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Then-Wildrose leader Brian Jean, left, and then-PC leader Jason Kenney announce a unity deal between the two in Edmonton on May 18, 2017. Today, Kenney is UCP leader, the premier of Alberta and the target of much criticism from Jean.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Former MP and United Conservative Party hopeful Brian Jean has apologized, after a weekend social-media post under his name highlighted the ethnicity of his opponent in a battle over a Northern Alberta riding.

Mr. Jean – who founded the UCP with current Premier Jason Kenney – has been deeply critical of Mr. Kenney’s leadership. He contends that Mr. Kenney has lost the trust of Albertans and has said he would like to be premier of the province.

To that end, he’s eyeing an upcoming by-election in the seat of Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche. The riding lost its UCP MLA, Laila Goodridge, when she jumped over to federal politics by winning Fort McMurray-Cold Lake in the recent election.

The weekend post on Mr. Jean’s LinkedIn page called on his supporters to buy a party membership, saying “there can only be one candidate for the seat,” and “Jason Kenney’s people don’t want it to be me.”

“They are pushing a Nigerian economist who lives in Fort McMurray,” said the post, referring to Mr. Jean’s opponent Joshua Gogo. The post was later removed.

But on Saturday, Mr. Gogo took to Facebook to criticize Mr. Jean for implying Mr. Gogo isn’t Albertan, nor part of the local community.

“My wife and I have spent our entire professional careers here. We love Fort McMurray, and we are proud to call it home,” Mr. Gogo wrote.

In a statement to The Globe and Mail, Mr. Jean said the LinkedIn post and its “unacceptable connotation” were made by a campaign volunteer.

“I called and texted Joshua Gogo and made a total and unreserved apology for the inappropriate comment. Not checking the work of the volunteer was an oversight on my part,” he said.

Mr. Jean added that he met with eight leaders of Fort McMurray’s Nigerian-Canadian community on Saturday night and apologized to them in person.

In a written statement, the national chair of the Association of Black Conservatives, Ako Ufodike, called Mr. Jean’s post “extremely disappointing,” adding such comments “are harmful and imply Albertans of various ethnicities are not real Albertans.” On Twitter, the Premier’s executive director of communications, Brock Harrison, called the post “really gross.”

Criticism of Mr. Jean comes less than a week before the UCP’s annual general meeting, taking place Nov. 19 to Nov. 21.

It’s likely to be a closely watched convention. Mr. Kenney is heading in as a deeply unpopular leader, even amongst some of his own MLAs. Gathering member and executive support there will be crucial for the Premier ahead of a leadership review slated for April.

There is no love lost between Mr. Jean and Mr. Kenney.

Mr. Jean has publicly called on the Premier to step down, and recently told the Calgary Sun that if Mr. Kenney values the party he helped create, “then he will recognize he isn’t the person to lead the UCP to success going forward.”

On Nov. 3, Mr. Jean announced his intention to seek the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche nomination, saying that “something must be done” to prevent Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley from winning the next election “with an overwhelming majority.”

Mr. Jean resigned as MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin in 2018, soon after he lost the UCP leadership to Mr. Kenney, his former federal Conservative Party colleague. That race is still under investigation by the RCMP.

Party nominations for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche opened Nov. 5. The order for the by-election must be issued by Feb. 15, 2022.

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