by her side for Monday’s announcement. Pitt will serve as Sawhney’s campaign chair.
Sawhney said if elected leader, she would launch an independent public inquiry into Alberta’s COVID-19 pandemic response. She said this inquiry would address ways to support Albertans struggling financially, ways to support the mental health of Albertans — particularly children — and how to best prepare for future pandemics.
“It is going to take at least a year if we’re going to do it properly, to ensure that we have all of the stakeholders at the table and we’re looking at all of the data,” Sawhney said.
Born and raised in northeast Calgary, Sawhney was first elected in 2019 as the MLA for Calgary-North East. She had been serving as Transportation minister since July 2021. Prior to that, she also served as minister of Community and Social Services.
Sawhney is the second member of Premier Jason Kenney’s cabinet to throw their name into the running for UCP leadership. Late last month, former Finance minister Travis Toews stepped down from his portfolio to enter the leadership race.
Pollster Janet Brown said Sawhney is one of the few cabinet ministers who hasn’t lined up to support Toews, making her an interesting choice.
“What’s shaping up right now is, there’s Travis Toews — he’s sort of the choice of the people behind Kenney, a lot of the Kenney supporters are on his team — and Rajan Sawhney is putting together a team who looks more like the people who were the dissidents in caucus.”
In mid-May, Kenney announced his intention to step down as UCP leader after receiving 51.4 per cent support in his leadership review vote. While it was enough under party rules to remain at the helm, Kenney said that was not adequate support to continue on as party leader.
After a lengthy caucus meeting the next day, it was decided that Kenney would stay on as leader until a new leader is chosen.
There are now seven people in the running to replace Kenney. Toews, UCP backbencher Brian Jean, former Wildrose party Leader Danielle Smith, Independent MLA Todd Loewen, Amisk Mayor Bill Rock and UCP backbencher Leela Aheer have also all announced their intentions to run for leadership of the UCP.
“Apart from Travis Toews, all of the candidates that are in the race right now have been very critical of Kenney,” Brown said.
She said while it’s currently a big field of candidates, what’s missing is “somebody who comes out of the more traditional progressive conservative side of the campaign.”
“It seems like there are a lot of candidates out there now who are really going to be fighting hard for the right-wing side of the party. What’s going to be interesting for me is whether somebody comes out who is more of a centrist — somebody who is going to appeal more to those traditional progressive conservatives who really haven’t been playing much in party politics over the last three or four years.”
The party is working on the logistics of the race, but a date for the vote has not been selected.
Given the lack of details surrounding the leadership vote, Brown said the pool of candidates could either get bigger — or some people could drop out.
“We don’t know the rules yet. We don’t know what the entry fee is going to be, we don’t know how the ballot is going to work, so there’s a lot of people who are coming forward now. If the price tag of entry is too high — if it’s $100,000 — that could scare a few people off,” she said.
“Right now it’s easy to throw your name in, it’s easy to kick tires. It’ll be a little bit harder once entry fees are due and the race is officially off.”
Calgary-Shaw MLA Rebecca Schulz said she will make an announcement Tuesday afternoon on her plans to enter the UCP leadership race.
— with files from Tom Vernon, Global News.