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The first United Conservative backbencher to publicly call for Premier Jason Kenney to quit says he is running to replace him.

“The last couple of years people in Alberta have felt ignored,” Todd Loewen said in an interview Thursday, a day after announcing on social media that he had registered for the UCP leadership contest. “We need to have a change in leadership style moving ahead, a little bit more collaborative. I just thought I would put my money where my mouth is.

“I have complained a lot about politics in the past two years and it’s now time to step forward and give Albertans choices.”

The formal campaign kickoff is set for Tuesday in Mr. Loewen’s hometown of Valleyview in northern Alberta.

Mr. Kenney said he was planning to resign after receiving 51.4 per cent support in a leadership review last month. A day after the votes were counted on May 18, he said he would stay until a new leader is chosen.

Mr. Loewen, 55, is a second-term member of the legislature representing the northern rural riding of Central Peace-Notley.

He made headlines more than a year ago when he published a letter resigning as UCP caucus chair and urging Mr. Kenney to quit.

At the time he complained that Mr. Kenney wasn’t dealing strongly enough with Ottawa, was ignoring caucus members, delivering contradictory messages and botching critical issues, including negotiations with doctors.

Hours later, Mr. Loewen and fellow Kenney critic Drew Barnes were voted out of caucus and have since sat in the house as Independents.

But backbench criticism of Mr. Kenney continued to grow and become more vocal. Other MLAs also publicly called for his resignation but were not voted out of caucus.

Mr. Loewen said he doesn’t think getting kicked out of caucus will be a barrier to his leadership bid.

“I’ve kept good relationships with a lot of MLAs in caucus and cabinet, and so I’m looking forward to working with them again.”

There are four contestants in the race so far: former finance minster Travis Toews and former Wildrose party leaders Brian Jean and Danielle Smith.

Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz and Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney say they are mulling a run.

The party struck a committee last week to set the rules and timeline of the race, but no decisions have been announced.

The candidates are already getting to work, however.

Mr. Toews announced his candidacy Tuesday with a web page and a video. His formal campaign is to start Saturday in Calgary.

Smith is holding town-hall meetings in central and southern Alberta.

Mr. Jean, co-founder of the UCP with Mr. Kenney and the current MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, has a website with links to his campaign statements and policy positions.

Earlier this week, Mr. Kenney blamed his demise on a faction of extremists unhappy with his decisions to bring in restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Kenney has said cabinet ministers who want to run for the leadership must resign – a way to make sure their status can’t be used, or be perceived to be used, to bolster their chances.

Mr. Kenney said Thursday that Jason Nixon, environment minister and government house leader, will handle Toews’s finance portfolio in the interim.

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