Jason Kenney says his United Conservative Party is on track to defeat the NDP's "job-killing, socialist government" in Alberta's 2019 election, after a resounding victory in a provincial byelection gives him a legislative seat to directly take on Premier Rachel Notley.
The former federal cabinet minister defeated two other provincial party leaders and four other candidates in the Calgary-Lougheed byelection Thursday night, taking more than 70 per cent of the vote.
Kenney's seat in the legislature will let him go head to head with Notley for a year in the runup to 2019's provincial vote.
"Tonight sends a clear message that we are united, that we are stronger together and that if we stay humble and work hard, we are on track to defeat this job-killing, socialist government and to renew Alberta as a place of opportunity," Kenney told a cheering crowd at his Calgary-Lougheed byelection headquarters.
Notley congratulated him on social media Thursday night by tweeting, "I look forward to debating you in the House."
NDP candidate Phillip van der Merwe came in second with 16 per cent. Alberta Liberal Party Leader David Khan took third with just under 10 per cent of the vote and Green Party Leader Romy Tittel picked up 60 votes, less than one per cent.
Reform Party candidate Lauren Thorsteinson racked up 137 votes while Independents Wayne Leslie and Larry Heather took 42 and 22, respectively.
Win hailed as proof that uniting conservatives was right move
Anthony Sayers, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, says the next step for Kenney will be to unify his caucus — a task that might be easier said than done in the new, unified conservative party.
"There are bruised egos, and egos, and historically quite big differences in the political preferences of the people currently in caucus," he said.
Sayers called Kenney's resounding win a "proof of concept moment" — evidence that it was the right move to unite the right into one conservative party.
Byelection marks Kenney's fourth big victory in 9 months
It's the fourth big victory in less than a year for Kenney, a long-time Calgary Conservative MP and cabinet minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper.
He left federal politics last year on a mission to oust Rachel Notley's NDP government by dissolving the Progressive Conservatives and merging with the Wildrose to unite Alberta conservatives.
In March, he won leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party in the first ballot in what some PCs decried as a hostile takeover.
Then in July, his vision become reality when 95 per cent of Alberta Wildrose and Progressive Conservative Party members voted in favour of ratifying an agreement to join forces and form the new United Conservative Party.
On Oct. 28, Kenney was elected leader of the UCP with 61.1 per cent of the vote, compared to 31.5 per cent for top rival and former Wildrose leader Brian Jean.
Riding has been held by conservative since its creation
The historically conservative Calgary-Lougheed riding has been held by a member of the Progressive Conservative Party since it was created in 1993.
It became vacant when MLA Dave Rodney stepped down to allow Kenney a chance to run for the provincial seat.
Elections Alberta used automated vote tabulators for the first time in the province for this byelection.
The new technology meant the final tally was revealed less than an hour after the polls closed.
Only 35% of voters turned out
Unofficial numbers from Elections Alberta show 10,852 people voted in the byelection — just over 35 per cent of Calgary-Lougheed's 30,023 registered electors.
That's down from the 51 per cent voter turnout in the 2015 election.
Van der Merwe said with voter turnout being so low, he doesn't see Thursday's contest as a victory or a loss.
"The voter turnout was around 30 per cent, which still tells me that there's so many voters out there that are disengaged, disenfranchised and not engaging in the process of democracy, and that concerns me," he said.
The Alberta Liberal's nine per cent of the vote was an increase from the 2015 general provincial election, where the party's candidate, Leila Keith, got only 4.8 per cent of the overall vote.
Khan said the turnout makes him optimistic about the party's future.
"We really increased our vote share from 2015, so it's showing that we've got momentum and we're building this party and building to 2019," Khan said.
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