Buffalo Project grades UCP Leadership Candidates on Autonomy, Economy, Health Care and Leadership

The race to decide the next leader of the United Conservative Party and the next Premier of Alberta is underway.

The Buffalo Project is launching this report to help our members and the general public make an informed decision on their next Premier.

We are grading each candidate based on four main categories: Autonomy, Economy, Restructured Healthcare and Leadership.

The criteria are biased towards those taking action with clear timelines as so many Albertans are past the point of patient acceptance of unaddressed fairness.

We’ll also note assigning a grade is challenging in this race as all candidates appear to be passionate Albertans who have our province’s best interest at heart.

The criteria for each category are below and each candidate is graded on their written/public statements or materials provided to the Buffalo Project.

  1.     Execution of Greater Autonomy Within Canada 

Grading candidates on specific plans with timelines for reform of equalization, fiscal stabilization, other transfers, Alberta pension plan and tax collection implementation, Alberta policing, and other legal actions to ensure Alberta can assert greater control within the federation.

  1.     Defending and Building Alberta’s Economy 

Grading candidates on both defensive and offensive actions, which includes fighting against oil emissions and fertilizer caps, fighting for pipelines and trade, seeing Alberta’s destiny realized as a global energy superpower, being a champion for nuclear, mining, and ensuring savings for future generations.

  1.     Restructured Healthcare

Grading candidates on bold action to maintain a one government payer system but with major delivery reforms, removing waste/inefficiency, and more utilization of private options.

  1.     Leadership

Grading candidates on building support from other provinces to stand up for jurisdictional rights while having an ability to unify the party, win the next election, being a champion to sell Alberta globally for increased investment.

The ideal candidate with an A+ grade would have specific actions and timelines in all the above areas.  

Please note that results may change as more information becomes available.


Leela Aheer

Aheer promises a collaborative approach to governance, arguing that Albertans are looking for stability in their lives and do not want a government that will “pick fights over everything”.

On autonomy, Aheer said she would work with other provinces but has no clear plans.

On economy and health care, she emphasizes stability and efficiency reviews but again is light on specifics and timelines.

Her leadership ability to unite the party, win an election, and be a champion for who we uniquely are as Albertans is highly questionable.

Grade: F


Brian Jean

Jean has made Alberta autonomy the key focus of his campaign.

He has a clear and comprehensive plan for constitutional reform including serving legal notice to the federal government on day 1 to invoke Section 24 of the Charter to demand formal negotiations on amending the constitution.

Jean has some unique ideas for what should be part of the constitutional reform, including Alberta having a permanent seat on the Supreme Court, true representation by population in the House of Commons, and restrictions on federal government interference with a province’s ability to sell their products globally.

Jean calls an Alberta pension plan “a no brainer”, pointing to the young population of the province. He’s pledged to give Ottawa notice of Alberta leaving the Canadian Pension Plan within 5 or 6 years if he becomes premier, while using that time to pitch the idea to Albertans and convince other provinces to ditch the CPP.

Jean has several other unique ideas and receives top grades on his autonomy plan, which can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=605881657573920.

Jean has indicated that he would not pass the Alberta Sovereignty Act in its current form but does like aspects of it. He cites a founding principle of the UCP – to follow the rule of law and feels that this act would violate conservative principles.

Some of Jean’s economy and health care policies are included in his autonomy plan but more is needed here to improve his grade.

On leadership, Jean may have trouble uniting the party after being a key organizer to remove the previous leader, which may not sit well with many MLAs and members. Other worry about his communications skills against Rachel Notley in an election, but few question his willingness to stand up as a strong advocate for Alberta.

Grade: C+


Todd Loewen

Loewen feels that Alberta never would have joined confederation under today’s circumstances. He described the Alberta Sovereignty Act as “a great place to start”, but thinks Alberta should focus on what it can do right now to strengthen its autonomy (pension plan, collecting taxes, employment insurance, etc.).

Loewen has said he is tired of “strongly written letters to Ottawa” and promises to implement and act on these measures, something he feels that the UCP under Jason Kenny has failed to do.

While Loewen is clearly passionate about Alberta’s sovereignty, we’d love to hear more details on his proposed policies, and how he would tackle these challenges while uniting Albertans.

He currently has no written policy or timelines.

Grade: D-


Rajan Sawhney

On autonomy, Sawhney does not believe that the UCP government has successfully made the case for a provincial pension plan yet. She feels that much more consultation is needed and cautions the UCP of making “cavalier decisions”, particularly with something this important. She also feels more consultation is needed for a provincial police force, citing concerns from municipalities.

Sawhney is skeptical of the Alberta Sovereignty Act, going so far as to call the act “virtue signalling” and “a distraction” pointing to one of the act’s authors admitting that it is unconstitutional. She feels that focusing on increasing activity and employment in Alberta’s energy industry is a more pressing issue for Albertans.

Overall, she appears to be the “no” candidate in this area and is critical of other candidate plans without presenting some of her own.

On economy, Sawhney is a passionate advocate for Alberta resources, and would no doubt stand up for the province’s oil & gas sector, but is light on details for how she would do that and create leverage within the federation.

