EDMONTON—Those who have declared their intention to replace Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party — and premier — are to take part in a panel Thursday night hosted by a group pushing for Alberta to become “a sovereign jurisdiction within Canada.”

It’s the first time the official candidates — all vying to become party leader on Oct. 6 — will be together debating the future of a province that’s been in political turmoil for more than a year, upheaval that led Kenney to announce he would be stepping down .

Three recently candidates stepped down as cabinet ministers in order to run: Travis Toews, Rebecca Schulz and Rajan Sawhney. Two former Wildrose party leaders, Danielle Smith and Brian Jean, are also expected to attend, along with Independent MLA Todd Loewen, who was turfed from the UCP caucus after criticizing Kenney, and Leela Aheer, who was a minister before being demoted to the UCP backbench after doing the same.

“We are at a critical juncture in Alberta politics and it’s vitally important that Alberta’s next premier is ready to fight for Alberta’s interests and stand up to Ottawa,” the notice for the event says on the Free Alberta Strategy website.

The virtual panel discussion, hosted by former Alberta MLA Rob Anderson, will run for two hours beginning at 7 pm local time.

Launched by the Alberta Institute, a think-tank, the Free Alberta Strategy trumpets policy ideas such as enacting legislation that would allow the province to refuse to enforce federal laws if they “unfairly attack the interests of Alberta’s people.”

It also wants to see the province set up a provincial police force, end equalization payments, and establish a provincial pension plan as well as Alberta unemployment insurance.

One candidate, Smith, has already said she would bring in legislation that would, somehow, allow Alberta to ignore federal laws that are seen as “an attack on Alberta’s interests or our provincial rights.”

“I’m sure we can all agree, we need less Ottawa in our lives,” she said in a news release last week.

Smith has also pledged that if she were premier, Alberta would “never lock down again,” an apparent reference to COVID-19 restrictions brought in by Kenney.

Kenney faced significant criticism over his COVID response — both from those who thought his government had done too little and from those who felt like the restrictions had gone too far.

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