It’s been more than a month since Premier Jason Kenney received 51 per cent in the UCP leadership review and announced his resignation as leader. That is a month for the party to lay out the process, for candidates to enter the race and for glad-handing province-wide, but by all accounts, this leadership contest feels like it’s moving in slow-motion.

The Process

While some process details are still outstanding, key dates and voting processes have been announced. The deadline for candidates to apply to enter the leadership contest is Friday, July 29.

  • Friday, August 12 is the cut-off for new or renewed membership sales.
  • Ballot packages will be mailed beginning on Friday, September 2 and must be received back by Monday, October 3.
  • Members will vote by mail-in ballot with an option to vote in-person on October 6 at one of five polling locations set up across the province. Exact locations and times are still TBD.

The party finalized financial parameters early on to ensure the race was revenue neutral. The fees required of candidates have been established to ensure financing the leadership contest does not deplete the party’s coffers just ahead of the 2023 provincial election campaign. To enter the contest, candidates must complete a comprehensive questionnaire that the Leadership Election Committee will review alongside a $150,000 entrance fee (to be submitted in three parts) and a $25,000 refundable compliance deposit. Several candidates have already criticized this amount.

Each candidate must also provide a nomination petition with at least 1,000 signatures of UCP members drawing support from 200 members in each of five regions in the province.

At the centre and on the right, Alberta politics today is a pressure cooker addressing the “legacy” of public health measures during COVID-19 and a new, unforeseen future unscored by soaring oil prices. It would be a disservice to pick a horse at the start of this race. While there may be some front runners, it’s important to remember there are many days between now and October 6 and anything can happen during the long leadership campaign. Premier Jason Kenney is still in charge until a leadership change, and as the race continues, the horses will need to play nice.

During the two-month period from membership cut-off to voting day, party members can expect to be bombarded by candidates vying for their support. The timeframe also set-ups candidates to engage in negative campaigning against one another, something the party does not need nine months out from an election.

For the time being, the details of most candidates’ platforms remain to be disclosed (and likely determined), in particular how they will differentiate themselves from Jason Kenney. This is critical for those who sat at Kenney’s cabinet table. The slow pace of candidates laying out a detailed plan has been frustrating for some, but the race will undoubtedly heat up soon.

The Candidates

The roster we see today won’t necessarily be the roster we see at each of the campaign milestone dates.

Who is in:

  • Leela Aheer, former Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women. Former Wildrose MLA.
  • Brian Jean, UCP MLA. Former Wildrose Leader and MLA.
  • Todd Loewen, Independent MLA. Former UCP and former Wildrose MLA.
  • Bill Rock, Mayor of Amisk. Former Wildrose candidate.
  • Rajan Sawhney, former Minister of Transportation.
  • Rebecca Schulz, former Minister of Children’s Services.
  • Danielle Smith, former Wildrose MLA and Leader.
  • Travis Toews, former Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

Who is on the fence:

  • Michelle Rempel Garner, MP Calgary-Nose Hill

The Shuffling of the (Cabinet) Chairs

Premier Kenney announced cabinet changes to fill vacancies left by the leadership race. With the exodus of several cabinet members, the opportunity for some of those in the backbench to cut their ministerial teeth presents itself.
Jason Nixon, currently the Minister of Environment and Parks and Acting President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance becomes President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance.

  • Whitney Issik, currently the Associate Minister of Status of Women, becomes Minister of Environment and Parks.
  • Matt Jones, MLA for Calgary-South East, becomes Minister of Children’s Services.
  • Prasad Panda, currently the Minister of Infrastructure, becomes Minister of Transportation.
  • Nicholas Milliken, MLA for Calgary-Currie, becomes Minister of Infrastructure.
  • Jackie Armstrong Homeniuk, MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, becomes the Associate Minister of Status of Women.
  • Brad Rutherford, MLA for Leduc-Beaumont and Deputy Government Whip, becomes Chief Government Whip and Minister without Portfolio.

What to do and know

Engage with candidates throughout the summer at campaign events. Remember donation rules – no corporate donations and keep under the limit set by Elections Alberta.

The UCP will utilize the summer BBQ circuit to campaign, build relationships and figure out how to keep their ship afloat until October. So keeping an eye and ear out for when key MLAs are in your neighbourhoods will be an opportunity for you to engage.

This is a leadership campaign being fought on issues of the past versus issues of today. In a province already feeling the tug of left vs. right, if the fight within the UCP becomes more about the fight for the heart of the party and less about appealing to moderate, conservative-leaning Albertans, Rachel Notley will emerge the victor of this leadership race.

No significant policy changes are expected until a new government is established in 2023. The UCP will be focused on rebuilding its brand and avoiding any political oopsies that could negatively impact its second chance at forming government. With the leadership race underway and an inevitable new party direction, any policy changes or significant moves will require voter and party mandate- something the new leader doesn’t have.

And above all, have patience, or we’ll burn ourselves out before the race hits peak temperatures.