3 UCP leadership candidates go head-to-head in debate hosted by pro-independence group

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Brian Jean, Danielle Smith and Todd Loewen debate in a UCP leadership forum Thursday.  (Alberta Prosperity Project - image credit)
Brian Jean, Danielle Smith and Todd Loewen debate in a UCP leadership forum Thursday. (Alberta Prosperity Project - image credit)

A United Conservative Party leadership debate Thursday co-hosted by a pro-independence group saw three candidates spar over provincial autonomy, equalization and the province's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tensions rose when two UCP candidates announced they would fire the board of Alberta Health Services as "reconciliation" for COVID-19.

Danielle Smith, Todd Loewen and Brian Jean all attended the forum Thursday night, which was hosted by Rebel News, a right-wing media group, and the pro-independence Alberta Prosperity Project.

When the candidates were asked about a hypothetical reconciliation process for the impact so the pandemic, Smith was quick to reply.

"The first thing would be firing the board of AHS and firing the board of the College of Physicians and Surgeons," she said.

"They've been lawless and when you have lawless jurisdictions then you have to ask the provincial government who governs those bodies, you have to hold them to account."

Jean responded to her plan by saying "talk is cheap."

"Let's fire the board of AHS, the people who keep our families alive … They may get it wrong, but that's because the leadership was wrong," Jean said.

Loewen was not asked the same question, but had a response similar to Smith.

"AHS needs to be gutted and not just fire the board but the whole system," Lowen said, adding that "it's been failing Albertans for years, it's been a failed experiment."

Independence for Alberta

Some UCP leadership candidates chose not to attend Thursday's debate, due to the organizers promoting an independent Alberta.

In a joint statement earlier this week, Travis Toews and Rebecca Schulz said they wouldn't participate because it's a fundraising event "in support of a third-party advocacy group that supports an independent Alberta."

They also expressed concern with a plan laid out on the APP's website to set up a competing political party with constituency associations.

The topic of provincial autonomy and sovereignty was addressed several times during the debate.

Loewen was broadly supportive of the province having more autonomy and said Alberta needs to negotiate with Ottawa from a position of power.

Jean has said he'd fight for autonomy for Alberta though he did not support independence.

Smith took several opportunities to promote her ideas relating to provincial autonomy and her proposed Alberta Sovereignty Act.

"I'm supportive of the Alberta Sovereignty Act. I would go much further than the fair deal panel and I would take back control over every single area of constitutional jurisdiction that Alberta has under Section 92 through 95 of the Constitution," Smith said.

Jean called the act impractical.

"The only way forward is to make sure that we do whatever we can to get as much autonomy as we can. The sovereignty act is a fake and you may not like that, but it's true. Here we are arguing about something that hasn't been written yet," Jean said.

UCP members will choose the next party leader in October.