Summer of campaigning set to kick off as Alberta legislature wraps spring session

Albertans best prepare for a lengthy summer of campaigning after the spring sitting of the legislature wrapped on Thursday.

Cabinet ministers and backbenchers are bounding out of the chamber and into the barbecue circuit as the United Conservative Party prepares for a leadership race to replace outgoing Premier Jason Kenney.

It’s also the last summer before the next scheduled provincial election date in May 2023.

Finance minister and rumoured UCP leadership contender Travis Toews said Thursday he’d like to see the party’s rules for the contest before making a decision to run.

“If there’s going to be an announcement, you’ll be the first to know,” he told reporters Thursday.

Other ministers contemplating a run include Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz and Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney.

“I appreciate all the interest in the leadership race that’s going to ensue,” Toews said. “I think that can be good for the movement. Good for the party. Good for the province.”

Government House leader and Environment Minister Jason Nixon said he doesn’t want to run for the leadership because he’d like to spend more time with his kids.

However, as one of the people instrumental in merging the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties to form the UCP in 2017, Nixon said he would feel compelled to put his name forward, should no one else enter the contest who he thinks can keep the party glued together.

“One of the things that has disappointed me the most over the last couple years is that some of this has become about individuals’ egos,” Nixon said. “And the moment this becomes about your ego, you should get out of this business and go back into something else.”

Former Opposition Wildrose Party leader and media personality Danielle Smith has said she’ll be running in the leadership race, as has another former Wildrose and Opposition leader, Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA Brian Jean.

Sparring over perceived successes

The spring legislative session started in February with Toews tabling a plan for a balanced budget buoyed by high oil and gas prices.

Although oil revenue may be sloshing into provincial coffers, those high prices are a double-edged sword that have driven up the costs of living and delivering public services.

Among the legislation passed this sitting was a bill that enables the government to disperse utility rebates on consumers’ bills. 

The province also paused collection of the provincial fuel tax until at least July in an attempt to shave down gas and diesel prices.

Among the most contentious legislation to pass this spring was Bill 15, which will cleave the responsibility of disciplining errant teachers away from the Alberta Teachers’ Association and create a new commissioner to do it, under the eye of the education minister.

Meanwhile, the Opposition said the government had done nowhere near enough to tackle a consumer affordability crisis in the province.

Provincial data pegs the year-over-year consumer price index in April 2022 at 6.3 per cent, with energy and transportation as major drivers of escalating costs.

Opposition House leader Christina Gray, left, says the UCP government didn’t do enough to help Albertans with rising costs during the spring 2022 legislative session. She and energy critic Kathleen Ganley, right, told reporters on Thursday they’ve received copies of utility bills from hundreds of Albertans who say they cannot afford those rising costs. (Janet French/CBC)

Opposition House leader Christina Gray said UCP members have been consumed by infighting, including calls from backbenchers for Kenney to step down.

“Who sits in the premier’s seat, which of these UCP MLAs, does not make a material difference when they are not solving the challenges families are facing with the cost of everything going up,” she said.

A mail-in ballot leadership review found 51.4 per cent of party members supported the premier. After the result was revealed last week, Kenney said he would resign once the party had chosen a new leader.

Party spokesperson Dave Prisco said Thursday the UCP is appointing a leadership election committee who will set the rules and timeline for the leadership race.

The fall sitting of the legislature is scheduled to begin on October 31.

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