With Jason Kenney having stepped down as leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party, who is now leader of the province?
Technically, Kenney remains Alberta’s premier.
But in the case that a leader loses a leadership review or leaves the role vacant for any other reason – like Kenney did by resigning to the surprise of many on Wednesday – the party’s rules call for a leadership election.
“We will, over the next days and weeks, set out the process for the leadership review, the conditions it will have to have, and the requirements for those who want to run for the leadership – deposits, timelines, and so forth,” explained Calgary political scientist Lori Williams.
However, while that is being organized, caucus is supposed to vote in an interim party leader and premier “at the earliest possible opportunity,” according to the party’s governance manual.
Both the government cabinet and UCP caucus met in Calgary Thursday for “vigorous discussion and debate” about next steps.
Just before 5:30 p.m. the party announced that Kenney will stay on “until such time as a new leader is chosen.”
There is one notable caveat to the election of an interim leader: Whoever is selected as an “interim leader” will not be able to put their name forward to be UCP leader.
The first name to come to Wiliams’ mind for interim leader was Ric McIver, who once served as interim leader for the PC Party.
“He’s got experience in government, so I would suspect someone like that, who is well enough known. Because lord knows that Alberta has a lot of challenges that is facing at this moment, so it’s going to have to be someone who already has the confidence of the party and can carry this ship forward,” she commented.
The UCP’s governance manual does not specify timelines for the election of an interim leader or a leadership contest to be called.
Alberta’s next election is legislated for May 29, 2023.
“That could be an advantage or a disadvantage,” Williams said. “It might be that if [a leadership contest] is closer to the election, they might find it easier to keep the dissidents, those who disagree with things, clear.”
And uniting the party’s fragmented membership will be the biggest job facing any interim or elected leader, she believes, as does the president of the UCP’s Olds – Didsbury – Three Hills constituency association president.
“What I’m hoping is when that meeting happens [Thursday], that the people who were dissidents were no longer considered dissidents. Because they weren’t problems for the party, and they weren’t problems for the caucus. They were opposed – I think very legitimately and I think as of tonight, like truly legitimately – opposed to Premier Kenney,” Rob Smith told CTV News on Wednesday after Kenney’s resignation.
He suggested MLAs Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes, both of whom were booted from the UCP caucus after criticizing Kenney as leader, should be welcomed back.
Whoever is chosen as leader, Smith added, “I hope that it’s someone who has strong roots within the party that truly can represent the caucus. I don’t think that means they were necessarily a Kenney supporter, or that they were necessarily someone who was anti-Jason Kenney.”
When pressed on potential future leaders, Smith called Finance Minister Travis Toews a “very, very exciting individual” and “a very sharp fellow.” He said Doug Schweitzer was doing “pretty exciting” things as the jobs and economy minister, and has the potential to “cross some different categories in terms of demographics.” Smith has heard some people also see Energy and Environment Minister Sonya Savage as having “some very strong skills.”
“And if there’s someone brand new… hey, that would be super exciting to get behind too.”
Already, Danielle Smith and Brian Jean have declared their intent to be the UCP’s next leader.
Williams expects more names will come from inside the party’s inner circles, and possibly from outside provincial boundaries, if Rona Ambrose wants to rejoin the political arena.
“We could see a split over the whole leadership process, we could see a split after a leader is chosen that’s not satisfactory to some of the members and voters. It is a very uncertain time.”