Brian Jean in 2016, when he was leader of the Wildrose Party. Credit: Brian Jean / Flickr Credit: Brian Jean / Flickr

With Brian Jean as the United Conservative Party’s candidate in the still unscheduled by-election in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, there will be no one running who supports Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

In addition to Jean, who makes no bones about the fact he intends to try to replace Kenney as UCP leader, voters in the riding will get to choose from a field of candidates who all say, one way or another, that the premier must go.

With a storyline like that, who wouldn’t want to be a fully-vaccinated fly on the wall at Kenney’s upcoming three-household holiday dinner, not to mention the next meeting of the Kenney Cabinet?

There seems to be no question the former Wildrose Party leader and Kenney’s principal rival to lead the UCP back in 2017 had decisively won the nomination vote after the count showed him sweeping aside economist Joshua Gogo, the candidate favoured by Premier Kenney’s supporters, by 529 votes to 250.

By early this morning, though, there was still no announcement of the vote results from the UCP. Maybe there never will be.

Since there’s no way Kenney can be happy about the selection of a would-be rival for a job he intends to keep, and because the premier has a history of aggressive campaign practices that have impacted Jean directly, the successful candidate may have felt he had no choice but to make the outcome of the vote public as quickly as possible. 

With the word out there he had scored a decisive 68-per-cent victory it is now pretty hard for anyone to cook up a narrative to justify overturning the vote. That said, Kenney could still refuse to sign his nomination papers. 

Whatever the reason, Jean immediately announced his victory on Facebook. “The members of Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche have given me a mandate to push for renewal of the UCP and I expect that soon my constituents will give me a mandate get Alberta back on track,” he said. 

“We got a very good result in Fort McMurray-LLB and now I will travel the province trying to get the UCP enthusiasm in every part of the province up to the same level as Fort McMurray,” his statement continued. “I will also travel my riding campaigning against the NDP who don’t have the right solutions for Alberta.”

At the moment, it would seem, Albertans might not agree with him on that point. A recent Leger poll suggested that while Jean may have a marginal lead over Kenney in the number of Albertans who are likely to support either of them in an election, a small majority of Albertans say they would not vote for the UCP under any circumstances. 

The scion of a well-known Fort McMurray business family who represented the region as Member of Parliament from 2004 to 2014, Jean seems to have enjoyed a clear advantage with local Conservatives in the northern Alberta oil sands servicing centre. 

Given Kenney’s low personal approval rate — shown by other polls to be barely above 20 per cent — it probably didn’t hurt that Jean has been openly campaigning to replace the premier, and to give him the bum’s rush if need be. He had said that if he didn’t win the nomination fight on his home turf, he’d run as an Independent.

The fact he resigned his seat in March 2018 after losing the 2017 leadership race doesn’t seem to have bothered UCP members in the riding either. Jean has said that he quit after the premier didn’t talk to him for four months. Kenney says that isn’t true, and that he offered him a senior, front-bench role in the caucus. 

Nor was there apparently much damage when Jean stirred up controversy with a social media post that accused Kenney’s supporters of “pushing a Nigerian economist who lives in Fort McMurray,” a reference to Gogo. Jean apologized and said the post was written by a staffer

If Jean can now manage to get elected whenever the by-election is called, he’ll obviously be in a place to do much more damage to Premier Kenney from inside the caucus. 

Minutes after 7 p.m., NDP candidate Ariana Mancini icongratulated Jean, but with an important qualifier. “Mr. Jean has made it clear, even this evening, that he is running because of his rivalry with Jason Kenney,” she said in a statement emailed to media. “I am running for the people of Fort McMurray and Lac La Biche.

“UCP MLAs haven’t delivered for our region,” she added. “I am focused on job creation, improving public health care, protecting public education, protecting our community from flood and fire, and ensuring we have reliable EMS.”

Deteriorating ambulance service in and around Fort Mac has been a hot issue in the region for months. 

In addition to Mancini, a Grade 4 teacher at Ecole Dickinsfield in the Fort McMurray Public School Division, Wildrose Independence Party Leader Paul Hinman has indicated he plans to run in the by-election. 

Back in September when Jean was rumoured to be seeking the leadership of the Alberta Party, the party acclaimed former Brooks mayor Barry Morishita, so maybe he’ll want to throw his hat in the ring too

The riding has had no MLA since August, when former UCP MLA Laila Goodridge stepped down to run successfully for the Conservative Party of Canada in the Sept. 20 federal election. 

A date has never been set for the by-election, but that step will have to be taken by Valentine’s Day and the vote will need to be held in March.

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...