Conservative leader in Canada's Alberta seeks to enter legislature

FILE PHOTO: Conservative Member of Parliament Jason Kenney speaks following Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, February 1, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - The Conservative leader in Canada’s oil-rich Alberta, Jason Kenney, ran in a special election on Thursday to obtain a seat in the legislature that could lay the groundwork for his efforts to challenge the ruling party in the 2019 provincial polls.

Kenney, 49, is running in an electoral district in Canada’s oil capital of Calgary, which was vacated by its previous representative so the new party leader could quickly enter the legislature, as is customary. He is expected to win in the district, which has traditionally voted Conservative.

A victory would allow Kenney, a former federal politician, to question the ruling party in the legislature and position him to become premier if his faction wins in the 2019 election.

Kenney was the architect of a merger this year of splintered right-leaning factions that created the United Conservative Party (UCP), which will challenge the incumbent, left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP capitalized on divisions among conservatives, taking power in 2015.

Alberta, where the Conservatives held power for 40 years before the NDP unexpectedly took over, is home to Canada’s vast oil sands and is the largest exporter of crude oil to the United States. The province has been struggling with a three-year slump in global oil prices and a C$10.3 billion ($8.24 billion) budget deficit.

Kenney, who was elected UCP leader in October, has been eager to develop policies aimed at cutting costs for the oil and gas sector, and is likely to be welcomed by the energy industry.

Reporting by Ethan Lou; editing by Jim Finkle and Jonathan Oatis