UCP cabinet minister and former leadership candidate Rajan Sawhney says she won’t be running in this spring’s election (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Trade, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Rajan Sawhney, one of the seven contenders to lead the United Conservative Party last year, won’t be running for re-election this spring.

Ms. Sawhney assailed Danielle Smith’s Sovereignty Act during the UCP leadership contest (Photo: Twitter).

“Today, I met with Premier Smith to inform her that I will not be seeking the nomination and re-election for Calgary-North East,” Ms. Sawhney said in a brief social media post late Friday. 

Despite stating that “I continue to be a strong supporter of Premier Smith and her leadership,” Ms. Sawhney’s announcement doesn’t exactly come as a shocker. 

She was one of the leadership candidates who strongly criticized then-candidate Danielle Smith’s Sovereignty Act promise, calling it “an unconstitutional distraction.” 

“She calls it ‘sovereignty,’” Ms. Sawhney warned in a Calgary Herald op-ed last August. “It is a gentle word for separation.”

All the Sovereignty Act would do, she sneered accurately enough in the piece, is “enrich a lot of lawyers. It provides no value to Albertans, beyond thumping our chests and pretending we’re doing something to show those dastardly feds.”

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Well, she nailed it, but by doing so she didn’t really enhance her chances of playing a significant role in any future UCP government.

Moreover, in the leadership all-candidates’ forum, in which she proved to be a nimble debater, Ms. Sawhney bluntly concluded that if Ms. Smith won the UCP leadership it would guarantee the victory of Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley in the 2023 election. 

That’s not the sort of thing Ms. Smith is likely ever to forget. 

Yes, Ms. Smith did return her to cabinet, but that was an effort to keep the fractious UCP together through the next election, scheduled for May 29. The premier also put all the other leadership candidates with the sole exception of Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer in cabinet too.

Ms. Aheer came last in the leadership race and announced last fall that she wouldn’t be running again for the UCP.

Former UCP cabinet minister and UCP leadership candidate Leela Aheer (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Ms. Sawhney’s campaign was generously supported – she spent the most after Ms. Smith and Travis Toews – but her progressive-conservative pitch did not resonate with the far-right Take Back Alberta cadres who used the leadership election as a vehicle to dominate the party. 

But for the similarly progressive-leaning Ms. Aheer’s dismal performance Ms. Sawhney would have come last. 

Ms. Sawhney had been in hot water before when she, along with Ms. Aheer, assailed former premier Jason Kenney after he and other senior cabinet members were busted by a still-unknown photographer with a long lens while they dined and drank cheap whiskey on the rooftop patio of his Sky Palace office during the pandemic in June 2021. 

Mr. Kenney would kick Ms. Aheer out of cabinet for her demand on social media that he apologize for ignoring COVID-19 mitigation protocols, but he let Ms. Sawhney remain, possibly because she had either the wisdom or good luck to have made her comment in Punjabi on a Calgary South Asian radio station. 

Finance minister and former leadership candidate Travis Toews – will he be next to pull the plug? (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Soon after, Mr. Kenney shuffled Ms. Sawhney from the community and social services portfolio to transportation. 

The next big question is whether Mr. Toews, who has served both Mr. Kenney and Ms. Smith as finance minister, will stay or go. 

“The rancher-accountant and UCP leadership race runner-up has been silent on his plans for the next election and the party has not released any news about nominating a candidate in his Grande Prairie-Wapiti riding,” Daveberta.ca author Dave Cournoyer reported on Friday.

Mr. Cournoyer is the only journalist in Alberta who reports on political party nomination contests in Alberta, something mainstream media used to do as a matter of routine. 

Join the Conversation


  1. Its not a surprise that Sawhney is not running again, especially after all the things she said about Smith and her ideas in the leadership race. I was surprised Sawhney stayed around and largely kept silent this long. Maybe she recently realized that getting re-elected was not going to be easy or a sure thing and even if she did she might have a diminished role.

