United Conservative Party (UCP) leader Jason Kenney has named Chestermere-Rocky View MLA Leela Aheer deputy leader of the party. Aheer assumed the role in early November and said she was shocked to hear Kenney chose her.
“I would have never expected it because I campaigned very hard for Brian Jean and so it took a lot of grace for Mr. Kenney, after winning, to come to me and ask me to be beside him,” she said. “I was honestly really touched that he thought about me and felt that I was qualified and competent to be able to handle this role.”
She said the new role requires her to take Kenney’s place at functions and in the legislature when he is not available.
“It will involve everything the leader would normally do, which is being foremost in the question period, answering questions to media on particular issues,” she said.
Kenney won the leadership of the UCP Oct. 28, earning 61.1 per cent of the vote. The former federal cabinet minister was the driving force behind uniting the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party (PC) and the Wildrose Party. He beat former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who earned 31.5 per cent of the vote, and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, who earned 7.3 per cent.
Talk of a merger between the PCs and the Wildrose began in early 2017 after Kenney was elected leader of the PCs. It was announced May 18 a merger agreement had been drafted and party members voted 95 per cent in favour of the merger July 22.
Aheer said she was tentative about the merger at first but changed her mind after reaching out to residents in her constituency and holding more than 20 town hall meetings.
“My decision to unify was done by the people – completely done by my constituency. They were very much in favour of unification, so it was my responsibility at that point in time to follow through with what the riding wanted,” she said, adding she believes Kenney is a smart man and knows what direction he wants to go.
“I’m definitely more a very centrist conservative and so for him to appoint me to a role that is going to have a lot of differences and good honest discussions about how we should move forward with legislation is very thoughtful of him,” she said. “It would be easy to pick somebody who agrees with everything you say and he chose somebody who’s going to question everything.”
She will also serve as UCP critic for Children’s Services and Status of Women.
– with files from Christina Waldner