Mixed responses from UCP cabinet ministers on prospect of replacing Jason Kenney

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UCP cabinet ministers offered a variety of statements when asked if they would run to be leader on the Alberta legislature’s first day back since Premier Jason Kenney’s announcement he will resign.

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On Tuesday, ministers who stopped to speak with reporters on their way into the house said either they wouldn’t be running for premier and party leader, or stopped short of committing to it.

The waning days of the legislature sitting are likely to be Kenney’s last as premier, as his United Conservative Party prepares to hold a leadership race to replace him. So far, former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche Brian Jean are the only two candidates to declare their aspirations for the job.

Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney said she’s considering running for leader, but hasn’t made up her mind yet.

“I obviously have to speak to my family, to my constitution as well as Albertans across the province to see what they want to see in the next government,” she said.

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Finance Minister Travis Toews wouldn’t say, when asked, whether he will put his name on the ballot.

“There’s many details that have yet to be determined by the party and right now we’re focused on the business of the people,” said Toews.

Environment Minister Jason Nixon similarly said he’s focused on the UCP’s legislative agenda.

“In the coming days, I’ll be making decisions on what I think is best for the party, and make sure that we stay united and defeat the NDP in just over a year,” he said.

“I will see who’s coming forward and what the lay of the land is,” he said.

Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said he doesn’t have any leadership ambitions but said he will be running to keep his seat.

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro confirmed he plans to run in the next election, but “it’s never crossed my mind to run for the leader of any political party.”

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Health Minister Jason Copping said he’s “not considering running for leadership at this time.”

The ministers’ comments come after Kenney said Saturday during his weekly radio appearance that he will not run for the job, and won’t be stepping in to endorse any candidates.

On Monday, Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer announced he will not be seeking re-election in 2023, nor will he run for leadership of the party. Schweitzer, long-rumoured to be a potential candidate to replace Kenney, also ran for leadership of the party in 2017.

The UCP has yet to lay out the rules and timeline for a leadership contest, but sitting gOvernment ministers conventionally resign from their cabinet posts if they intend to run for leadership.

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NDP Leader Rachel Notley framed the UCP as a distracted government that’s been on “leadership campaign autopilot,” arguing it has lost support for its mandate. In question period, she continued to push Kenney to better address affordability issues and the crisis in the health-care system.

Kenney touted his government’s 13-cent gas tax holiday and a promised $150 electricity rebate, accusing the NDP of wanting to punish people for consuming energy with their support of a carbon tax.

Opposition finance critic Shannon Phillips took the opportunity to take a swing at Kenney’s impending resignation.

“(There is) all kinds of uncertainty in Alberta politics right now, but one constant is this premier’s self-importance. Anyway, enough about yesterday’s man,” said Phillips.

Government House Leader Nixon told reporters he still expects the sitting to wrap up this week. After that, the legislature is not scheduled to meet again until late October.

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