On health care, Sawhney has some generic statements about taking a “deep dive” into the health care system but appears to have no clear plans or timelines.

On leadership, most believe she needs more experience or a stronger vision before being given the chance to lead the province.

Grade: D-


Rebecca Schulz

On autonomy, Schulz has presented a 100 Day Provincial Rights Action Plan with several unique elements. Full plan: https://www.rebeccaforleader.ca/100_day_provincial_rights_strategy

First, Schulz would appoint a Deputy Premier and team with the primary focus of leading negotiations on greater autonomy. That team’s initial actions involved presenting the federation with a package of reforms on equalization, transfers, and great control over programs through tax points.

She would also pursue an Alberta pension plan, tax collection and employment insurance.

Schulz also advocates for working with other provinces through a Provincial Rights Summit and finding every legal or constitutional measure to stand up for jurisdictional rights among other items. She would also take every proactive legal and constitutional measure possible to stop Trudeau’s oil emissions and fertilizer cap.

The plan is thorough and has many specifics and timelines for a top grade.

On economy and health care, some specifics are included in Schulz’s provincial rights plan, particularly on tax points and changes to transfer payments.

She also has a clear plan for a savings fund for surpluses and a comprehensive package of health care reform that reduce middle management and alludes to more private sector involvement. More bold statements or policy would be welcomed here.

On leadership, Schulz points to being the only candidate that has successfully negotiated what some consider a fair or made-in-Alberta childcare deal with Ottawa. Although some question her commitment to standing up for Alberta long-term. 

Schulz is an interesting candidate that some feel could be unifying and a strong contrast to Rachel Notley in an election. 

Grade: C+


Danielle Smith

Smith has made the Alberta Sovereignty Act a key part of her platform, promising to introduce the act on day one if she becomes premier.

She feels that the federal government has repeatedly encroached on provincial jurisdiction and seems unconcerned with the potential legal problems such an act would raise. She points to Quebec’s recent decision to not enforce the federal government’s invocation of the emergencies act, and believes Alberta should have done the same thing.

On equalization, Smith is promising to draft a position paper for Ottawa by 2024 to propose that all equalization funds be converted to equal per-capita transfers, to increase fairness among provinces.

Smith is in favour of a provincial police force, in the hopes of providing more accountability for law enforcement, and better control over Alberta’s policing priorities. She is also supportive of moving income tax collection, employment insurance and a pension plan to Alberta’s jurisdiction. Smith feels this would provide greater control for the province to better invest its tax dollars for Albertans.

On economy, while Smith does not have many specific policies, she has been a passionate advocate for oil and gas, mining, and transforming our energy sector for years. Many have no doubts she would be a strong advocate despite some criticizing her as a destabilizing leader because of the Sovereignty Act. One point of concern is Smith advocating for a PST during the pandemic but since saying she would not consider one.

On health care, Smith has strong and welcomed views on health care choice and further private options within a public system. But Smith is also promising a $375 per Albertan health care spending account. This is a Wildrose policy from a previous election that would cost almost $2 billion and lead to greater administration which feels contradictory to some. More clarity would be welcomed in this area.

On leadership, many are split when it comes to Danielle Smith.

Some note her failure to convert on a lead in her first election as leader of the Wildrose Party and a questionable floor crossing decision that led to an NDP government and the fracturing of two parties, or questionable comments from the past hurting the party’s chances during a general election.

Others feel she is the bold leader Alberta would get behind to stand up to Ottawa while noting her excellent communication skills.

Either way, no one questions her commitment to standing up for Alberta people and industry passionately.

Grade: B


Travis Toews

 Like his fellow candidates, Toews is critical of the current equalization formula and promises to fight for a better deal when the current equalization formula expires in 2024.

See his full autonomy plan: https://www.toewsforalberta.ca/strengtheningalberta

He is also in favour of creating a new provincial pension plan and police force but would consult and sell the idea to Albertans before implementation.

Toews also wants to take back more tax collection powers from Ottawa and bring them under provincial jurisdiction to better provide services and strengthen autonomy.

Toews is not supportive of the Alberta Sovereignty Act, and has expressed concerns of “chaos and uncertainty” that it could create due to its unconstitutionality. Toews specifically cites potential investors in the province who look for predictability and certainty in an economy.

He aims to improve Alberta’s sovereignty through tough negotiations with Ottawa and a consensus among Albertans, but it’s unclear how that would look.

Toews has also pitched the idea of tariffs to defend our economy which is of interest.

On economy and health care, Toews has a strong plan to support agriculture and strong policies on health care with meaningful reforms and discussion of more private options. Even without clear timelines, he grades high in these categories. 

On leadership, Toews has the perception of being too close with Jason Kenney, especially being one of the people in the infamous Sky Palace photo, which the NDP would almost certainly use as a weapon against him.

Whether Toews could turn around this perception before a looming provincial election and win is a big question mark for many.

Otherwise, most see him as a strong leader that could bring stability and a steady hand to the province.

Grade: B


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