A new United Conservative Party leader will be elected on Oct. 6, the party’s leadership election committee has determined.
According to the new leadership election rules published Tuesday, voting will begin on Sept. 2 and can be done in person or by mail. Ballots sent by mail must be received by Oct. 3 in order to be counted, and only five locations will be open for in-person voting. These polling stations will be determined by the leadership election committee later this month.
Members must join or renew by Aug. 12 to be eligible to vote in the upcoming leadership election. The deadline for candidates to enter the leadership race is July 20.
In mid-May, Premier Jason Kenney announced his intentions to step down as UCP leader after narrowly winning his leadership review.
According to Kenney, the 51.4 per cent support he received was not enough to stay on.
Kenney was criticized by party and caucus members for limiting personal freedoms at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which he said ignited anger against him and led to the underwhelming support in the leadership review.
After a lengthy caucus meeting the next day, it was decided Kenney would stay on as leader until a new leader is chosen.
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So far, eight people are in the running to replace Kenney. Former finance minister Travis Toews, UCP backbencher Brian Jean, former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, Independent MLA Todd Loewen, Amisk Mayor Bill Rock, UCP backbencher Leela Aheer and former transportation minister Rajan Sawhney and former children’s services minister Rebecca Shulz have all announced their intentions to run in the UCP leadership race.
UCP president Cynthia Moore told Global News the leadership race is an opportunity for the party to rebrand itself and address issues that matter to Albertans.
“We’ve been through a tough time and we’ve got so much good stuff to showcase, that’s what we want to talk about,” Moore said.
“I understand that there’s been some negativity associated with (the UCP brand) but we’re moving on from that and we’re raising money. We’ve got very strong constituency associations.”
Moore noted the candidates are not just running to become party leader but to become premier as well. The high fees required to enter the race are reflective of that, she said. Candidates have to pay $175,000 to run in the leadership election, double the amount from 2017.
“The fact is they’re competing to become premier of Alberta… Their job is to highlight themselves and to talk about the issues that matter to Albertans.”
“We want to make sure that this is a positive race,” Moore said.
Sawhney said in a statement she welcomes these rules and is happy that the campaign is officially underway.
“This campaign will be about improving the quality of life for all Albertans. We are building a team that represents all of Alberta’s places and people, a team that is ready to govern,” the statement read.
Schulz said the leadership election is important because the UCP will head into a general election after a new leader is elected.
“I am very excited about this campaign. I think things are looking up. Things are off to a great start and (the cost to run) will not be a barrier,” she said.
“This is going to be an exciting race, and at the end of the day, party members are going to choose a leader who is competent, strong and can lead us into the next election.”
Evan Menzies, senior campaign strategist with Crestview Strategy, said the big pool of candidates shows the strength of the conservative brand in Alberta even after a couple of tough years.
A lot of candidates are focusing on freedom, especially now that COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Menzies said.
“A lot of folks see this as a chance and opportunity for renewal, especially after a tough couple of years for the conservative party in Alberta,” Menzies said.
Menzies added that the winner will ultimately be the one who has a clear plan to defeat the Alberta NDP. According to Menzies, the Alberta NDP is the most viable opposition party in Canada because it is very organized and raises a lot of money.
“The candidate that can illustrate that they’re able to unite the party, put an end to a lot of the divisive infighting and show they can defeat Rachel Notley in the next election will perhaps have the clearest pathway to victory,” he said.
–With files from Caley Gibson, Global News.