The three men vying for leadership of Alberta’s nascent United Conservative Party squared off in their fifth and final debate Oct. 17 in Lethbridge.
Brian Jean, Jason Kenney and Doug Schweitzer talked turkey to party members in the final push to the UCP membership vote scheduled for Oct. 28.
There was no mention of agriculture at the debate. The candidates were focused on fiscal management, as well as on interprovincial trade, the future of pipelines from Alberta’s oilsands and regaining the “Alberta advantage” that candidates agreed had been undermined by the NDP government that won the last election.
Kenney, a former cabinet member in the Stephen Harper federal government, and Jean, leader of the Wildrose Party before it evolved into the UCP, garnered the most applause from the crowd of several hundred party members.
Schweitzer, a Calgary lawyer, acknowledged his comparative lack of political experience but noted the changing nature of politics.
“You hear a lot about experience on this stage, how long people have been in Ottawa, how much experience they have… but politics is changing right now,” he said.
“If it was about experience, Justin Trudeau would not be prime minister. Naheed Nenshi wouldn’t be mayor of Calgary. Don Iveson wouldn’t be mayor of Edmonton.”
Jean and Kenney both spoke about needed changes to provincial equalization payments in light of other provinces’ objections to pipeline projects including the recently mothballed Energy East plan.
“Folks, the Energy East pipeline was killed,” said Kenney.
“A $16-billion investment that would have created thousands of jobs, tens of millions of dollars of wealth for our country, that would realize the dream of energy independence. It was killed partly by opposition from politicians who benefit from billions of dollars of equalization that is generated in part by that energy industry.
“We are generous, but we are not suckers.”
Said Jean: “We need to hold the government to account on equalization payments,” noting the province needs a government “that always puts Albertans first.”
Jean emphasized his Alberta roots and his intentions to serve the province whether he wins or loses the leadership bid.
“I’m here because I want to make Alberta better for everybody,” he said. “This is not a stepping stone for me. I have always been there for Albertans.”
Kenney said the economy, “a fiscal train wreck,” will require a strong leader able to repair it.
“This will not be for the faint of heart and it will not be the time for on-the-job training,” he said, emphasizing his experience in various federal government portfolios.
The UCP reported Oct. 20 that 61,670 party members have registered for the leadership vote Oct. 28.
The next provincial election is scheduled for 2019.