Alberta's Conservatives pick former federal MP to lead party

FILE PHOTO - Jason Kenney who announced he will be seeking the leadership of the Alberta PC party waves his hat during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Alberta, Canada July 8, 2016. REUTERS/Todd Korol

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A former federal politician was elected on Saturday as leader of the right-leaning opposition in Canada’s oil-rich Alberta province, becoming the first permanent head of a new conservative movement formed from splintered factions.

Jason Kenney, a former federal cabinet minister, was elected with 61.1 percent of the vote, the United Conservative Party announced at an event in Alberta’s largest city of Calgary.

Kenney will head a party formed this year from the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties. It presents a serious challenge in the 2019 provincial election to the incumbent left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP), which took power in 2015 helped partly by a divided right.

Alberta, where the Conservatives held power for 40 years before being ousted in a shock election by the NDP, is home to Canada’s vast oil sands and is the largest exporter of crude to the United States. But it has been struggling with a three-year slump in global oil prices and a C$10.3 billion ($8.24 billion) deficit.

Kenney 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.

Representing an Alberta federal electoral district, Kenney had served in the cabinet of former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He survived the 2015 federal election in which his party lost power, but resigned his parliamentary seat shortly after in a bid to “unite the right” in Alberta.

Kenney takes over the United Conservative leadership from interim head Nathan Cooper, a single-term legislator.

Reporting by Ethan Lou; Editing by David Gregorio