United Conservative Party MPs are meeting in Calgary today to plan next steps after Premier Jason Kenney announced his intention to step down as leader of the party.
On Wednesday evening, Kenney said he had asked the party to call a leadership race after winning just over a majority of votes in a party leadership review.
As UCP MPs made their way to the McDougall Center on Thursday morning, many said they were unsure whether they would be asked to choose an interim party leader – and a new prime minister.
“The healing process cannot begin until Jason Kenney leaves,” said Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MPP Brian Jean, who is aiming to become the party’s new permanent leader. “He knows it. We know it. And we have to start the process of renewing the UCP.”
Others who publicly express no leadership aspirations have said they also hope to select an interim leader immediately.
“We need to rebuild trust with Albertans and today will be our first step in doing that,” said MPP Peter Guthrie, who had previously called on Kenney to step down.
Guthrie said the party needed an interim leader to regain public trust.
MP Leela Aheer said selecting an interim leader is the “most imperative next step”.
“It really is a great day for hope,” said Aheer, who also called for Kenney’s resignation. “I think the one thing most of us wanted was to be able to have a leadership race and engage with our audience and win back their trust and be with people.”
Party members and constituency associations disenchanted with Kenney’s leadership style and public health restrictions related to COVID-19 had pushed since 2020 for an earlier review of the leadership.
Kenney’s critics pointed to Rachel Notley’s NDP leading in most public opinion polls over the past 18 months, saying the UCP needed to find a new leader to be ready for the general election due in May 2023.
After a contentious mail-in ballot process, the party announced Wednesday night that Kenney had the support of 51.4% of the 34,298 party members whose ballots were counted.
Kenney said that term was not resounding enough to stay on as party leader.
Kenney could run in any party leadership race and has not ruled that out yet.
MPs who have previously said they support the Prime Minister said they were surprised both at the outcome and at the Prime Minister’s announcement.
Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland MP Shane Getson described as gracious, noble and admirable for Kenney to put the interests of the party before his own.
Jeremy Nixon, who represents Calgary-Klein, has not ruled out interest in the party’s interim or permanent leadership.
Independent MP Drew Barnes, who was kicked out of caucus a year ago for speaking out publicly against the leader, said he was open to joining the UCP caucus – but only after Kenney was more at the helm.
“The most important thing today is for Jason Kenney to leave – for Jason Kenney to follow through on what he said last night when he made it clear he didn’t have the mandate and the respect for Albertans,” Barnes said.
MPs said they were unsure how long they would meet on Thursday or what decisions about the future of the party they would make today.
Leadership hopes are already circling
Also on Thursday morning, former Wildrose party leader Danielle Smith reiterated her intention to run for party leader.
Smith said she plans to run for the UCP nomination in the Livingstone-McLeod constituency, which includes her home in High River.
Smith said she wants to see in-person polling places across the province for the leadership race and hopes it will be a packed group of fresh and experienced candidates.
Many political observers remember – and are still angry at – Smith when she and eight other Wild Rose MPs marched through the Legislative Assembly in 2014 to join Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives.
“It’s very clear that Jim and I made a big mistake in how we tried to bring the conservative movement together,” Smith told reporters during a virtual press conference Thursday morning.
Smith said she has evolved and grown over the past eight years, and hopes voters will judge her on her current outlook, not her past.
She described herself as a traditional conservative and also said she would like to find ways to grant amnesty or suspend prosecution of people and companies who have been prosecuted for breaking related public health laws. to the COVID-19 pandemic.