Time for United Conservative Party of Alberta to focus on unity after leadership review

This column is the opinion of Michael Solberg, partner and co-owner of New West Public Affairs, a Calgary-based government and public relations firm. For more information on CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

The post-mortems of Prime Minister Jason Kenney’s tenure as leader of the United Conservative Party have been written.

The same goes for analyzes of what went wrong that led to Kenney winning 51.4% of the vote in the party leadership review, which party members hope will effectively put an end to 18 months of unrest within the party and within its caucus.

Now the Alberta Conservatives must look to the future and focus on what the UCP needs to do to keep the coalition going, turn the page and win the next election.

Kenney will play a big part in what happens next.

The intervening period between his resignation and the selection of a permanent leader must be devoted to healing the division within the party, its members and its caucus.

This includes Kenney doing a very important thing: welcoming MPs Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes to the caucus.

They were expelled from the government caucus last May via a secret ballot by their caucus colleagues over allegations that they have split the party and undermined government leadership.

However, in the spirit of closure and party unity, they must be presented with a path to redemption.

It will no doubt be an uncomfortable conversation, but Kenney should offer them the option of joining the UCP after consultation with their former caucus colleagues.

Assuming the caucus wants them back, the move would go a long way to uniting the party in all corners of the province and it addresses some of the more vocal points of contention within the caucus.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced last week that he would tender his resignation as leader of the United Conservative Party even after receiving 51.4% of the party’s support in a leadership vote. . (Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press)

Kenney must also continue the important work of preparing for the election.

The leadership review largely interrupted this process.

While its members may have been divided over his continued leadership of the party, few would deny Kenney’s campaign prowess and as long as he remains leader they should take full advantage of his fundraising and organizing ability in the face of a united and well-funded NDP opposition. .

The party has little choice — the general election is now a year away. There’s no time to lose.

The potential leadership race, which has already begun for former Wildrose executives Danielle Smith and Brian Jean, is both a risk and an opportunity for the party.

On the one hand, electing a new party leader is a giveaway as candidates travel the province presenting their Conservative vision for the party, selling memberships, raising funds, recruiting volunteers and collectively building a profile for the party in power. .

A UCP delegate wears an “I Stand With Jason Kenney” button at the party’s AGM in Calgary late last year. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC)

On the other hand, if they resemble their colleagues in the federal Conservative Party leadership race, they will most likely launch themselves from the dirt and fire Scud missiles at each other, which risks further exacerbating divisions within party.

We know that Doug Schweitzer, the former UCP leadership candidate and prominent Alberta cabinet minister, will not participate in the race. He also decided not to stand in the next elections.

Schweitzer has long been a mainstay for moderate conservatives, an electoral bloc that would-be leaders will have to woo, not just in the upcoming leadership race, but in the impending general election, if they are successful.

We know there are voices that can speak to the staunch right of the party, but who can also speak to the moderates – many of whom find themselves on the Calgary election battleground?

As a member of the UCP, let me be among the first to say that I will demand a high bar for speech, civility and for focusing on the issues, most importantly how a new leader would ensure the coalition stays together and maintains its appeal as one big tent party.

Kenney was unable to do so and it remains a daunting task for anyone – but the UCP cannot be a wounded party on the eve of the next election if it expects to be re-elected.

That said, the next UCP leader inherits a wealth of political opportunities.

Some survey suggests a new leader would fare better than Kenney in the next election; a potential cautionary tale of “be careful what you wish for” if you’re an NDP supporter.

The economic growth trend line is also on the side of the UCP.

Jason Kenney steps down as UCP director

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced his resignation as leader of the UCP on Wednesday after narrowly winning a leadership review.

The Conference Board of Canada has predicted that Alberta will lead the country in economic growth this year and nextwith Alberta Central saying late last summer that the economy could even exceeds its 2014 peak.

The UCP tabled and passed the 2022 budget in February, which was the first balanced budget in Alberta in eight years.

High prices for energy products and other key commodities could mean a large surplus in the 2023 budget.

This means more money for schools, hospitals, bridges, roads, auditoriums and municipalities – all good things for a government seeking re-election.

The UCP board will set up a leadership election organizing committee this week to select the timing, entry requirements and voting process for the eventual leadership race and the days and weeks to come will indicate what this final ballot will look like.

The decisions the party, its caucus and its members make now and in the fall will ultimately decide the fate of the party – but while there are many hurdles to overcome, the UCP remains a brand full of political opportunities.

The 2023 election will be a war, but count the UCP at your peril.

Do you have a strong opinion that could add insight, shed light on an issue in the news, or change the way people think about an issue? We want to hear from you. Here is how to introduce ourselves.

Joseph K. Bennett