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Jean, UCP MLAs organizing anti-Kenney votes as byelection called

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Brian Jean is so confident that he'll win his byelection he's turning down door-knocking help from UCP MLAs in favour of building support to remove the premier.

Jean is running for MLA of Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche in a March 15 vote, but he's also made it clear he wants to replace Premier Jason Kenney after a leadership review in April.

"Please don't come out and help me doorknock, I'm OK in my riding…you need to get as many people as you can to Red Deer April 9 to vote in the leadership review," Jean said of a recent conversation he had with a UCP MLA from Calgary.

Jean doesn't expect Kenney to come out and drum up support for him either.

"I think the premier doesn't need to help me campaign in Fort McMurray because he's confident, after the nomination race, that I'm able to win the hearts and minds of the people of Fort McMurray," he said.

Jean has been calling for Kenney to resign for months. Other UCP MLAs have done the same, with two of them being kicked out of the party.

The premier recently formed a "campaign team" to fight for his job, and he was asked Wednesday about Jean carrying his party's flag while simultaneously trying to take his job.

Kenney answered by saying that his attention is on running Alberta, including passing an upcoming budget.

"I'm going to focus on those things, not on sideshow politics. We are focused on the business of Albertans," he said.

Jean calls what he's doing a "movement to renew the UCP." He claims he's received support from several UCP MLAs but he won't put an exact number to that.

"I believe if we don't change leaders, after the next election in the next 14 months, we will have an NDP majority. I am very concerned about that," Jean said.


'PEOPLE ARE TIRED OF THE DRAMA'


Before Jean is able to sit in the legislature, he'll have to defeat NDP byelection candidate Ariana Mancini. A local teacher, she believes Albertans in her riding are sick of internal UCP politics.

"The rhetoric has been that people are tired of the drama between Jason Kenney and Brian Jean. They have no absolutely no interest, they feel forgotten," she argued.

Mancini and Jean faced off in the 2015 election, with the NDP candidate finishing second to Jean, then leader of the Wildrose. He received 44 per cent of votes while she had 31 per cent.

Mancini said a lot has changed in seven years, though, including the creation of the UCP.

"We have been a conservative riding for gosh, decades. Two decades at least, and people have said, 'Enough, we are done,'" she stated.

The Jean versus Kenney dynamic that's overshadowing this byelection is something experts say hasn't happened often, if ever, in Alberta politics.

"It's really quite exceptional to have a candidate running for election under a party's banner who has called for the leader of the party to step down," said political scientist Lisa Young.

She believes more than just one legislature seat is at stake in the next few months. The future of the UCP and Kenney as its leader is also hanging in the balance.

"Having the leader of the movement against him (if Jean wins) in his caucus, it's going to make life very complicated for the premier," Young said.

Byelection polls open March 15 and official results are expected 10 days later, just two weeks before Kenney's leadership vote.

Paul Hinman, Marilyn Burns, Abdulhakim Hussein, and Steven Mellott are also registered to run.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Chelan Skulski

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