Former Alberta Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean resigns as MLA

Jean has faced questions about his political future ever since he lost the UCP leadership to former federal Conservative MP and cabinet minister Jason Kenney in October.

Resignation comes after Jean lost in the leadership race for the United Conservative Party

After months of speculation about his political future, Brian Jean announced Monday he is stepping down as the MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin. (CBC)

Brian Jean, former leader of the Wildrose Party, resigned Monday as the MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin.

In a written statement, Jean gave no reason for his decision to resign as a United Conservative Party MLA other than saying he wants to spend more time with his family. 

"Alberta and Albertans are always close to my heart and mind, but I believe now is an important time in my life to draw closer to my family, my kids and my grandchildren," he said. 

Jean has faced questions about his political future ever since he lost the UCP leadership to former federal Conservative MP and cabinet minister Jason Kenney in October, following the amalgamation of the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservatives. 

Jean told Fort McMurray Today that three family members, including his sister, have cancer. 

Kenney in a written statement praised Jean's legacy and service. 

"While it is a loss for our caucus that he has decided to return to private life, I understand and respect his personal reasons for doing so," Kenney said. "His legacy in public life will endure in the United Conservative Party that he helped to create." 

Premier Rachel Notley cited Jean's leadership during the 2016 wildfires in Fort McMurray, in which he lost his own home. 

"As former Leader of the Official Opposition, Brian Jean took over his party at a difficult time and led it ably and conducted himself in a manner that demonstrated it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable," she said in a statement. "He represented his constituency with great dedication – no more so than during the Wood-Buffalo wildfires.

"On behalf of the Province of Alberta, I offer our gratitude and thanks for his service to the people of Alberta."

Jean's announcement comes three days before the legislature on Thursday starts a spring sitting. 

Son misdiagnosed

Angela Pitt, the UCP MLA for Airdrie, said Jean ran to lead a Wildrose Party that was diminished by floor crossings in late 2014.

"He was committed to rebuilding this movement that was the Wildrose Party at that time," she said. 

Pitt was first elected MLA in 2015 under the Wildrose banner. She said Jean is both a mentor and a friend. 

"He would offer all sorts of different information or introduce me to the right people at the right time in whatever quest or whatever project I was working on at the time," she said. 

"He taught me a lot about being grassroots ... He always was able to bring it back to the people." 

Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao, also of the UCP, said while he was disappointed by the news, he respects Jean's decision.

He said Jean still had much to offer Alberta.

"Quite frankly, I understand that there is personal family issues that he's going through right now," Yao said.

"And the fact that he has worked really hard, he deserves a break."

Yao said Jean will be remembered locally as the politician who advocated for Fort McMurray seniors when the provincial government backtracked on a decision to build a continuing care facility downtown.

Jean was first elected as an MLA in May 2015, two months after winning the leadership of the Wildrose Party, which was left with five MLAs after the majority of caucus crossed to the Progressive Conservatives the previous year. 

The Wildrose ceased to exist last summer after it merged with the Progressive Conservative party to form the UCP.

Jean spent a decade as a Conservative MP before resigning in January 2014. His bid for the Wildrose leadership was inspired by his 24-year-old son's treatment by the health care system.

Jean said his son was misdiagnosed a number of times before it was discovered he had lymphoma. Michael Jean died shortly before his father won the Wildrose leadership.

With files from David Thurton