Braid: UCP leadership race in holding pattern as challenges mount

Calgary is overloaded with Kenney ministers — and yet, another Calgary leader may be essential to the UCP

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Alberta is entering a strange leaderless period just as the province needs strong, sensible government.

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Premier Jason Kenney is entering lame-duck phase. There will be no new legislation before fall. He’s said to be going on vacation soon.

As of Monday afternoon, nobody had applied to Elections Alberta for registration as a UCP leadership candidate.

That’s not surprising, since the UCP itself was still days away from announcing rules and a decision date for the contest.

Nobody is supposed to collect or spend money before they register and their official “campaign period” begins.

At this point, the potential candidates don’t know how much the party’s entry fee will be. Their own applications require an appointed CFO, a bank account, and a lot of paperwork.

But the race will start soon for a vote as early as late August but more likely in September.

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The UCP will then have eight months to puff up a new premier for the election scheduled for May 29, 2023.

Ex-Wildrose leaders Brian Jean and Danielle Smith intend to run. So does Todd Loewen, the Central Peace-Notley MLA who was kicked out of caucus for demanding that Kenney resign.

Finance Minister Travis Toews, from Grande Prairie-Wapiti, is widely assumed to be in the race. He’ll be backed by many (although not all) of Kenney’s campaign team, and by some donors.

The Kenney connection may not be the best recommendation to the voters. Toews’ candidacy would remind some veterans of Jim Dinning, who ran as the steady-hand successor to Ralph Klein in 2006.

He lost. It’s hard to maintain a lead over many months while dragging along the history of your government.

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Toews doesn’t even have a lead with UCP voters. He scored only five per cent approval in a Leger poll last weekend, far behind both Jean and Smith.

Finance Minister Travis Toews.
Finance Minister Travis Toews. Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta

There’s a lot of background buzz about Rebecca Schulz, the children’s services minister.

Schulz is a very able presenter. When a daycare deal with Ottawa was signed last November, she outshone the premier, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal minister Karin Gould. On the weekend Schulz ran 21.1 kilometres to benefit a kids’ charity.

Calgary is overloaded with Kenney ministers, as I pointed out last week. And yet, another Calgary leader may be essential to the UCP.

Edmonton is already lost to Rachel Notley’s party, barring some bizarre miracle on the North Saskatchewan. Rural Alberta will likely vote mostly UCP.

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That will make Calgary the key to victory for both the UCP and NDP.

Notley knows the stakes very well. Her party is nominating local candidates and she’s spending more time. The NDP is not about to concede the city.

The thinking among some UCP campaigners is that another Calgary conservative leader could carry the seats vital to a second UCP win.

As soon as the leadership announcements start coming, Kenney will have to fill vacated cabinet jobs.

The big one would be finance. Rumor has it that Tyler Shandro, who’s now in justice, would get the choice post. A safer choice would be jobs minister Doug Schweitzer.

There’s also talk that Devin Dreeshen, who quit cabinet while acknowledging a drinking problem, would be brought back into cabinet.

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That would surely provoke a response from Ariella Kimmel, whose lawsuit against the premier’s office alleging harassment is still outstanding.

She claims there was angry shouting by Dreeshen. Her lawyer is still trying to force Kenney to give evidence.

This is exactly the kind of drama the UCP desperately hopes will not intrude on the leadership race.

Meanwhile, crucial problems continue to mount, especially in health care.

Many health professionals say the system is in a state of breakdown, far worse than the dark days when ERs were overrun more than a decade ago.

The UCP is taking steps under Health Minister Jason Copping. But the government also fired Verna Yiu, the steady-hand CEO who was best equipped to get AHS through this crisis.

No leader in health care; a lame duck leader in the premier’s office; a leadership race with high potential for name-calling and allegations of cheating.

There’s no guarantee the UCP gets out of this with a government.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.

Twitter: @DonBraid

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