A photo of UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean addresses the media at his campaign launch last night.
UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean addresses the media at his campaign launch last night.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? That sure sounded like what former Wildrose Party leader and United Conservative Party (UCP) co-founder Brian Jean was promising Albertans June 16 as he launched the formal part of his campaign to take back leadership of the UCP from Premier Jason Kenney, whom he’s entitled to feel snatched the job from his hands in 2017.

There was some cautious rewording by his speechwriter, presumably, just in case some of the 150 or so folks who showed up at a modest west-side Edmonton Hotel to cheer on or check out his effort to at last become UCP leader recognized the familiar sentiments of the Declaration of Independence – the one signed south of the Medicine Line on July 4, 1776, that is.

So, life, autonomy, and the happiest place on earth, period, then – Disneyland not excluded and never mind having to pursue the darned dream!

“In the next several weeks, I’m going to champion ideas that ensure Albertans are the happiest, the healthiest, the most free and prosperous people in Canada and the world,” Jean ambitiously vowed. 

“Autonomy for Albertans is the central theme of this campaign,” he also intoned. “Personal autonomy, personal financial autonomy, professional autonomy, community autonomy, and Alberta’s greater autonomy within Canada.”

Well, at least he didn’t go overboard like that other former Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith, who is promising a blatantly unconstitutional “Alberta Sovereignty Act” that would try to seize federal powers outright. 

Aside from its American undertones – all pretty normal in conservative Alberta circles nowadays – Jean’s long-awaited campaign-launch speech was about what you’d expect: polished, but no surprises; with pro forma shots at Ottawa, the Sky Palacial arrogance and needless belligerence of the UCP’s current leadership, and Rachel Notley’s NDP.

As he usually does, Jean warned that another NDP government would be “disastrous,” but other than accusing the former government of “shrill anger,” he didn’t really explain why.

The event was well organized. The crowd was well-behaved – I’d say about two-thirds enthusiastic Brian Jean disciples and one-third there to suss him out. A majority had grey hair. 

If MLAs showing up to demonstrate their support is a measure of success, I noticed only two: Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul’s Dave Hansen and Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo’s Tany Yao, both former Wildrosers.  

Regardless of Jean’s prospects of victory, up to now his campaign has to be called a success.

He was the first and boldest potential candidate to call out Kenney’s lousy leadership.

He overcame the party establishment’s opposition to his candidacy in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election, which he handily won on March 15 after campaigning explicitly to depose and replace the premier. 

And it was his supporters who created the momentum to effectively defeat Kenney in his leadership ratification vote – which resulted in a technical victory of 51.4 per cent, which turned out to be the political equivalent of a technical knock-out. 

If it was Kenney’s plan after the result was announced in mid-May to somehow find a way to hang onto power, that seems increasingly unlikely – about the only role left for him is to try to tilt the playing field in favour of a candidate more palatable to his segment of the fragmented party, presumably former finance minister Travis Toews.

In addition to Jean, Toews and Smith, there are now four others registered as candidates with Elections Alberta: former deputy leader Leela Aheer, exiled Independent Todd Loewen, village mayor Bill Rock, and former children’s services minister Rebecca Schulz. In addition, former transportation minister Rajan Sawhney has launched her campaign, but is not yet found on Elections Alberta’s site. 

Last night, federal Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner took to Twitter to say “I can confirm that I am giving a provincial leadership bid serious consideration.” If you want to see what else she had to say, though, you can look her up yourself since, like a significant portion of Alberta’s population, your blogger has been blocked by the MP for Calgary Nose Hill. 

Rachel Notley promises to outline steps NDP will take to address volunteers’ complaints

In a statement emailed to members and supporters yesterday, Alberta Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said the Alberta NDP is addressing the controversy within the party and online about the treatment of volunteers by party staff. 

In the email, she promised this weekend to share and discuss the steps the party is taking to ensure “a safe, respectful, and welcoming environment for volunteers, for employees, and for all Albertans.” 

“It’s clear that in some cases we have fallen short of that commitment,” Notley said in the email.

“These conversations can be uncomfortable, but they are essential,” she said. “I am confident they will make our party stronger.”

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...