Paul Tuns:

Jason Kenney announced in May he would resign as leader of the United Conservative Party of Alberta, forcing a leadership election to replace him and choose a new premier ahead of next year’s provincial election. Kenney had won 51.4 per cent in a leadership review but immediately announced he would vacate the leadership once the party chose a new leader; the UCP caucus affirmed he would remain leader until his replacement was chosen by the party’s membership.

There are six approved candidates: former minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Aheer; former MP and Wildrose leader Brian Jean; independent MLA for Central Peace-Notley Todd Loewen, who was kicked out of the UCP caucus for criticizing the government’s response to Covid; Minister of Transportation Rajan Sawhney; Minister of Children’s Services Rebecca Schulz; former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith; Finance Minister Travis Toews.

In 2017, Jason Kenney and Brian Jean united the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta and the Wildrose Party in an effort to end the vote-splitting on the right that led to the NDP government of Rachel Notley.

Jean had a pro-life voting record as a federal MP but abandoned his social conservatism when he became leader of the Wildrose. Aheer, Sawhney, Schulz, and Smith are social liberals on life and family issues, with Aheer regularly participating in pride parades. Toews calls himself pro-life and is supported by numerous provincial and federal pro-life elected officials including MLA Dan Williams and MP Arnold Viersen, but has said he will not alter the status quo on abortion; in a statement released to the media he said, “My personal views would put me in the pro-life camp on that issue, but I have no intention or agenda on limiting access to health care with respect to abortion.”

Aheer called the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the U.S., “devastating on so many levels” in a Twitter video and said, “We, as elected officials, must protect women’s rights locally, nationally and internationally.” Schulz said in a statement, “As a woman, I believe all women should have the freedom to choose and have access to the health care services they need. Under a Schulz government this will not change.” Smith told CTV that “I am pro-choice” on both abortion and vaccines.

Campaign Life Coalition had not completed its voter’s guide for the UCP leadership when The Interim went to press but it has decided it would green-light Loewen who issued a strong pro-life and pro-parental rights’ statement.

Loewen said he “has a personal conviction for the pro-life message” and “believes in policies that support families and the raising of children.” He vowed to support “charities to assist women in crisis and take action to reduce barriers for adoption.” He also declared he has been “very clear and consistent that parents are the primary educators of their children,” and therefore, “public schools should be teaching core academic subjects while leaving families to guide their children in matters of ideology and values.”

Loewen said as leader he would “respect open nomination races and not interfere with the campaigns of candidates who hold pro-life stances” and promised that MLAs would be allowed to vote their conscience.

Loewen said his position is “a fair and reasonable way for the government to start respecting those with pro-life stances in Alberta.”

CLC’s director of political operations Jack Fonseca said of Loewen’s statement, “What a refreshing change from Jason Kenney,” who blocked socially conservative candidates, supported LGBQT ideology in schools, and blocked his caucus from opposing the NDP’s bubble zone law.

Fonseca said, “Loewen’s policies would help advance the cause of preborn human rights, and support parents in their God-given right to raise their children according to their own religious and moral beliefs.”

In mid-August Loewen sought to shore up support with pro-life party members, saying if he became premier he would enact conscience protection legislation modeled on Manitoba’s Bill 34, which CLC calls the gold standard for conscience protection in Canada.

On August 18, Loewen reasserted his pro-life beliefs in a Facebook Live video, calling himself “definitely pro-life” as he lamented the number of abortions committed in Canada: “Across Canada we have about 100,000 abortions a year being performed and we have about 500 newborn adoptions happening across Canada a year, and so … we need to be able to support mothers in crisis. We need to be able to make sure they have the supports that they need.” He also criticized the anti-free speech bubble zone in Alberta that outlaws peaceful pro-life witnessing near abortion facilities and vowed to review the law.

Polling in leadership races is notoriously difficult, but the conventional wisdom and limited number of public polls suggest that Smith is pulling away from Jean and Toews.

CLC national president Jeff Gunnarson told The Interim that it is important to support Loewen to “send a signal to the new leader that pro-life Albertans are an important part of the United Conservative Party.”

Mail-in voting begins Sept. 2 for those who were members in good standing as of August 12, and the deadline for the party to receive ballots is Oct. 3. The new leader will be announced Oct. 6.