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Next UCP leader to be elected in October; candidates facing $150K entry fee

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Alberta's United Conservative Party has announced a date and rules for its leadership contest. 

The decisions mean Premier Jason Kenney will remain at the helm of the party and province for nearly four more months. 

UCP voters will be able to cast their ballot at five pollings stations across the province on Oct. 6. 

As well, mail-in ballots will be sent out Sept. 2 and must be returned by Oct. 3. 

Among the requirements of candidates this year is a $150,000 entrance fee, which can be paid in stages, a $25,000 refundable compliance deposit, and a nomination petition with at least 1,000 signatures from party members. That list must include 200 from each of the party's regions. 

The entry fee is twice what was required in 2017 for the party's first leadership contest. 

According to UCP president Cynthia Moore, the party is ensuring the contest is "revenue neutral so that the Party doesn't require funds from our 2023 campaign to finance the race." 

The party claims it will not profit off of the fees. 

However, a University of Calgary political science professor believes the amount may shorten the list of name that ends up on the ballot in October. 

"Can Todd Loewen or Leela Aheer necessarily raise $150,000 for the entrance fee? And then raise enough to run a competitive campaign?" asked Lisa Young. 

"This is for the highest office in the province, not just leader of the opposition," David Price, chair of the UCP election committee, told CTV News Edmonton. "The person elected needs to demonstrate they are ready to go from Day 1." 

The entry fee did not seem to be a deterrent for either Travis Toews' or Rajan Sawhney's campaigns, who welcomed the announcement of the rules. 

Launching her own campaign Tuesday afternoon, former children's services minister Rebecca Schulz said, "Things are off to a great start. And that will not be a barrier." 

But Leela Aheer commented, "This is about choice. Anything you do that is a suppression of democracy takes away from why you do this in the first place." 

While she noted her campaign had so far seen a "beautiful momentum," Aheer said she wanted to see a variety of candidates. 

"The more people that we have coming out with great ideas, that's a healing process for the party." 

Todd Loewen echoed the sentiment in a statement, saying, "We don't want the rules to give the appearance of elitism in the party." 

Young said the sky-high entry fee could be connected to the quick turnaround the UCP faces before a provincial election, legislated for May 29, 2023 – so long as a new leader doesn't call one earlier. 

"I don't know how they're defining profit, but I'm inclined to think this is in part to deal with their fundraising challenge," Young said, noting the NDP has so far out-fundraised the conservative party. 

"I look at the $150,000 fee as almost outsourcing party fundraising to the leadership candidates to some extent." 

POTENTIAL FOR AN EARLY PROVINCIAL ELECTION 

The times and locations of the polling stations on Oct. 6 are to be announced at a later date. 

Aspiring candidates have until July 20 to register. 

Ballots will be counted in a preferential system: the candidate who was more than 50 per cent of voters' first choice will win. If no candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the first-preference votes, then the contestant who was the least-popular first choice will be removed and the second-preference votes from those ballots will be allocated to those still in the race. If, still, no candidate earns more than 50 per cent of the vote, that process will be repeated. 

Supporters have until Aug. 12 to join or renew their membership. 

The full list of rules is available online

Young noted the leadership election is as safely distanced from all other political events as it can be: the federal conservative leadership election in September, and Alberta's general election early 2023. 

However, she says a new UCP leader could call an early general election if the party remained fractured after the leadership contest and the new leader wanted to forcibly pull it together. 

"An election is not inconceivable under those circumstances," Young noted. 

Either way, she said, "It's going to be a very compressed schedule for the new premier." 

Seven candidates were registered with Elections Alberta as of June 14: Toews, Brian Jean, Danielle Smith, Loewen, Bill Rock, Aheer and Schulz. 

Newly resigned transportation minister Rajan Sawhney launched her campaign on Monday but was not yet registered with Elections Alberta. 

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