Calgary MLA Rajan Sawhney announces UCP leadership bid

Calgary MLA Rajan Sawhney has resigned as Alberta's transportation minister and added her name to the list of candidates vying to replace Premier Jason Kenney as the leader of the United Conservative Party.

Fellow Calgary MLA Rebecca Schulz also entering race

A woman with long black hair speaks into several microphones. She is standing in front of a giant photo of herself.
Calgary-North East MLA Rajan Sawhney announced her bid for United Conservative Party leadership Monday at the Alberta legislature in Edmonton. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Calgary MLA Rajan Sawhney has resigned as Alberta's transportation minister and added her name to the list of candidates vying to replace Premier Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party.

Kenney announced his intention to resign as leader after winning a narrow majority in a leadership review in May.

After launching her campaign Monday at an outdoor event near the Alberta legislature, Sawhney, who represents Calgary-North East, told reporters she's an alternative to other candidates who are "more of the same."

Albertans want change, she said.

Plans for COVID-19 inquiry

Sawhney is pledging to launch an independent inquiry into the provincial government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There were a number of communities all across Alberta who felt that their voices weren't heard, they weren't consulted, that they didn't have enough information about how decisions were made," Sawhney said.

"We can't ignore those voices — they matter and they're all over Alberta, not just in the rural communities."   

Sawhney said she believes it would take at least a year to complete the inquiry and so did not commit to completing it before the 2023 provincial election. 

Before becoming transportation minister, Sawhney was minister of community and social services when the UCP government de-indexed the benefits paid under the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped Program (AISH). Indexing helped ensure the payments would increase with the cost of living.

Sawhney says she plans to reverse that decision now that the province is in a different financial situation.

"Indexing AISH and seniors benefits and tax brackets is something I would do," she said.

Among Sawhney's other plans are to take a closer look at UCP promises and initiatives like a provincial police force and Alberta pension plan before moving ahead, and examine the effectiveness of the so-called "energy war room," the Canadian Energy Centre.

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt will chair Sawhney's campaign.

Sawhney acknowledged she and Pitt, a vocal Kenney critic, don't always see eye-to-eye but said it's an example of how she plans to unify the party by bringing people with differing views together.

"Rajan has a great ability to listen to those who sometimes do not share the same opinion and to find the common ground she said," Pitt said, pointing to Sawhney's promise to launch a COVID-19 inquiry.

"Lay it all out on the table. Part of the problem is we haven't had all of the information open and transparent."

Sawhney was the first Calgary MLA to join the race.

Later Monday, Calgary-Shaw MLA Rebecca Schulz announced her own intention to run. Schulz resigned as children's services minister, a position she has held since the UCP formed government in 2019.

She plans to announce the start of her race Tuesday in Calgary.

Other candidates for leader include current MLAs representing rural and northern Alberta and outsiders like former Wild Rose Party leader turned media personality Danielle Smith and Bill Rock, the mayor of Amisk, a village in east-central Alberta.


Paige Parsons is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She has specialized in justice issues and city hall, but now covers anything from politics to rural culture. She previously worked for the Edmonton Journal. She can be reached at paige.parsons@cbc.ca.