Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s decision to resign as leader of the United Conservative Party has set the stage for a tumultuous contest for the job, leading to questions about what’s to come.
Kenney narrowly survived the UCP leadership review on Wednesday, only to announce that he was quitting the top job anyway.
To gasps of surprise from supporters at an invitation-only event in Calgary, Kenney said the 51.4 per cent support he received was not enough to stay on.
On Thursday, the UCP caucus decided to keep Kenney at the helm of the party until a new leader is chosen.
Kenney also tweeted a copy of a letter he said he sent to the UCP’s secretary, stating his intention to resign once the party selects a new leader, though it’s still unknown when that could be.
Questions about exactly what will happen remain but here is a look at what Albertans can expect during Kenney’s pending exit.
Is Kenney out for good?
The short answer is no.
Kenney will remain party leader until a new leader is chosen and his press secretary, Justin Brattinga, said he also plans to keep his legislature seat.
According to party rules, if Kenney had received less than 50 per cent of the votes plus one, he would have had to quit. But because he won 17,638 votes of support from the 34,298 ballots cast, he could have stuck around.
He can enter the pending leadership race if he chooses. Nothing in the UCP rules prevent Kenney from running. He has given no indication if he will attempt to reclaim the job he just announced he was quitting.
The succession plan will be guided by constitutional convention but is complicated by the dual role premiers hold, said Eric Adams, a University of Alberta law professor and an expert in Canadian constitutional law.
Even after bowing out as leader of his party, Kenney will remain premier until a new UCP leader officially takes over.
Once sworn in, the new leader would serve officially as premier, full stop.
“We’re going to never be without a premier. It’s always a seamless transition,” Adams said. “That formal process always occurs through the lieutenant governor of the province, so it’s completely divorced from the party.”
In 2014, as interim party leader, Dave Hancock was sworn in as Alberta’s premier four days after Alison Redford announced her resignation.
Adams noted it will take longer to line up a replacement for Kenney, given that he will “skip a step” by remaining premier until the conclusion of a UCP leadership race.
How will a new leader be chosen?
A timeline for a leadership campaign hasn’t been finalized but the party’s bylaws provide some benchmarks.
When a leader publicly announces their intention to resign, they must immediately deliver written notice of their intent to the secretary.
Please see my letter to the <a href=”https://twitter.com/Alberta_UCP?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Alberta_UCP</a> Secretary Janis Nett. <a href=”https://t.co/Q0ZSDVuIa4″>pic.twitter.com/Q0ZSDVuIa4</a>
If such notice is not received within five business days, the leader’s resignation will be accepted as given, and a leadership election will officially begin.
In preparation for the vote, the party’s board will appoint a leadership election committee. The committee will set the rules and procedures and appoint a returning officer.
Only people who have been party members for at least six months are eligible to run for the leadership.
Each candidate must provide a nomination petition signed by at least 500 party members, along with the necessary fees and campaign paperwork.
Who could replace Kenney?
Two former leaders of the Wildrose Party, which merged with the Progressive Conservatives to form the UCP in 2017, have signalled they intend to seek the leadership.
Brian Jean, who lost to Kenney in the inaugural UCP leadership race and has been an outspoken Kenney critic, said he “absolutely” intends to run.
Danielle Smith, a radio host following her stint in provincial politics, is also planning a campaign.
Other possible contenders include Kenney cabinet ministers Travis Toews, Doug Schweitzer, Sonya Savage, Jason Nixon and Rajan Sawhney.
Smith and Jean have dominated the conversation around Kenney’s exit but that doesn’t guarantee them success, said Bill Anderson, a senior consultant at Crestview Strategy.
“Both of them have spent a lot of time in recent months attacking someone else’s record,” Anderson said.
“They’re going to very quickly find themselves in a position where they have to defend their own.”
The UCP caucus did not opt to choose an interim leader, but if it had, they would not be eligible to run.
How can party members vote?
UCP party members will decide who serves as the next premier of Alberta. Only those who have been members for at least 21 days prior to the vote will be eligible to cast a ballot.
Party bylaws provide some leeway for the format of the leadership race to be held virtually. Eligible voters may vote in person at any polling station or by whatever other “secure means” are allowed.
How will votes be tabulated?
The ballot will be a preferential format, with voters ranking their candidates of choice.
If a leadership candidate earns more than 50 per cent of the votes cast, they will be declared the winner.
If, after the first-preference votes are counted, no candidate has earned a majority, then the ballots will be recounted, removing the least popular candidate from contention and adding the second-pick selections from those ballots to the count.
The process will be repeated, removing one leadership candidate at a time, until a winner is named.
In the rare event of a tie, the ballot cast by the chair of the voting committee will be added to the count as a tiebreaker.
The party should communicate the details of the vote as soon as possible, Adams said.
“Albertans deserve to know the details,” he said. “I think everyone has an interest in making this orderly, transparent and drama-free.”