The UCP Leadership race is well underway, with just over a month to go. Leela AheerBrian JeanTodd LoewenRajan SawhneyRebecca SchulzDanielle Smith, and Travis Toews are all feverishly touring the province and filling inboxes in their efforts to become Alberta’s next Premier. Ultimately, the winner will face off against Rachel Notley, and her New Democrat team come May 2023.

Until the August 12 membership sales cut-off, candidates’ campaigns focused strongly on appeals to potential new members and ensuring the memberships of past supporters were up-to-date. The party has since announced there are now 123,915 party members. This more than doubles the numbers from the leadership review (60,000) in June.

Polling suggests that Danielle Smith leads the race – as does the focus of the other candidates on opposing her policies – but the Smith team will need to ensure supporters cast their ballot. Notably, less than half of party members voted in the Kenney leadership review. Past leadership races have also highlighted the impact of the preferential ballot system, with perceived front runners ultimately losing as votes were reallocated over several rounds of counting. To ensure a win, Smith needs to secure a majority on the first ballot or she faces a genuine probability of losing to a lower-ranked candidate who is more successful in being members’ “back-up” choice.

Policies of Note

Smith’s Alberta Sovereignty Act has taken centre stage in the leadership contest dominating the campaign’s narrative. Candidates have sought to differentiate themselves on other matters, but those policy differences have garnered relatively modest attention to date.

Aheer, who has positioned herself as the progressive conservative in the race, has stressed the need for an open and transparent government to renew Albertans’ trust and commit to inflation protection on taxes and benefits.

Jean, Loewen and Smith have taken strong anti-Ottawa positions. Both Jean and Smith have promised to table legislation to strengthen Alberta’s position in Canada. However, Smith’s proposed legislation has come under fire for being unconstitutional. Minister of Finance, Jason Nixon, has also cautioned that Smith’s legislation would not pass in the Legislature and called it “very problematic” for the party.

Sawhney has promised to re-index personal income taxes and five social programs that support low-income Albertans and to provide monthly Affordability Cheques. As well, Sawhney recently refreshed her campaign website after her campaign chair Angela Pitt stepped down to “realign with her constituents and her values.”

Schulz has committed to collaboratively working with Ottawa to fight for Alberta’s best interests, citing her experience negotiating the federal child-care deal. She has also secured Rona Ambrose as campaign chair.

Toews has committed to reforming equalization payments, exploring a provincial police force and making the paused provincial fuel tax permanent. Out of all the leadership candidates, Toews has the most caucus endorsements.

Aheer, Sawhney, Schulz and Toews have the additional challenge of distancing themselves from decisions made during their time at Premier Kenney’s cabinet table.

Key dates

  • Tuesday, August 30, 2022 – Final Leadership Debate
  • Friday September 2, 2022 – Ballot packages go out in the mail to members. ​
  • Monday October 3, 2022 – Deadline for returned ballot packages to be received.​
  • Thursday October 6, 2022 – Five in-person voting locations open, and the new Leader is announced.

What this means for you now?

In a leadership race, it is not necessarily how candidates come out of the gate but how they finish. As this race barrels through the dog days of summer and into early fall, candidates will seek to garner support from members and stakeholders alike to position themselves for October 6th and the impending provincial election. The voting results will reveal the direction members want to take their party and government. But how this will play out come next spring will require patience. Engagement with candidates will be essential to understanding future policy and direction and how your priorities will overlap with the government and the UCP under new leadership.

What to expect post-October 6

On October 7, a new Premier-elect will be in charge. They will be sworn in within days. If Smith wins, she may opt to run in a by-election, perhaps in Calgary-Elbow, which Doug Schweitzer is vacating. It is also possible she will call a snap election for November.

No matter who wins, a new cabinet will be formed, which presents opportunities to re-set relationships and policy ideas. Further, it sets the party up to distance itself from the pandemic and the trials and tribulations of the Kenney government.

Authored by Tim Moro, Natalie Sigalet, Jessica Conlin, and Eliza Snider from H+K’s team in Edmonton and Calgary.