Rebecca Schulz has her eyes set beyond winning the hearts and minds of UCP members in the leadership race.
In her bid to lead the party, Schulz said she is best positioned to help the UCP defeat the NDP in 2023. But beyond the next election, she believes the contest is about finding a leader “who can take [the United Conservative Party] into a new generation.”
“The vast majority of Albertans want to see a conservative government,” Schulz said in an interview with AB Today. “But sometimes we as conservatives fall apart when we try to communicate our vision and we need the right leader, not just who can get us through the next election or the next two years.”
While affordability and health care are top-of-mind issues, beyond policy, Albertans want to see a government that moves away from entitlement toward “humility,” Schulz said.
Schulz emphasized that need for humility at least five times in the interview, pitching herself as the right leader to rebuild trust with Albertans. While the leadership contest has seen some of her opponents attempt to appeal to the party base, Schulz said over the next few weeks she hopes to bring back conservatives who have left the party.
Schulz, who hails from rural Saskatchewan, got her start in politics working for former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall, who has endorsed her leadership bid.
During her three years as children’s services minister, the portfolio was not without controversy. The government was sued over a decision to cut off support for children aging out of care at 22 instead of 24. The province won the lawsuit and Schulz insisted at the time the government would offer up more appropriate support.
The NDP also hammered Schulz over the rising number of children dying while in government care, particularly Indigenous youth and those who have died from opioid poisoning.
Now as she seeks the top spot, Schulz said she’d take a cue on how to lead from Wall, and will let caucus lead the decision-making. She said she would knock on doors in all 87 constituencies and meet with all constituency association boards and presidents if she’s elected party leader in October.
Another of her political heroes, former Conservative Party of Canada interim leader Rona Ambrose, is chairing her campaign.
Rights, not sovereignty
Several of the six other UCP leadership candidates say the party needs to take a tougher stance against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ottawa.
Schulz strikes a different tone, stressing she is the only one who has successfully negotiated a deal for Alberta with the federal government, pointing to the child care agreement inked last November.
She said she disagrees with Danielle Smith’s proposed Alberta Sovereignty Act, despite Albertans’ legitimate anger at the federal government.
“Anything that drives investment, people and jobs out of Alberta is not something that I will seek out as a leadership candidate,” Schulz said. “I don’t think that that’s a good idea and I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the people in the province.”
Instead, her pitch comes in the form of a 100-day provincial rights strategy. The strategy includes presenting a package of reforms to the rest of the federation, calling for a “Protecting Provincial Rights Summit,” taking proactive legal measures against federal emission and fertilizer caps, and creating criteria for a “turn off the taps” act.
“I do not want the concerns that have been raised by Albertans to fall off the side of anybody’s desk because that is exactly why Albertans are frustrated right now,” Schulz said. “They feel like they’ve heard this all before. It’s over-promised, under-delivered and not seeing enough results; loud headlines, letters, tweets, but no better results for Albertans. And so that’s why I say it is about a different approach. It is about getting results.”
The leadership candidate agrees with the current government’s “fair deal” pledges for an Alberta revenue agency and an Alberta provincial pension plan.
But notably, she is against the idea of an Alberta provincial police force, championed by Justice Minister Tyler Shandro earlier this week.
“The vast majority of municipalities are not supportive of it,” she said, adding that rural residents have said that is not what’s needed to reduce rural crime.
Smaller cabinet and saving for a rainy day
Schulz also said Alberta needs to get off the oil and gas revenue rollercoaster.
She pitched a Planning for the Future Act, where 35 per cent of any future budget surpluses would be legislated to be allocated to debt repayment, 35 per cent to savings and the remainder toward affordability measures.
She said the government must stand up for the oil and gas sector while promoting economic diversification in the areas of agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and aviation.
Despite being at the cabinet table, Schulz does not consider herself part of Premier Jason Kenney’s “inner circle” that made some of the most contentious decisions during Covid.
“I don’t think anybody expects their governments to make all decisions that they agree with all the time, but what we have to make sure we build trust in is the process,” she said. “How decisions are made, how they are communicated — that matters.”
While she has plans to appoint a deputy premier, she said if she’s put in charge of making a cabinet, it will be smaller than the current one.
Schulz said the key will be a combination of bench strength and diversity of opinion.
“Nobody’s entitled to those seats,” she said.