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Brian Jean back in the Alberta legislature after claiming byelection win

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The man working to swipe Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s job took a big step toward that ultimate goal Tuesday night, winning a byelection while carrying the United Conservative Party flag.

Former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean won the riding of Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, receiving roughly 60 per cent of the vote.

“I ran on the message that Jason Kenney needs to be replaced, needs to leave. And tonight the people of Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche have spoken and they want him to leave. They agree with me,” Jean said during his victory party Tuesday night.

Jean has been calling for the resignation of Kenney for months, insisting that the first-term premier will lose to the opposition NDP in a general election scheduled for May 2023.

“To unify we need him to go. He’s a great talker but he’s terrible at making decisions,” Jean said.

The Fort McMurray-based lawyer and businessman has been rallying people to vote against Kenney in an April 9 leadership review, even turning down door knocking help from UCP MLAs in favour of that cause.

"This whole byelection is really, really weird. You don't normally see all the candidates opposing the government of the day. You don't normally see the premier's party candidate explicitly running against the premier.

"So this is all bizarro world," Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt commented, adding Jean's victory was no surprise given his local popularity. 

"The people of Fort McMurray really like Brian Jean and they're going to be happy with his representation. Whether he can do that for the rest of the province remains to be seen." 

Jean, a former MLA and MP, defeated NDP candidate Ariana Mancini on Tuesday.

She also finished second to Jean in the 2015 provincial election. Mancini captured roughly 17 per cent of the vote the second time around.

Mancini in a statement thanked her team for their effort and promised residents to "never stop seeking improved outcomes for my community.”

Wildrose Independence Party leader Paul Hinman finished third with roughly 11 per cent.

WHAT NEXT? 

Jean resigned as a UCP MLA for the area in 2018 after he lost a leadership vote to Jason Kenney in 2017.

Kenney offered congratulations to Jean on Twitter Tuesday night.

"But," Bratt said, "let's see how they respond in person." 

He called it unlikely both men will be in the UCP caucus after Kenney's April 9 leadership review in Red Deer. 

"If Kenney wins the leadership review, I think he will take steps to remove Brian Jean from caucus. And if Kenney doesn't win the review, then, you know, he may be stepping down and then Brian Jean is by himself in caucus. So, there's still a lot more drama in Alberta politics to come."

However, he said the party itself -- divided over the best approach to the COVID-19 pandemic -- faces an identity issue beyond that of a leader. 

"It used to be that what bonded the UCP together was the animosity and dislike for the NDP and Rachel Notley and the realization they had to get together to remove her from power. Now, they seem to be united – or at least enough of them are united – on removing Jason Kenney. Fine, you do that. Then where do you go?" he asked. 

"They may be united in removing the current leader, but they're definitely not united in how to go forward, and that's the challenge this party has. There are huge cleavages within the party. Geographically, there are huge issues. Ideologically. And those are things that they're going to have to sort themselves out. Or not sort themselves out.

"The challenge they've got is the NDP is united." 

The byelection was triggered when UCP MLA Laila Goodridge resigned to run for a federal seat.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Chelan Skulski

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