Prairie Post (East Edition)
Barnes’ UCP status ‘up to him’: Smith
The current byelection is in BrooksMedicine Hat, but the United Conservatives are also now accepting applications for the neighbouring Cypress-Medicine Hat riding.
That may or may not be MLA Drew Barnes but the choice is up to him, the new party leader Danielle Smith told the Medicine Hat News.
Barnes, the party’s candidate in 2019 who now sits as an independent MLA, says he supports the new premier, but could do that as a non-aligned MLA just as well as from the UCP backbenches.
Barnes was voted out of UCP caucus in 2021 after criticizing then premier Jason Kenney, but Kenney resigned as leader and was replaced by Smith this month on a campaign largely sympathetic to Barnes’s issues.
She had said in early press conferences the decision on his return was up to the UCP caucus and Barnes had some “fence mending” to do, but this week said he remains out of caucus.
“There comes a point when we have to open that nomination (contest),” said Smith, who says she wants to have all candidates in place by the end of February ahead of the May 2023 general election.
“The window is coming very quickly. Drew will have to make a final decision of whether he wants to remain an independent, or if he wants to seek the nomination.”
Barnes was first elected in 2012 as a Wildrose candidate with Smith as leader, but was a vocal critic of her move in 2014 to join with other MLAs the Progressive Conservatives.
He staged an unsuccessful bid for the party’s leadership in early 2015, was reelected under the Wildrose banner, then was an early supporter of the Kenneyled effort to join the parties in 2018.
Smith stressed Tuesday while campaigning as a candidate in BrooksMedicine Hat, she has a good relationship with Barnes, but the nomination needs to be filled with an election seven months away.
“Drew is a longtime friend and we remained friends throughout all the turmoil,” said Smith. “I urged him to run for the (UCP) party leadership, and urged him to return to caucus. But he has made the decision to remain an independent and I’ll respect that.”
Barnes, who last month called on all candidates to consider his return as a unity issue, told the News on Tuesday that he spoke with Smith and her team about returning to caucus before and after her win.
“There seemed to be a way forward, but the big determining factor was that there didn’t appear to be a meaningful role for me,” said Barnes. “So, I’ll talk to my constituents about what they see is best, whether it’s being a UCP backbencher or an independent MLA.”
Barnes and MLA Todd Loewen were both removed from caucus in 2021 after harsh critiques of cabinet decisions, forming a two-MLA bloc, complete with office resources and staff.
This week Loewen, a leadership contestant, was made minister for the renamed Ministry of Parks and Protected Places.
Barnes says he strongly supports Smith’s three main priorities for the time leading up to the spring election: the Alberta Sovereignty Act, adding vaccination status to the Alberta Human Rights code and major changes at Alberta Health Services.
“I certainly support them all,” he said. A release from the local UCP constituency association states that a candidate nomination panel had been created, led by longtime local party volunteer Alex Dumanowski.
Constituency president Alan Rose told the News this summer the local board wanted to move forward, partially to leave infighting behind and prepare for the 2023 vote.
Cypress-Medicine Hat comprises portions of Medicine Hat south of Third Street downtown and Gershaw Drive in the city limits, and eastern Cypress County south of Township Road 132 and western stretches south of the South Saskatchewan River.
The New Democrats have not yet opened a formal nomination process for the Cypress riding, though Tim Gruber has said he will seek to represent the party. Last week the Green Party named Dustin Cartwright as its candidate in the area.
The remainder of Cypress County and Medicine Hat residents vote alongside Newell County and the City of Brooks in the Nov. 8 byelection.