Long-time federal Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner has cleared a barrier for entry into the United Conservative Party leadership race to replace Alberta Premier Jason Kenney after the UCP agreed to let her run despite the potential candidate not being a party member for long enough.
UCP rules say leadership candidates must have been a party member for at least six months. A party source told The Globe and Mail that Ms. Rempel Garner did not meet that requirement but requested an exemption, which the leadership election committee granted late Monday after consultation with the party’s board and MLAs.
The Globe agreed not to name the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about internal party matters.
Ms. Rempel Garner has not yet made a formal announcement on entering the race, but she confirmed last week that she was giving “serious consideration” to a bid after speculation about her potential leadership run. The Calgary Nose Hill MP also stepped away from her role as co-chair of Patrick Brown’s federal Conservative leadership campaign to give the decision her “full and complete attention.”
Ms. Rempel Garner did not return a request for comment.
Former Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman also sought an exemption to the UCP rule, but his request was denied. He said he respects the party’s decision and declined to comment further.
The leadership race was called in May after Mr. Kenney won a leadership review but pledged to step down owing to the slim margin of victory. The review followed more than a year of infighting within Mr. Kenney’s caucus, including from several MLAs who openly called for his resignation, and pressure from constituency associations. Complaints ranged from the Premier’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, with some in his party arguing the province went too far with restrictions, to criticism of what some saw as a top-down leadership style.
A new leader will be chosen Oct. 6. Eight candidates have so far registered with Elections Alberta.
Travis Toews, Rajan Sawhney and Rebecca Schulz left their cabinet positions to run for party leader, and Leela Aheer, who was shuffled out of cabinet last year after criticizing Mr. Kenney, is also running.
Other contenders include former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, who lost the UCP leadership race to Mr. Kenney in 2017; Danielle Smith, Mr. Jean’s predecessor as Wildrose leader; and independent MLA Todd Loewen, who was booted from the UCP caucus after challenging Mr. Kenney’s leadership last year.
Mr. Jean, who joined the UCP caucus after winning a by-election on a campaign to depose Mr. Kenney, said he told the party Ms. Rempel Garner should be permitted to run.
“I made it clear that I thought she should be allowed in the race,” Mr. Jean said in an interview Tuesday. “We have a big conservative tent, and the more ideas and the more discussions we have in that tent, the more people that will be [attracted] to the table, and we’ll be able to get better decisions for Albertans.”
To enter the leadership race, candidates must pay a $150,000 fee and a $25,000 refundable compliance deposit. They also need at least 1,000 signatures of support from UCP members evenly split between the party’s five provincial regions. The deadline to apply to enter the race is July 20.
With files from Carrie Tait
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