Alberta finance minister, environment minister won't seek re-election this May
Travis Toews and Sonya Savage, first elected in 2019, said Friday they won't run again
Finance Minister Travis Toews and Environment and Protected Areas Minister Sonya Savage both announced Friday they will not run in the provincial election, expected on May 29.
The moves have some political scientists watching for more potential high-profile departures from the UCP government.
Toews, the runner-up in last year's United Conservative Party leadership race, ended months of speculation when he announced his decision on Twitter Friday morning.
In an interview, he said he and his wife wrestled with personal, business and family considerations before he decided to leave politics.
"I have no plans to take another leadership run," he said. "I've never really aspired to political office."
Concerns about conservative unity in 2018 prompted him to run, he said.
Toews, a rancher, business owner and accountant, was elected MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti in 2019.
He was finance minister for all but a few months when he ran to replace former premier Jason Kenney as party leader, coming in a close second to Premier Danielle Smith on a sixth-round ballot.
As finance minister, Toews oversaw the best and worst of Alberta's turbulent oil and gas-powered economy — massive deficits, negative oil prices and an eye-popping surplus when the province guzzled in record oil and gas revenues in 2022.
He stickhandled many controversial files, including de-indexing personal income tax, arguing for wage cuts to nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic and lifting the rate cap on auto insurance. Toews raised the ire of many teachers when he gave control of their pension fund to the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo).
Toews said Friday that reining in spending for three years allowed his final budget, which the legislature passed on Thursday, to grow spending and reflect Alberta's rising population.
On Friday afternoon, Savage tweeted a statement saying she would not seek re-election to spend more time with her family.
Both Toews and Savage said they will finish their terms in office.
Smith issued statements Friday saying she will work with the party and local constituency associations to hand-pick candidates for both ridings, as the election looms 10 weeks away.
Savage a global ambassador for Alberta oil
Savage was also elected in 2019, initially serving as Kenney's energy minister. After Smith became premier, she shuffled Savage to the environment file.
As energy minister, Savage was one of three cabinet ministers responsible for overseeing the Canadian Energy Centre, or "war room," created by Kenney to try and improve the international reputation of Alberta oil and gas products.
She was also tasked with revealing the results of a public inquiry into allegations that international funding improperly aided "anti-Alberta" messaging by environmental groups opposed to development of the oil and gas industry. Inquirer Steve Allan found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Previously a lawyer from Calgary who worked in the oil and gas sector, Savage said in her statement she is proud of building strong international relationships with the U.S., OPEC and other energy-producing countries to improve global energy security. She travelled extensively to promote Alberta oil products as having lower emissions and from a country with high standards for human rights.
"I have been committed to Conservative politics since I was in my teens, and I look forward to continuing to be part of this party for years to come," Savage said in her statement.
She had not responded to an interview request as of Friday afternoon.
A matter of bench strength
Some political scientists say Friday's departures are a blow to the UCP's front bench as two of the ministers perceived as the most competent call it quits.
"If Toews had won the leadership, this is not a close election," said Duane Bratt, political science professor at Mount Royal University. "That all of those reluctant conservatives in Calgary would not be reluctant, and they would vote for Travis Toews. Who basically said, "You like Kenney's policies but dislike Kenney? That's me. You want boring government? I'm a boring guy. Let's go forward.' "
Toews has likely been leaning heavily toward departure since he narrowly lost the October 2022 party leadership contest, Bratt said.
He says he's now closely watching the next moves from Health Minister Jason Copping and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, who represent Calgary ridings where the NDP are a credible threat.
Mount Royal policy studies associate professor Lori Williams said it could be problematic for the UCP if any more ministers with experience in business, industry and government leave or are defeated.
With grassroots groups like Take Back Alberta organizing to get further-right candidates to replace outgoing UCP MLAs, the character of the UCP could become more like the former Wildrose Party, Williams said.
"Then I think we're going to start to see more of a gulf between the average Alberta voter and the United Conservative Party," she said.
Toews downplayed that concern, saying the caucus has a "deep bench" to draw from.
"I have every confidence with our caucus and cabinet that they will be able to continue to deliver very responsible government in the new term," he said.
Toews' advice to new MLAs?
"Don't take criticism personally. Work to make decisions in the public interest, in the best interest of Albertans, every time. And one thing you can't do is let those arrows sink deep, because that will ruin you."
Who's not running again?
As of March 24, these are the MLAs who have said they won't seek re-election, already left, or who lost nomination races in their ridings:
United Conservative Party
Sonya Savage, Calgary-North West, resigning
Travis Toews, Grande Prairie-Wapiti, resigning
Richard Gotfried, Calgary-Fish Creek, resigning
Tracy Allard, Grande Prairie, resigning
Jason Kenney, Calgary-Lougheed, resigned seat in November 2022
Tany Yao, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, lost nomination
Dave Hanson, Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul, lost nomination
Brad Rutheford, Leduc-Beaumont, resigning
Rajan Sawhney, Calgary-North East, resigning
Roger Reid, Livingstone-McLeod, resigning
Pat Rehn, Lesser Slave Lake, resigning
Ron Orr, Lacombe-Ponoka, resigning
Leela Aheer, Chestermere-Strathmore, resigning
Mark Smith, Drayton Valley-Devon, resigning
Doug Schweitzer, Calgary-Elbow, resigned seat in August 2022
Jon Carson, Edmonton-West Henday, resigning
Deron Bilous, Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, resigning
Chris Nielsen, Edmonton-Decore, lost nomination
Richard Feehan, Edmonton-Rutherford, resigning
Thomas Dang, Edmonton-South, resigning
With files from Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press and Audrey Neveu