Former Wildrose leader Brian Jean officially became the United Conservative Party MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche on Thursday when he was sworn in at the Alberta Legislature.
Jean won a byelection last month to replace Laila Goodridge, who stepped down in August to run for the federal Conservatives.
First elected to the legislature in 2015, Jean resigned in March 2018, months after losing the UCP leadership race to Premier Jason Kenney.
Jean has said that he wants Kenney ousted as UCP leader. It isn’t known if he will be allowed to sit in with the UCP caucus and attend its meetings.
Jean told reporters the signs are positive so far, even though he confirmed he and Kenney haven’t spoken in at least four years.
“The caucus has approached me this morning. They’ve let me know I’m on the mailing list,” he said. “They let me know that I’ve got an office in the Federal Building.”
Jean’s presence in the legislature, as a UCP MLA or as an independent, is expected to make things more difficult for Kenney, who faces a mail-in leadership review that starts this weekend.
Kenney will make a pitch to UCP members Saturday in a virtual address. The party will start mailing out ballots afterward with results to be announced on May 18.
Jean said he intends to run for party leader if a race is required. He said he plans to travel the province making sure eligible party members mail in their ballots.
“This is about making sure that members have a voice,” Jean said. “And if there is a fair race, Jason Kenney will no longer be the premier after that race.”
Lisa Young, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary, expects Kenney will tolerate Jean’s presence in caucus until the leadership results are in next month. If Kenney survives the review, he will have a reason to kick Jean and other dissidents out of the caucus, she said.
Young suspects a “moment of reckoning” is coming soon for the UCP especially with summer fundraising events starting in a couple of months, and the next provincial election scheduled to be held in less than 14 months.
“The party simply cannot continue indefinitely in this internal warfare. It needs a resolution one way or another,” she said.
“The party is not going to get the kind of financial support that it needs if it’s seen to be an internal basket case. And so Kenney has to resolve this one way or another before that happens.”
Jean was dismissive of a letter Kenney’s campaign released Wednesday which was endorsed by 19 former MLAs including Ralph Klein-era cabinet ministers Shirley McLellan and Pat Nelson.
The letter stated Kenney needed to survive his review because a fall leadership race would put the UCP at a disadvantage in the spring 2023 election.
Jean rejected that argument, noting that Ontario Premier Doug Ford won a majority government in 2018 three months after winning the Progressive Conservative leadership in that province.