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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in Calgary on May 20.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, in his first public remarks since he said he intends to step down, says his government will continue to pursue priorities such as expanding health care capacity and fighting inflation amid the uncertainty of a leadership race.

In a brief statement Friday before a cabinet meeting, Mr. Kenney confirmed he would step down as leader of the United Conservative Party after it selects a replacement. The Premier earlier this week garnered support from 51.4 per cent of voters in a leadership review, which prompted him to say he intended to resign, although he did not provide details on timing.

“We have a lot of important work in front of us,” Mr. Kenney said at a photo opportunity, where cabinet ministers gave him a standing ovation upon his arrival. His government, which took office in 2019 with 55 per cent of the popular vote, would address rising costs pinching consumers, he said as an example.

“We’ll continue to provide real action to support Albertans through that,” Mr. Kenney said. “We’ll be discussing what more can or should be done to protect Albertans from this inflationary environment.”

Late Thursday afternoon, the UCP caucus announced Mr. Kenney would be permitted to remain leader until a replacement could be chosen, rather than selecting an interim leader. Mr. Kenney also released his resignation letter to the party.

The leadership review was supposed to provide clarity for UCP MLAs on whether the broader party membership supported Mr. Kenney. However, the result further demonstrated divisions within the party.

Mr. Kenney’s statement that he would resign, followed by an internal campaign to remain at the helm until a new leader is chosen, further inflamed his critics. Mr. Kenney on Friday did not address the turmoil that continues to roil within his ranks. Instead, he said the party’s approach would allow government maintain continuity.

The UCP earlier this year pledged $150 in electricity rebates, which have not yet been distributed. The government also said it would help offset the rising cost of natural gas, and while the price of the commodity cleared the threshold to trigger the proposed relief, the government has not introduced a mechanism to refund consumers.

The UCP has, however, introduced a sliding scale to reduce Alberta’s tax on gasoline and diesel. With the North American benchmark price of oil above US$90, the government suspended the tax of 13 cents per litre as of April 1.

Mr. Kenney also said the government would continue its push to expand health care capacity, and ease the surgical backlog by accelerating its plan to establish more private facilities where patients will receive operations paid for by the province.

Brian Jean co-founded the UCP, when the Progressive Conservatives merged with the Wildrose Party, with Mr. Kenney five years ago. Mr. Kenney beat Mr. Jean in the UCP’s first leadership contest in 2017 and Mr. Jean resigned from the legislature in 2018. He did not run for office in 2019, when the UCP bumped the New Democratic Party from government benches. Mr. Jean became increasingly critical of Mr. Kenney as the leader’s popularity dropped during the coronavirus pandemic.

In March, Mr. Jean won a by-election on a promise to overthrow Mr. Kenney from within the party. He, along with other UCP dissidents, believe Mr. Kenney must step down now so the party can move forward. The group on Thursday unsuccessfully urged their caucus colleagues to replace Mr. Kenney with an interim leader.

Vitor Marciano, Mr. Jean’s spokesman, said the former Wildrose leader was not ready to comment on Mr. Kenney’s caucus victory.

Danielle Smith, Mr. Jean’s predecessor as Wildrose leader, has also announced her intention to run for the leadership.

Rajan Sawhney, the Minister of Transportation, has said she is among those weighing whether to enter the race.

The party has yet to provide details about the timing or format of the leadership election and instead said those details would come later.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he will stay in the top job to maintain continuity and stability in government until a new United Conservative Party leader is chosen. Kenney says it’s important to remain focused on public priorities, including reducing wait times in the health system and growing the economy.

The Canadian Press

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