United Conservative Party leadership candidates ramped up their campaigns on Thursday as the membership deadline for the race looms.
Albertans have until 5 p.m. Friday to purchase or renew their UCP membership in order to be eligible to vote for a new party leader in October.
All seven candidates were busy doing membership outreach on Thursday, with many hosting events in rural Alberta.
Rebecca Schulz, the MLA for Calgary-Shaw and Alberta’s former children’s services minister, said the day was all about listening to voters and gaining momentum for her campaign.
“One of the things I heard today out here in rural Alberta is just how refreshing it is to have a different tone and approach — that people don’t want the status quo,” she said.
“They want some hope and optimism and a little bit less anger and division.”
Former finance minister Travis Toews said he has been travelling across the province because many Albertans “haven’t had a voice” for years.
He said it’s been great to listen to rural Albertans and to hear about their issues, especially those about the economy and health care.
“So many Albertans are concerned about inflation and, and rightly so,” Toews said. “Affordability is a big issue. I think everybody feels that, especially young families or Albertans on fixed incomes.
“We’re also really facing a capacity crisis in health care right now, especially in rural Alberta… We’re going to have to take real action on that… This will take the engagement of everybody in the health-care sector.”
Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA Brian Jean said he is happy with his membership sales and claims he sold “thousands” in the last few months.
He also said he is not an “established” internal candidate, but said the reception has been very positive.
“The only way to be competitive and strong is to make sure we are going to win the next election against the NDP and Rachel Notley,” Jean said.
“There is a lot of confusion (in this race). People are confused. They’re listening to fairytales and nursery rhymes that sound great but can’t give you anything concrete.”
Matt Solberg, a partner with New West Public Affairs and a former government staffer, said the last 24 hours before the membership deadline is the busiest and most crucial time for candidates.
“Ultimately, it’s the members of this party who are going to determine who the next leader is,” he said.
“If you can go out and find a large number of people to sign up for a UCP membership and pledge support to your campaign, you can influence the outcome.”
Membership numbers are also a good indicator of how excited members are for the leadership race, according to Solberg. The party can compare membership numbers in this leadership race with those from Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership review or other leadership races.
However, large membership numbers might not mean a broad voter base within the general public.
“There is excitement within conservative circles, certainly, for this UCP leadership race right now,” Solberg said.
“But we’ll have to see whether or not that translates into broader excitement for the party with the general public after this deadline.”
Solberg said candidates will also be focused on gaining support for their own campaigns while not alienating others.
The UCP leadership race will have a preferential ballot, meaning members can rank their preferred leader in order. If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the party will rely on second-, third- and fourth-place support to determine the winner.
“This means being able to not just accept your own supporters, but do so in a way that is not alienating those of other campaigns,” Solberg said. “That’s a tricky thing to accomplish sometimes, especially when certain ideas in this campaign have garnered a lot of attention.
“The second and third ballot support could very well be what elects the next leader.”