    So, she is now the second moderate UCP Calgary area MLA after Leela Aheer to not run again (or third if you count Schweitzer who left before Smith became leader but quite possibly in anticipation of it). I would say that makes it a trend.

    I suspect the deal Smith made, explicitly or not, was to overlook past comments for a while, as she really did not want the problem of more by elections to come up. Now that we are getting closer to the general election that is no longer as much of a factor, so people can gracefully retire, or as a former PM once famously said, be quitted.

    So perhaps now is the time for some other MLA’s who also were critical of Smith in the leadership race to rediscover what is left of their integrity and gracefully go before their past statements come back to haunt them or their future political prospects.

  2. It appears that there are two threats to incumbent UCP candidates as the upcoming election approaches: the growing strength of the ABNDP in urban centres and the rising power of Take Back Alberta (TBA) on rural riding boards.

    TBA is determined to oust any UCP MLA who doesn’t support Alberta sovereignty, never ending war with Ottawa, and the destruction of PMJT and his eternal damnation. They see Rachel Notley as the traitor in their midst, so the election is, in their minds, a civil war. Danielle Smith must win or fire and brimstone will rain upon Alberta.


  3. Presumably Rajan Sawhney finds it difficult to coexist with those Soggy Bottom Boys of TBA, who are airing their catalogue of past grievances with popular hits like “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow”. The grievances might even have taken root 90 years ago in the Dust Bowl. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_Bowl)

    Harperite David Parker and a convoyeur from Coutts (awaiting trial on the Criminal Code charge of mischief over $5000) are among the leaders of this group whose members hold significant sway on the UCP board of directors. They intend to pursue “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, as promised to them by their Creator and the American Declaration of Independence.

    Strangely, it’s taking me back to the days of this fella:


    Never underestimate the ability of a group of dryland farmers from a dusty corner of the province to organize themselves into control of this province. Urbanites be warned: if you fail to turn up at the polls in May, your future is in the hands of egg farmers and others. I like eggs, but wouldn’t want this to be my future. Their views, relics of a past that never existed, will supercede yours. This is truly a war of city mouse vs. country mouse, and they know a lot about mice out in the Special Areas.

    A deep dive into the shallow end of certain social media accounts reveals links to conspiracy theories about fertilizer bans, among other things. If you think the timing of Jordan Peterson’s upcoming visits on February 26 and May 21 at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium are a coincidence, think again. Is this what you want, citizens of Alberta?

  4. This does really bring up additional questions that, unfortunately, we will probably never know the answers to.

    First and foremost, did Ms. Sawhney jump, or was she…nudged? I am imagining her visit to Danielle Smith being preceded by Ms. Smith telling her that she would not be given a cabinet post after the election if the UCP should win, or perhaps even that the fixers at Take Back Alberta would make sure Sawhney’s nomination bid would not be successful. I also wonder if Ms. Sawhney has a little quid pro quo coming her way in exchange for her Smith-supporting comment in her not running announcement.

    This also makes the election in Sawhney’s Calgary North East riding a bit more interesting. Calgary North East is definitely not a safe UCP seat; it went NDP in 2015, and was relatively close in 2019: 8400 votes for the UCP (49%) vs 6000 for the NDP, when the Alberta Party and the Liberals were enough of a presence to do some significant vote splitting.

    The November 2022 issue of Alberta Views includes an excerpt from the Nov 13, 2021 issue of the Calgary Herald, that makes the point that 99% of eligible residents of northeast Calgary got at least their first dose of Covid vaccine (and this was prior to the imposition of any vaccine mandates). It also reminds readers of how that region endured high rates of viral spread, and how its residents were even criticized by Jason Kenney for that spread. Kenney apparently never considered the demographics of the area (working class, visible minorities, multi-generational homes) meant the high rates of infection could easily be a result of the type of work residents did.

    With that background, what kind of candidate will the Take Back Alberta people install in the riding? Given how the residents of Calgary NE stepped up to be vaccinated (voluntarily) and how they suffered with Covid, they will hardly be impressed with TBA’s Covid stance. The racist actions taken by some members of the various Freedom Convoys will also probably reflect badly on the TBA people.

