Most hopeful leaders of the UCP in Alberta agree that the province needs to assert itself against Ottawa, but disagree on how far they want to push it.
A Thursday night panel featuring seven of the eight candidates who have declared their intention to become prime minister was hosted by the Free Alberta Strategy, which launched its proposals last September, including ideas dating back to the 2001 Firewall letter and the Fair Deal panel. of the UCP government in 2019, such as setting up a provincial police force and retirement plan in Alberta.
The strategy requires Alberta to declare itself a sovereign jurisdiction within Canada that can replace federal law if it is not in Alberta’s best interests with an Alberta Sovereignty Act.
Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith touted an aggressive stance that she said would follow Quebec’s lead, pledging to pass the sovereignty bill in the legislature if elected prime minister this fall.
However, former community and social services minister Rajan Sawhney, former children’s services minister Rebecca Schulz, UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche Brian Jean and former treasury secretary Travis Toews said they are against it.
“If you tell people to ignore laws, it’s a slippery slope,” Jean said.
Toews reiterated that he fears it would create chaos and deter investors.
UCP MLA for Chestermere-Strathmore Leela Aheer focused on building relationships and collaboration, including with other like-minded counties.
“If I were to consider my first bill, this wouldn’t be it,” she said, adding that she would instead immediately focus on helping vulnerable Albertans.
Independent MLA for Central Peace-Notley Todd Loewen didn’t dismiss the idea, but said the county should focus on what it can do first, such as collecting income taxes and setting up its own retirement plan.
Many candidates pointed to victories under the UCP government but said they would have liked to see more progress on the dossier.
Sawhney said the UCP government put forward an equalization referendum last fall, but has not made much progress since.
“Our government made a lot of noise about federal relations, but we didn’t get much done. It’s time to move on,” Sawhney said.
Pointing to her track record, Schulz landed a $3.8 billion childcare deal with Ottawa.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I think there’s a lot of positive work going on,” she said.
Jean, who has pledged to push for constitutional negotiations over the equalization program, said Prime Minister Jason Kenney’s government made the equalization referendum “a fraud” by failing to act according to its mandate.
Jean reiterated that the only way Alberta will “get our fair share of the money back” is to return to the table on constitutional negotiations, and like Schulz, he dismissed the idea of collecting income taxes provincially as unnecessary bureaucracy.
Thursday’s panel came after Michelle Rempel Garner, federal Conservative MP for Calgary Nose Hill, who had been considering a bid, announced she would not seek UCP leadership, citing division and uncertainty within the party’s caucus.
“Many of the conversations I’ve had while exploring this opportunity, public messages confirm that there is a clear division,” Rempel Garner said in a blog post that also outlined why she would be a strong candidate.
“That is, those who do not want the former leadership team to maintain any grip on power and those who are part of the former leadership team and want to fully maintain the status quo. Neither view is tenable. The public has no sympathy for it either.”
Earlier this week, Rempel Garner had applied for and been granted an exemption from participating in the leadership race after her UCP membership expired and she failed to meet the requirement to be a party member six months prior to the July deadline. Rempel Garner said Thursday that the caucus discussion about getting that exemption validated “consumptions about what I would expect from caucus if I became a leader.”
Opposition leader Rachel Notley said at a news conference Thursday that Rempel Garner’s statement from Albertans shows that the UCP cannot be trusted to stay focused on the challenges Albertans face.
“Affordability, health care, improving our education system, these are the things they need to focus on and her statement contains incredibly revealing descriptions of how that’s not what Albertans can count on from the UCP,” Notley said.