Former Kenney cabinet minister Leela Aheer running to replace him as UCP leader

EDMONTON — A United Conservative backbencher removed from Premier Jason Kenney’s cabinet after publicly criticizing him is running to replace him in the party’s upcoming leadership race.

Leela Aheer, speaking on the Real Talk Ryan Jespersen podcast, says her goal is to rebuild broken trust with Albertans.

The two-term legislature member represents the Chestermere-Strathmore constituency east of Calgary.

She was named to Kenney’s original cabinet in April 2019 as the minister of culture, multiculturalism and the status of women.

Kenney booted her last July after she openly criticized Kenney over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he denied the demotion was because she had criticized him.

Her portfolio was broken up and spread over multiple ministries.

Aheer joins a growing list of leadership candidates, even though the party has yet to announce details on how and when the campaign will run.

Speaking to Jespersen Tuesday, Aheer said her goal is to build support by listening to party members, rather than delivering orders from the top down, something that Kenney has been criticized of doing.

“You build unity. You cannot demand it.” said Aheer.

Other candidates include Travis Toews, who stepped down last week as finance minister, former Wildrose party leaders Brian Jean and Danielle Smith, and UCP backbencher Todd Loewen.

Loewen was voted out of Kenney’s caucus a year ago for publicly criticizing him and calling for him to resign. He sits as an Independent in the house.

Bill Rock, mayor of the village of Amisk in east-central Alberta, is also running.

Kenney announced May 18 that he was stepping down after receiving 51.4 per cent support in a leadership review. 

He is to leave the top job once the leader is chosen.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2022.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press