CALGARY — Former federal Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney is seeking to win a seat in the Alberta legislature today as leader of the province's newest party.
A byelection in Calgary Lougheed became necessary when Dave Rodney, a member of the United Conservatives, stepped aside to make room for a run by Kenney, who became leader of the party on Oct. 28.
Kenney was the architect of a merger between Alberta's two centre-right parties, the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose, and would like a seat in the house so he can go head to head with NDP Premier Rachel Notley before the 2019 provincial election.
He is one of seven candidates in the constituency, a sprawling community of palatial homes, multi-purpose dwellings and new neighbourhoods deep in the city's southwest. It has traditionally voted Conservative.
If it's close, it will show there's a whole lot more diversity in Alberta politics — a lot more than he wants to claim.Lori Williams, Mount Royal University
Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, expects Kenney to win, but suggests his victory needs to be convincing.
"If it's close, it will show there's a whole lot more diversity in Alberta politics — a lot more than he wants to claim," she said in the days before the vote.
"He says Alberta is a conservative province and the NDP somehow hoodwinked Albertans into voting for them. That narrative would just be decimated completely if he were to lose or if it is close."
Low voter turnout due to the holidays
Kenney said he has received a positive reception going door to door, but noted only about one-third of voters turn out for a byelection.
"I hope we can do better than that, but it's close to Christmas and people are busy at this time of year," he said.
"You quickly realize that a significant number of people don't spend any time thinking about politics."
Kenney is facing challenges from the NDP's Phillip van der Merwe, a medical doctor, Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan and new Green Party Leader Romy Tittel.
You quickly realize that a significant number of people don't spend any time thinking about politics.Jason Kenney
Rounding out the slate are Wayne Leslie of the Alberta Advantage Political Party Association, Lauren Thorsteinson from the Reform Party of Alberta and independent Larry Heather.
Khan, who is also looking for his first seat in the legislature, said he is the only real alternative to the United Conservatives and NDP.
"I'm a better choice than the regressive policies and deep austerity cuts that Kenney has in mind for the province and also the fiscal mismanagement of the NDP, which appears not to have a plan to tackle the deficit," Khan said.
Van der Merwe said he doesn't feel any extra pressure because the New Democrats are in government. He said he has received plenty of support from motivated volunteers and legislature members who have helped him campaign.