    Thanks for writing another thought provoking column, David.


  5. It’s hard to assign any of the retiring UCP MLAs a ProgCon or Sovereigntist label, moderate or far-right, but it isn’t far fetched to suppose that moderate conservatives are more likely to take a pass from running in the approaching election. It’s a definite maybe if Rajan Sawhney belongs in the moderate camp since she made her debut on K-Boy’s coattails and accepted a cabinet position from the new leader, even though she did speak against Danielle Smith’s goofy Alberta Sovereignty Act when they were both contesting the leadership after the party dumped the K-Boy (to be sure, Alberta is sovereign already—just not the way the maverick Smith wants it).

    Indeed, Sawhney might have seen enough of Smith’s performance in cabinet and caucus, not to mention public opinion polls, to conclude the odds of getting re-elected in her Calgary-Northeast riding are too low to make running again not worth the considerable stress —doubly so for the sharp controversies which the upcoming one surely entails.

    Doubtlessly Smith included so many caucus members and, conspicuously, so many leadership contenders in her cabinet in order to obscure exactly who is or isn’t a member of the moderate faction (which we may assume incudes most of the ProgCons who floated along with the effluent in 2017 to sit as UCP MLAs). We can’t, for example, guess what Travis Toews will do: stay or go before the scheduled election. Is the effort worth it if the party is likely to lose power?

    Surely it’s a bigger question for those UCP MLAs who stand to lose their own seats: for the NDP to win, a couple dozen UCP incumbents will have to fall—that’s over a third of their caucus, but not overly unlikely.

    Aside from Smith’s lacklustre performance following a provocative leadership run and parachute-riding win, and aside from whomever might belong to this faction or that, the scheduled election date remains the clincher for those MLAs considering whether to stay or go. One can only imagine what Smith’s recent —and pleasantly refreshing—dearth of gaffs might mean: possibly some serious turkey-talk concerning many issues of which she had a hard position until the politics showed up, always her weakest suit. What concessions are demanded of her to keep the trickle of exiteers from becoming a flood?

    While many pundits now feel confident that the election will happen on the fixed date, May 29, as scheduled, we’d be wise to remember that Smith has a penchant for doing the wrong thing at the right moment—or not doing the right thing at the wrong moment, the sure sign of political dyslexia: there’s still time for her to extend the term past the fixed date. She’ll have to commit in thirteen or fourteen weeks or so, allowing a month for campaigning.

    What would stop her from doing something as impolitic as she’s always been known for? Perhaps the reality that, if she did attempt to repeal the fixed-term law, that trickle would become a flood. But, then again, she might calculate that for every moderate who departs she can fill the vacancy with a far-right-winger like herself. Her stunted concept of politics might imagine it a winning thing—but one has to remember she also calculated that challenging federalism with legislation and provocative rhetoric (gin) is a winning thing even though she actually represents less than 5% of the electorate; and that she left Calgary-Elbow vacant instead of filling it with a by-election —which might have been her own had she not forced a UCP MLA out of a safer riding so she could win a seat in the Assembly. So much for her understanding of democracy, too.

    Sawhney’s riding isn’t particularly vulnerable for the UCP per se: the NDP only won it in 2015 because the right-wing vote was split amongst three parties whereas the ProgCon and Wildrose had untied by 2019 and the UCP won it by a safe 13-point margin despite 10% of the vote going to the Alberta party. Safe bet that that 10% will vote for Danielle’s style of government this time, but it’s a wonder how many former-ProgCon, or moderate voters might resume voting NDP after seeing how radical Smith’s agenda is and how moderately socialist the Dippers were during their singe term (which means a lot of ProgCons already have some experience in casting for the centre-left—and apparently approved enough to stick with the party in 2019. And that was when K-Boy was considered extreme!)

    With every resignation, the question is a little more answered.

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