United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership candidates sparred on taxes, Alberta’s Covid-19 response, and trans athletes on Thursday night. 

Independent MLA Todd Loewen, UCP MLA Brian Jean and Danielle Smith attended the Alberta Prosperity Project (APP) and Rebel News leadership forum and fundraiser in Edmonton. Former finance minister Travis Toews and former Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz dropped out late last week, blaming the fundraising efforts for APP which supports an independent Alberta.

Danielle Smith was the only candidate in attendance who said biological men should be allowed to participate in women’s sports in some instances. 

Smith suggested testing testosterone levels to determine if a biological male who’s transitioned should be allowed to participate in women’s sports. Some women have very high testosterone levels and there could be another category altogether, Smith continued.

The frontrunner also said she has a non-binary family member. 

“We shouldn’t be making any child feel (that) issues they’re struggling with are political football,” Smith said.

Asked about gender transitioning and men performing in women’s sports, Loewen and Jean said there should be two categories — one for biological men and one for biological women. 

Loewen said it’s “pretty simple.” Men competing against men and women competing against women is “fair” and how “it’s been done for thousands of years,” he said. 

The debate was moderated by APP President Dennis Modry and Rebel News founder Ezra Levant. 

Levant said candidates that dropped out “panicked” when CBC News called them with a “gotcha” story. Candidates running to be Premier must show a willingness to engage with people with different views, he said. 

During the event, all candidates agreed the federal government superseded its authority when it used Section 1 of the Canadian Charter to mandate Covid-19 vaccines. 

Section 1 was misused, people lost their jobs over the vaccine mandate and the government created needless division, Loewen said.

“The government has taken advantage of that situation,” he said. “And we need to close that door to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Jean said the pandemic has shown Albertans their rights and freedoms are “an illusion” which exist only if the government doesn’t supersede those rights. He promised to amend the Alberta Health Act so it can’t overrule Albertans’ rights again, saying “we can get that done.”

Smith said “everyone let us down” during Covid — the House of Commons, the Senate, the media and health officials. The Alberta government must be the last defense against Ottawa, she said. 

“Governments don’t grant rights,” she said. “You are granted those rights by virtue of being human.”

The Former Opposition Wildrose leader received a standing ovation for promising to fire the board of Alberta Health Services (AHS), if elected. 

Jean disagreed, saying AHS tried and got it wrong. As the crowd began to boo, Jean pointed out that Smith recently received an endorsement from Immigration Minister Kaycee Madu who was the Justice Minister when pastors were being jailed in Alberta.

“Is (Smith) going to fire (Madu) too?” Jean questioned. “Talk is cheap.”

Loewen took a shot at Smith during a discussion on taxes. He said a provincial sales tax is unnecessary — and that he’s never even “thought” about implementing one. Smith came under fire earlier in the campaign for a September 2020 op-ed in which she advocated for $5 billion in new taxes through a provincial sales tax. 

Smith has been targeted by her opponents in all leadership debates, with recent polls placing her ahead of the pack. 

The forum was also shrouded by attacks from candidate Leela Aheer, who accused participants of being responsible for “white supremacy, homophobia and racism.”

The APP clapped back in a statement, saying she’s following in the footsteps of Premier Jason Kenney — and that she’s likely to lose her seat in the next election.

“Both Ms. Aheer and Mr. Kenney have failed to understand that their poor performance, lack of integrity, lying, and spineless failure to stand up for Albertans have been at the root of the APP movement,” Modry wrote.

The next official leaders’ debate will be held on August 30 in Edmonton. UCP members will elect a new leader and Premier on October 6.

Alberta Correspondent | + posts

Rachel is a seasoned political reporter who’s covered government institutions from a variety of levels. A Carleton University journalism graduate, she was a multimedia reporter for three local Niagara newspapers. Her work has been published in the Toronto Star. Rachel was the inaugural recipient of the Political Matters internship, placing her at The Globe and Mail’s parliamentary bureau. She spent three years covering the federal government for iPolitics. Rachel is the Alberta correspondent for True North based in Edmonton.

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