A photo of Alberta Jobs, Economy, and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer at a press conference in 2020.
Alberta Jobs, Economy, and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer at a press conference in 2020. Credit: Alberta Newsroom / Flickr

In a statement published on social media yesterday, Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer said he’s not going to seek the leadership of the United Conservative Party (UCP), and what’s more, he won’t even be seeking re-election as MLA for Calgary-Elbow.

Mr. Schwitzer was the third-place candidate in the 2017 leadership race won by Jason Kenney, so with the premier’s announcement on May 18 there was naturally some speculation he might give it another try.

“I have been truly honoured at the support  I have received for a potential candidacy,” he said in his statement

Now, when politicians make a decision to exit politics gracefully while they still can, as Mr. Schweitzer seems to be doing, they’re not likely to provide the real reason they’re pulling the plug on public life. Not, at least, until the dust has settled and they decide to write a tell-all memoir. 

In the meantime, we’re forced to speculate on why the Calgary lawyer has decided to get out. 

“After 8 years,” he said, “I am looking forward to spending more time with my family.” Such a statement, as we all understand, can be literally true and yet not be the entire reason, tempting us to try to read between the lines. 

The eight years Mr. Schweitzer mentioned, it must be noted, refer to his time playing an active role in the Progressive Conservative Party and the UCP, during part of which he worked on the late Jim Prentice’s leadership campaign. He has only been an MLA since 2019. 

The bulk of Mr. Schweitzer’s statement assigns credit to the work of the UCP for the state of the economy, describes the current state of affairs in Alberta as being copacetic, and claims that high-paying jobs and our “amazing quality of life” are attracting newcomers to Alberta in droves. None of this is really an accurate reflection of the facts, but it is entirely understandable political hyperbole of the sort engaged in at election time by politicians of all stripes. 

Mr. Schweitzer added, almost as an aside, that “to help ensure the continuity and stability of our government, my intention is to continue my work on the Alberta Economic Recovery Plan and remain in cabinet until a new leader is elected.” The reaction of most readers to this sentence, presumably, was, “Well, why wouldn’t you?”

There is no other mention in the statement of Jason Kenney, implicit or explicit, or the circumstances that led to his decision to announce his resignation as premier and UCP leader.

So what happened?

Mr. Schweitzer may have looked at the state in which Mr. Kenney has left the UCP and decided … not worth the effort! The party’s a wreck. 

He may have examined the auguries and realized his own re-election chances in Calgary-Elbow are slim. He won by a comfortable enough plurality in 2019, 44 per cent of the vote, defeating the incumbent, Greg Clark of the Alberta Party. 

With the Alberta Party now seemingly marginalized and a strong NDP candidate, energy analyst Samir Kayande, nominated to contest the riding, it’s possible Mr. Schweitzer did the math and concluded he didn’t need the humiliation of retiring from politics as a loser. 

Or, already having been skidded from the important Justice Ministry by Mr. Kenney, and given his current redundant portfolio, he may not have relished the idea of being consigned to the back benches by a future UCP leader – especially if those back benches happen to be on the opposition side of the Legislature while the NDP enjoys the perks of power, which is well within the realm of possibility.

Then there is the matter of whom he might have to work for if he didn’t hold the top job himself.

Jason Kenney, come back to political life, a latter-day Lazarus at the head of the Frankenparty he created in his own image? Now that Alberta’s sic transit gloria Kenney moment has been revealed to be a cruel joke, that has to be considered as a possibility. 

For his part, Mr. Kenney posted a cheerfully  pro forma tweet offering his best wishes to Mr. Schweitzer “in all that comes in the future.”

Brian Jean? Mr. Kenney’s nemesis posted a tweet telling Mr. Schweitzer that he’d like him to stick around and promising a cabinet post if he did. Needless to say, such a thing isn’t Mr. Jean’s to promise, and may never be.

Or – quelle horreur! – Danielle Smith? 

Yes, one can see why Mr. Schweitzer would want to make a dignified departure, even if he wasn’t going to have to face questions on the campaign trail about why he hired Steve Allen to head Mr. Kenney’s fatuous inquiry into “anti-Alberta energy campaigns,” not to mention the tangled story of how Mr. Allen then hired the law firm where Mr. Schweitzer once worked and the commissioner’s son still did. 

Or maybe he really does want to spend more time with his family.

Regardless,Mr. Schweitzer likely won’t be the last member of Mr. Kenney’s cabinet to decide that trying to get re-elected isn’t the wisest course of action. They’re all tarred with Mr. Kenney’s brush now.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the AlbertaPolitics.ca blog, 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....