Prairie Post (East Edition)

Barnes’ UCP status ‘up to him’: Smith

- By Collin Gallant

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.

 ?? ??
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada