The next premier of Alberta will be named next Thursday, and Beaverlodge local Travis Toews (Grande Prairie-Wapiti MLA) is anticipating a close call.
The new UCP leader will replace Jason Kenney on Oct. 6. Kenney resigned in May after receiving only a slim majority (51.4 per cent) in a leadership review.
Town & Country News talked to Toews this week, where he called it a two-horse race between himself and Danielle Smith.
Polls report that the top three candidates are Brian Jean, Smith, and Toews.
Additional candidates in the leadership race are Leela Aheer, Todd Loewen, Rebecca Schulz, and Rajan Sawhney.
Toews told the News he has felt an increase in momentum in the last three weeks of the campaign.
He said local support has been immense. The Beaverlodge Community Centre was full of supporters on Sunday when he returned to his hometown for a campaign stop.
“More and more Albertans are sitting up and saying what matters to them,” he said.
He said the final leadership debate on Aug. 30 in Edmonton was successful.
If elected next Thursday, Toews said health care will be at the top of his to-do list, noting that rural areas are being hit the hardest with hospital emergency department closures.
On Friday, the Beaverlodge Municipal Hospital’s emergency department was closed overnight.
Patients were re-directed to Grande Prairie or Spirit River.
“What we need in the province is strong, principled, and proven leadership that can unite this Conservative movement,” said Toews.
He has made multiple stops in the area since he began the campaign. Smith also visited the area in August for a rally with leadership hopeful Loewen.
Smith noted the need for better health care in rural areas during her region visit.
According to the UCP, memberships have doubled since the start of the leadership race. It says there are now 123,915 members, compared to 60,0000 before the leadership race.
“Alberta’s Conservative movement is incredibly strong, and these numbers prove it,” said Cynthia Moore, UCP president.
“We’ve experienced massive growth in every riding in the province, and it’s put us on a solid footing heading into the next election.”
Voting for the new party leader began on Sept. 2 when ballots were mailed to UCP members and must be received back to the party by Oct. 3.
In-person voting will only be available in Calgary, Red Deer, Edmonton, Slave Lake, and Taber on Oct. 6.
The new leader will be announced on Oct. 6 at an event in Calgary and live streamed online.
Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News