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Alberta calls two July byelections to replace departed United Conservatives

EDMONTON — Alberta voters in two constituencies will be heading to the polls in the heat of summer.

Premier Rachel Notley has called byelections for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake and Fort McMurray-Conklin for July 12. The byelections were announced Thursday by Elections Alberta.

The seats became vacant earlier this year following resignations by two members of the United Conservative Party.

Don MacIntyre from Innisfail-Sylvan Lake stepped down in early February when he was charged with sex assault and sexual interference.

In Fort McMurray-Conklin, voters will pick a replacement for former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean who left in March after his unsuccessful bid to head the United Conservatives.

While the starting gun has just gone off, many of the candidates are already at the starting line.

In Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, the United Conservatives have nominated area farmer and businessman Devin Dreeshen, while the NDP have named school teacher Nicole Mooney. Abigail Douglass is the candidate for the Alberta Party.

Dreeshen said he will campaign hard on a getting rid of a provincial carbon tax — one of a number of NDP policies he said is impeding the economic rebound in the central Alberta constituency.

“People are seeing costs of going to work going up, heating their homes going up,” said Dreeshen in an interview.

“And the economy in general seems to be going in the wrong direction. You have businesses having a hard time making ends meet.”

Dreeshen was an adviser for seven years to former federal Conservative agriculture minister Gerry Ritz. Politics also runs in his family. His father is Earl Dreeshen, the Conservative MP for Red Deer-Mountain View.

Mooney, a high school English teacher in Red Deer, said she is running to spread the word on Notley’s ongoing commitment to fund front-line services in education and health care, and because she says a United Conservative government would roll back that progress.

“The previous government ignored communities like ours for far too long, and I know that families in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake don’t support Jason Kenney and the UCP’s plan for massive cuts, overcrowded classrooms, and longer health care wait times,” said Mooney in a statement.

MacIntyre won the constituency handily in 2015 with almost 43 per cent of the vote. The closest challenger was Progressive Conservative Kerry Towle with 28 per cent.

The Liberals do not have a candidate yet.

In Fort McMurray-Conklin, Laila Goodridge has been picked to represent the United Conservatives. She has worked in the oil and gas sector and has served as a political adviser in Alberta and in Ottawa.

She ran for the Wildrose Party in the 2015 election and placed third in Grande Prairie-Wapiti. She will go up against the NDP’s Jane Stroud, a councillor for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. The Liberals and Alberta party do not have candidates yet.

Jean steamrolled his competitors in the 2015 election, taking almost 44 per cent of the vote.

The outcomes of the byelections won’t affect the balance of power in the legislature. The NDP holds 54 seats compared with 25 for the UCP and three for the Alberta Party. There are two Independents and David Swann is the lone Liberal.

The winners will have to do it all over again in less than a year. The next provincial election is set for the spring of 2019.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press