CALGARY — Former federal Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney threw down the gauntlet at Premier Rachel Notley late Thursday after an overwhelming byelection victory to earn a seat in the Alberta legislature.
"Tonight sends a clear message that we are united, that we are stronger together and that if we stay humble and we work hard we are on track to defeat this job killing socialist government and to renew Alberta as a place of opportunity," Kenney told hundreds of cheering supporters.
"If we do those things then the promise is on the horizon and in the spring of 2019 there will be a new beginning and a fresh start for this magnificent province."
The leader of the United Conservative Party was an easy victor in the Calgary Lougheed byelection, easily beating out six other candidates, including provincial Liberal Leader David Khan.
Unofficial results from Elections Alberta say Kenney won 71 per cent of the vote. The NDP came in second with just over 16 per cent and the Liberals came in third with about nine per cent.
Kenney spent much of his 15 minute speech addressing Notley and her NDP government, which won a majority in 2015 and ended more than four decades of conservative rule.
"Premier Notley. I respect you. You are a committed and capable public servant. We respect your office and we respect you ... but we simply ask that you drop the politics of personal destruction. Let's agree to disagree on the issues without being disagreeable, let's recognize that we're all in this for Alberta first," Kenney said.
"Albertans deserve better than the politics of smear and fear that we heard during this campaign."
Notley was quick to congratulate Kenney on his victory.
"Congratulations and welcome to the AB Legislature," she said in a post on Twitter. "I look forward to debating you in the House."
Kenney was the driving force behind the merger of Alberta's two centre-right parties, the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose.
The win Thursday means he can go head-to-head with Notley in the legislature before the 2019 provincial election.
"I've received my marching orders to fight every day, to hold this government to account, to fight their tax increases and to present Albertans with a strong, common sense alternative to this government," Kenney said
"We sent a message tonight. Stop quadrupling our debt. Stop your policies that have killed hope and jobs for so many Albertans and start putting common sense solutions ahead of your NDP ideology."
The byelection was called after Dave Rodney, a member of the United Conservatives, stepped aside to make room for a run by Kenney.
While I disagree strongly with Mr. Kenney's views, the people of Calgary-Lougheed have spoken, and I respect their choice.David Khan, Alberta Liberal Leader
Other candidates in the race included the NDP's Phillip van der Merwe and new Green Party Leader Romy Tittel.
Khan, a new leader also seeking a seat in the legislature, congratulated Kenney in a speech to his supporters.
"Let me congratulate Jason Kenney and his team on their victory tonight. While I disagree strongly with Mr. Kenney's views, the people of Calgary-Lougheed have spoken, and I respect their choice," Khan said.
Kenney spent several years as a cabinet minister in the government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He won the leadership of the UCP in October.
"Unity tonight is the evidence that unity has worked," Kenney said.