(Bloomberg) -- Alberta Premier Jason Kenney will continue to govern Canada’s oil heartland until his party chooses a new leader, despite his decision to quit after a rebellion over Covid-19 restrictions.

Kenney declared his intention to stay put in a letter to the secretary of Alberta’s United Conservative Party he posted to Twitter on Thursday evening. A day earlier, he announced he was stepping down after receiving just 51% support in a leadership review.

It was a shocking defeat for a man who has been a fixture in Canadian conservative politics for 25 years. After serving in high-profile cabinet roles under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Kenney left federal politics in 2016 to unite Alberta’s warring right-wing factions and led them to victory over the New Democratic Party three years ago. 

His resignation left the national Conservative Party, itself in a leadership race, grappling with internal divisions wrought by the growing anti-establishment sentiment unleashed by the pandemic. 

One of on Kenney’s leading critics, Brian Jean, declared his intent to seek the governing Alberta party’s leadership within minutes of the premier’s resignation Wednesday. Danielle Smith, who like Jean previously led the upstart Wildrose Party before it merged with the UCP, declared her candidacy earlier Thursday.

Alberta’s next provincial election is scheduled for May of next year, with the UCP and the left-leaning NDP nearly even in opinion polls. 

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