Alberta UCP leadership candidates looking at $75K entry fee or more
Jason Kenney, former leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative party, announces his run for leadership of Alberta's new United Conservative Party in Calgary on Saturday July 29, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Larry MacDougal)
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, August 31, 2017 3:41PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 31, 2017 4:04PM EDT
EDMONTON -- The price of politics in Alberta's conservative leadership race is not coming cheap, prompting worries the high entrance fee sends the wrong signal to the grassroots of the fledgling United Conservative Party.
Leadership candidates in the newly merged conservative party have been told they will have to pony up between $75,000 and $100,000 to run.
Candidate Doug Schweitzer says it's a big number for a party billing itself as the voice of the grassroots.
"This is going to be the highest entrance fee in Alberta history. It's a big number," Schweitzer said Thursday in an interview. "I don't believe this is a very grassroots signal.
"I think the number should have been a little lower, but we'll follow what the party puts forward."
Schweitzer, a longtime Calgary-based Conservative strategist, says his campaign will be able to meet the fee.
"Our fundraising is going well, but every dollar put toward (the fee) is not going into your campaign's operation," he said.
Candidate Jeff Callaway, the former president of the Wildrose party, says the price won't keep him out of the race, but says it does raise concerns.
"I've been hearing from the grassroots that they would rather see campaigns spending their money on getting out the message instead of on paying for expenses to actually run a race," said Callaway.
"And they think it's kind of cost-prohibitive for other candidates to get in the race. That being said, we'll abide by whatever the number is."
Robyn Henwood, the chair of the committee setting up the race, said the final figure will be set in the next few days.
"We're just looking at a few more small details. I hope to get this out as soon as possible," Henwood said in an interview.
She said organizers are double-checking the estimates to make sure they are not underestimating expenses -- such as the price of confirming voter identification -- to avoid going into deficit.
The fee will include $25,000 that will be refunded provided the candidate engages in good conduct and does not violate the rules of the race.
Henwood said the $25,000 could be included in the $75,000 or be on top of it, which would push the total entry fee to $100,000.
She says while the fee appears high, it's one price tag and candidates will not be asked to rebate a percentage of contributions, as in other campaigns.
The fee is expected to be paid in two instalments, one of which will be payable when the formal race date is set, and the second likely in early October. The new leader will be picked Oct. 28.
The United Conservatives were formed in July after the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties voted to merge.
Four candidates have announced campaigns: former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, former PC leader Jason Kenney, Callaway and Schweitzer.
Part of the fee includes a $10,000 charge to access the list of the combined Wildrose-PC membership.
Henwood said Kenney, Jean, and Schweitzer have paid to get the membership lists. Callaway says he will soon.
Matt Solberg, Jean's spokesman, said in a statement they have already submitted half the $75,000.
"We are proud to be the first campaign to get our payments in," said Solberg. "We will be making the final instalment as soon as the party has created and sent us the necessary paperwork."
Kenney's team put out a request for donations on social media to help cover off the $75,000.
"This email is by far our most successful appeal to date, with hundreds of supporters donating towards our entry fee," said Kenney spokeswoman Annie Dormuth in a statement.
"Given the enthusiastic response to our email, we don't find the size of the entry fee daunting at all."
A committee made up of Wildrose and PC members has been hammering out the rules of the race over the last month.
All the rules -- including cut-off dates and how the winner will be picked -- will be released in the next few days along with the final entry fee figure, said Henwood.
"We will come out with the full package shortly," she said.