United Conservative Party leadership candidates compete in first debate

The seven candidates vying to become the next United Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister of Alberta will tackle health, the economy and other key issues in their first debate tonight.

They will face each other in Medicine Hat for the first of two scheduled debates before October 6, when party members vote on who should replace Prime Minister Jason Kenney.

The debate will be moderated by former Calgary City Councilman Jeff Davison and will focus on unity, leadership and the environment. The debate kicks off at 5pm MT and will be: streamed live on the UCP website.

Candidates include former ministers Travis Toews, Rebecca Schulz, Rajan Sawhney and Leela Aheer.

Current MPs Brian Jean and Todd Loewen are also taking part, as is former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

This is the only scheduled debate before the pivotal August 12 closing for members to apply to vote in the leadership contest. The final debate will take place on August 30 in Edmonton.

The candidates have already made policy positions and pledges on some of the topics to be discussed, including healthcare.

Smith has pledged to introduce $300 health savings accounts for alternative services not covered by insurance, such as dentists and chiropractors.

She is also expected to face renewed criticism and questions from other candidates about recent podcast comments in which she said responsibility for early-stage cancer is within a patient’s control. Fellow candidates have called that deeply misinformed and offensive.

Toews and Schulz pledge to create incentives to hire more health professionals and streamline and reduce bureaucracy in health management.

As for the economy, with Alberta raking in a $3.9 billion surplus in the past fiscal year, candidates are proposing ways to help people deal with rising costs due to inflation.

Jean, who has said Albertans are dealing with price increases at the gas pumps, promises to temporarily limit price margins if they are significantly higher than in other provinces.

Sawhney has said she would deliver monthly checks of at least $75 to households, while oil prices remain high to help families struggling with inflation.

Healing rifts within the party and with Albertans will also be in the spotlight.

Aheer was removed from Kenney’s cabinet a year ago after criticizing his actions on COVID-19. She has said that support cannot be demanded by a leader, but must be earned through respect and cooperation.

Loewen, who was voted out of Kenney’s caucus in the spring of 2021 for calling on him to resign, has said rebuilding the unit with a more collaborative leader is also a focal point in his platform.

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