Here's a look at the 7 people running to lead the UCP — and the province

·6 min read
From left to right, Todd Loewen, Danielle Smith, Rajan Sawhney, Rebecca Schulz, Leela Aheer, Travis Toews and Brian Jean at the UCP leadership candidates' debate in Medicine Hat, Alta., in July 2022. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)
From left to right, Todd Loewen, Danielle Smith, Rajan Sawhney, Rebecca Schulz, Leela Aheer, Travis Toews and Brian Jean at the UCP leadership candidates' debate in Medicine Hat, Alta., in July 2022. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Alberta's United Conservative Party (UCP) is entering the final month of its leadership race, where just under 124,000 people are eligible to vote for the next party leader — who will then become premier of the province.

Seven people have put their names forward, secured the required signatures and paid the $175,000 fee to be recognized candidates. Mail-in ballots for the vote will be sent out at the end of this week.

The candidates range from former politicians to current MLAs. Here's a brief overview of the backgrounds and main policies of the people who want to be the next UCP leader.

Candidates are listed in alphabetical order

Leela Aheer

Aheer represents the riding of Chestermere-Strathmore in the legislature.

Janet French/CBC
Janet French/CBC

She was the former minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women (that portfolio has been divided now) until she was demoted from cabinet after publicly criticizing Premier Jason Kenney last year.

Prior to running for office in 2015, Aheer ran several family businesses. She also has a record of working on human rights issues in Alberta.

She recently was the target of what she says were deliberate political attacks, after her Facebook accounts were allegedly hacked and used to post explicit content of children.

Aheer's campaign has prioritized promoting transparency and integrity and promising to listen to Albertans to better reflect their priorities. She has also spoken about the need to reform the health-care system and shore up the economy.

You can read more about Aheer's proposed policies here.

Brian Jean

Jean serves as the MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche. He has been one of the most public critics of Kenney, including running as a UCP candidate while openly advocating for the leader to be turfed.

Jamie Malbeuf/CBC
Jamie Malbeuf/CBC

A lawyer from Fort McMurray, Jean became a member of parliament in 2004 and retired in 2014. His files included work as parliamentary secretary to several ministers of transportation.

He returned to provincial politics in 2015, becoming the last Wildrose leader before the merger that birthed the UCP — inking that deal with Kenney, who he later lost the leadership to in 2017.

Jean says he wants to force constitutional negotiations with Ottawa in a bid to get more autonomy for Albertans.

During the campaign, he has often repeated he wants to make Albertans happier, freer and more prosperous.

He has also talked about personal autonomy, including pushing back against mandatory vaccinations.

You can read more about Jean's proposed policies here.

Todd Loewen 

Loewen is the independent MLA for Central Peace-Notley. He was originally elected in 2015 under the UCP banner but was kicked out of caucus for what the party whip called divisive actions that added to the fractures in the party.

Todd Loewen/Facebook
Todd Loewen/Facebook

He had been extremely vocal and critical of Kenney and the government's decisions during COVID, saying those choices undermined the freedoms of Albertans. Loewen is a former UCP caucus chair and a small business owner.

He has recently received pushback for saying the federal government is implementing a fertilizer use cut of 30 per cent. In fact, the feds have said only that emissions intensity from fertilizer should be cut, with no mandatory reduction attached.

Loewen has often called for more transparency from the government, more autonomy from Ottawa, and is the lone supporter in the leadership race of candidate Danielle Smith's proposed Sovereignty Act.

He also is highlighting a pitch for democratic reform, including a written constitution for Alberta.

You can read more about Loewen's proposed policies here.

Rajan Sawhney

Sawhney is a former community and social services minister in the current government, and more recently was transportation minister.

Trevor Wilson/CBC
Trevor Wilson/CBC

She is the MLA for Calgary-North East, elected in 2019 in the majority government that swept the UCP into power.

Sawhney worked as a business executive and economist in the oil and gas sector for 20 years before entering politics

Her campaign policy priorities have included economic issues and energy policy.

She has also called for a public inquiry into the province's COVID-19 response and has been a sharp critic of Alberta separatism.

You can read more about Sawhney's proposed policies here.

Rebecca Schulz 

Schulz was a cabinet minister in the Kenney government, beginning in 2019 in her first elected term as the MLA for Calgary-Shaw.

Submitted by the Rebecca Schulz campaign
Submitted by the Rebecca Schulz campaign

Her time in the portfolio of children's services included negotiating a deal for child-care funding for the province in co-operation with the federal government's fee reduction proposal.

She started her work in politics in 2009 as a staff member in the Saskatchewan premier's office during Brad Wall's tenure.

After that, she moved with her family to Alberta. Rona Ambrose, a former interim leader of the federal Conservative Party, is chairing her campaign.

Schulz has pitched a 100-day action plan, if elected, that sets specifics for how the government would assert Alberta's rights on a national stage.

She has talked about the cost of living and health care frequently.

She has also focused her messaging on uniting the party, caucus and membership — following years of infighting within the UCP that eventually led to the resignation of Kenney.

You can read more about Schulz's proposed policies here.

Danielle Smith 

Smith was leader of the Wildrose Party from 2009 until 2014, when she crossed the floor and joined the Progressive Conservatives in government — the first time in Canadian history an opposition leader has joined government. She has since apologized for that decision.

Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press
Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press

In 2012, Smith led the polls in that year's election but was hit with controversies and ultimately lost to Alison Redford.

Before politics, she was in broadcasting, and returned to talk radio after her ouster from public office, followed by a stint as president of the Alberta Enterprise Group. Smith is widely perceived to be the front-runner at this point in the race.

She has drawn harsh criticism from her competitors for her flagship policy: the Alberta Sovereignty Act.

The legislation, which has not been drafted yet, would seek to have Alberta empowered to refuse to enforce federal laws and policies not deemed to be in the province's interests. Experts say legislation of this kind would be unconstitutional.

Smith's main messaging has been libertarian — focused on fighting what she deems overreach by the federal government, vowing to never return Alberta to the public health measures it saw during COVID-19 and restoring economic prosperity to the province.

You can read more about Smith's proposed policies here.

Travis Toews 

Toews, the MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti, is Alberta's most recent finance minister. He occupied that role from the election in 2019 until he resigned to run for leader.

Juris Graney/CBC
Juris Graney/CBC

Before entering politics, Toews worked as an accountant, led the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and ran an oil service company. He also owns a ranch in northern Alberta.

Toews has highlighted policies about affordability, pushing back against the federal government and bringing in systems (like a pension plan) that would make Alberta more independent in confederation.

He has been criticized for his role as a senior minister in government during the pandemic, as the province's response to the virus led to blowback from all sides of the political spectrum.

His campaign slogan has been about serious, stable leadership for the province. Toews has secured the most endorsements from the UCP caucus, but two recently switched their support to Smith.

You can read more about Toews' proposed policies here.