UCP floats high entry fee for leadership candidates

Candidates running for the leadership of Alberta's new United Conservative Party face a stiff entry fee of between $75,000 and $100,000, the party says.

'This is to provide cost certainty to the contestants, and revenue certainty to the UCP,' committee chair says

Candidates running to be the new leader of the UCP will have to pay between $75,000 and $100,000 to get their names on the ballot (Terry Reith/CBC )

Candidates running for the leadership of Alberta's new United Conservative Party face a stiff entry fee of between $75,000 and $100,000, the party says.

The election committee is still finalizing details, but committee chair Robyn Henwood said Thursday the upper range of $100,000 may include a $25,000 refundable "compliance fee."

Henwood said past leadership races conducted by both the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties have required candidates to pay standard entrance fees and remit a percentage of contributions individually raised.

"This is to provide cost certainty to the contestants, and revenue certainty to the UCP," she said. 

Big fee 'limits potential candidates'

As an example, Henwood said the entrance fee plus 15 per cent of contributions raised by the Jason Kenney campaign during the Progressive Conservative leadership race totalled $283,000.

UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway says an entrance fee of $100,000 would be too high and would limit grassroots participation. (CBC)

Former Wildrose president Jeff Callaway, the latest candidate to enter the UCP leadership contest, said he expected a substantial entrance fee.

But he said the amount suggested by the party is too high and would limit grassroots participation.

"And [it] limits other potential candidates from putting their best foot forward," Callaway said.

Fellow candidate Doug Schweitzer said he also thinks the price tag is too steep.

"Democracy matters and accessibility of democracy matters," said Schweitzer. "We should never be setting barriers that would discourage someone from running."

Former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who is also running for the UCP leadership, said in an emailed statement that he is "generally satisfied" with the criteria set by the elections committee.

Jean's spokesperson Matt Solberg said the fee ensures "that otherwise-qualified candidates weren't excluded solely by the entry fee, while also considering that the party needs to be able to finance the leadership race."

Henwood said all four declared leadership candidates have paid the initial $10,000 fee, which gives them access to updated membership lists of the newly merged Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties.

Members of the two parties voted overwhelmingly in July to unite under the UCP banner.

The UCP has yet to come out with a clear set of rules for the leadership process.

That presents a problem, said Graham Sucha, the NDP MLA for Calgary Shaw.

As it stands, leadership candidates are free to raise as much money as they want, from any source, without adhering to Elections Alberta fundraising rules, he said.

"Albertans wanted us to get big money out of politics," said Sucha. "And right now there's no certainty that's occurring, because there are no rules they have to follow."

The cutoff date to sell memberships is 21 days before the Oct. 28 vote.