Skip to main content

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has called a by-election that will feature his own candidate campaigning to topple him as leader.

Elections Alberta announced Tuesday the launch of a four-week campaign in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche. Voters in the northern constituency will head to the polls March 15.

Brian Jean, a former Kenney political partner turned foe, is running to retain the seat for the United Conservatives.

Mr. Jean said it has become clear to him and many in the party that the core conservative values of the UCP can still bring political victory against the NDP in the 2023 election – but not with Mr. Kenney at the helm.

“I believe UCP policy is better policy [than the NDP’s],” Mr. Jean said in an interview.

“With a change in leadership style and direction, and in particular a person, it has a chance to win back the hearts and minds of Albertans.”

The constituency came open last August after UCP backbencher Laila Goodridge stepped down to run, successfully, for the Conservative Party in the federal election.

Mr. Kenney waited until the final day of the six-month statutory window to call the by-election. He said he wanted to wait to get through the Omicron wave of COVID-19.

The NDP candidate, Ariana Mancini, said the by-election is about sending a message to a UCP government that has badly mismanaged health care during the pandemic and eroded the bottom lines for working families with policies igniting hikes to income taxes, property taxes, school fees, utility bills and insurance rates.

“I’ve knocked on so many doors over the past 10 weeks and families are telling me their bills are stacking up higher and higher every month,” Ms. Mancini said.

“Folks in Fort McMurray have had enough of the drama and the infighting in the UCP.

“We need a government that is focused on families and businesses here in our community.”

Paul Hinman, Leader of the Wildrose Independence Party, has announced he will also contest the seat.

Mr. Kenney and Mr. Jean have a long history dating back to when they were federal Conservative MPs.

Both eventually left to enter Alberta provincial politics. Mr. Jean took over as head of the Wildrose Party and Mr. Kenney became leader of the Progressive Conservatives.

Together they co-founded the United Conservative Party in 2017. Mr. Jean lost the leadership of the new party to Mr. Kenney in a vote stained by accusations of secret deals, colluding candidates and fraud.

Mr. Jean, who is from Fort McMurray, has represented the area as a member of Parliament and as a provincial member of the legislature.

He eventually quit his UCP seat but announced last November that he was coming out of retirement to run again in the by-election with the goal of ousting Mr. Kenney as party leader and premier.

Mr. Jean has criticized Mr. Kenney’s performance on multiple files and has suggested the Premier’s top-down approach to government was causing Albertans to ditch the UCP in droves.

The Jean fight is one of two brush fires Mr. Kenney is trying to put out while working to improve his low popularity numbers and boost party fundraising that lags well behind the NDP.

On April 9, party members are to gather in Red Deer, Alta., to vote on Mr. Kenney’s leadership. The vote was originally supposed to happen this fall, but Mr. Kenney agreed to move it up to tamp down growing discontent within caucus over his job performance.

Mr. Kenney has framed the vote not as a referendum on his performance, but as important to repel fringe elements threatening the stability, core ideology and achievements of his party and government.

“There will be an effort obviously by many of the folks involved in these [COVID-19] protests – who perhaps have never belonged to a party before – to show up at that special general meeting to use it as a platform for their anger about COVID measures over the past two years,” he said Monday.

“So it’s incumbent on mainstream Alberta conservatives to also show up in large numbers to send a message about the importance of stability and maintaining a big-tent mainstream coalition for the interests of the future of the province.”

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.