Possible contenders for UCP leader waste little time after Kenney resignation

Even as the smoke cleared from the shocking resignation of Jason Kenney Wednesday evening, several of his challengers were sending out Zoom invites amid hints of leadership campaigns to replace him.

Most prominently, former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith's office announced in an email that she will be speaking about the latest surprise twist in UCP leadership Thursday.

“I would like to thank Premier Jason Kenney for his commitment to public service and for his historic contribution to uniting the right in Alberta," Smith said.

“The result we have witnessed today is a truly grassroots resolution. The membership of the United Conservative Party is hungry for a leader that will be responsive and fight for the interests of Alberta.

“I will be holding a Press Conference tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. on Zoom. For my full statement and to have any questions answered about my path going forward, please tune in.”

Earlier, on April 1, Smith announced that she would seek the UCP nomination in the Livingstone-Macleod riding.

At that time, she indicated that she would be interested in running for the party's  top seat should it become vacated by Kenney.

"If (members) want to go to a leadership contest, then I will put my name in that," she said. "I would be quite delighted to represent the people of this province in that capacity."

Smith is the former leader of the Wildrose Party who left the opposition in 2014 to cross the floor to the governing Progressive Conservatives. 

The next year, Smith lost her bid for the PC nomination in Highwood. 

She then turned her attention to a daily radio show, which ended in January 2021. 

The current UCP MLA in the Livingstone-Macleod riding is Roger Reid.

'THE MEMBERS HAVE SPOKEN': BRIAN JEAN

Another candidate is likely to be Brian Jean.

The former Wild Rose Party leader, who recently got back into the political ring, winning the UCP nomination for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, issued a statement saying as much Wednesday, following Kenney's announcement.

"The members have spoken," he said. "UCP members from all over Alberta have made it clear that they reject divisive and autocratic leadership. They want a United Conservative Party that listens, that consults, and that thoughtfully implements practical and effective conservative policies that will benefit all Albertans.

"They want the UCP to be what it was meant to be, a party that can hold the support and goodwill of all types of conservatives and that can successfully fight off the bad anti-freedom and anti-prosperity ideas of Notley's NDP.

"In the next several days I expect the party will announce a leadership race, and I intend to put my name forward and to campaign on a series of ideas and approaches that will renew the United Conservative Party. 

Jean previously led the Wildrose Party from 2015 to 2017 before it was merged into the UCP in 2017, where he lost a contentious battle for the leadership of the new party to Kenney.

Jean served as a Conservative MP in Ottawa from 2004 to 2014, prior to entering provincial politics.

Mount Royal University political science professor Lori Williams also weighed in on possible leadership candidates. "We're probably going to see a few cabinet ministers (run)," she said. "I would say Travis Toews, (and) I think Doug Schweitzer will probably run.

"Those are the top two off the top," she added. "Lots of people are speculating Rona Ambrose, who might have the kind of clout necessary to unite this deeply divided party."

With files from Timm Bruch and CTV News Edmonton's Sean Amato and Chelan Skulski