Former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney won the leadership of the new United Conservative Party (UCP) of Alberta Oct. 28, earning 61.1 per cent of the vote.
Kenney, who was the driving force behind uniting the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party (PC) and the Wildrose Party into one, bettered former leader of the Wildrose, Brian Jean, who earned 31.5 per cent of the vote and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, who collected 7.3 per cent. Kenney got the win on the first ballot.
“The people spoke, the membership spoke and we have ourselves a new leader. I’m just looking forward to unifying the party together in a united effort to defeat the NDP,” said Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt, who was elected as a member of the Wildrose party.
“We’ll hold them to account for the next year and a half and then we’ll kick them out in 2019.”
As leader of the UCP, Kenney now leads an opposition caucus of 27 members, but has one significant problem: he does not hold a seat in the legislature. Oct. 29, Dave Rodney, the MLA for Calgary-Lougheed, announced he’d step down Nov. 1 to allow Kenney to run in a byelection and potentially earn that much needed seat.
Talk of a merger between the PCs and the Wildrose began in early 2017 after Kenney was elected leader of the PCs. Jean and Kenney began meeting in March and announced May 18 a merger agreement had been drafted. Party members voted 95 per cent in favour of the merger July 22.
A controversial figure in politics, Kenney served as MP for Calgary Midnapore from 1997 to 2016, first as a representative of the Reform Party, then the Canadian Alliance Party and finally the Conservative Party of Canada. He became leader of the PCs in March.
During his time on the federal political stage, Kenney raised eyebrows for his comments on refugees and gay-straight alliances.
His heckling of federal Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan in the House of Commons in February, during which he allegedly said MPs needed an “English-to-English translation” as the defence minister spoke about the government’s plans to deal with the so-called Islamic State, led to Kenney being labeled a racist by some Liberal MPs.
Kenney focused his leadership campaign on talk of ousting the ruling NDP under Premier Rachel Notley but was criticized for being light on details. When announcing he’d run for the UCP leadership July 29, Kenney said the NDP has “poured gasoline on the fire of the recession through reckless policies that have driven away investment and jeopardized our future.”
Unless an early election is called, Albertans will go to the polls in 2019.