First ballot voting for Alberta’s Progressive Conservative leadership does not take place until September 17, but a show of force has led some politicos to begin speculating that former cabinet minister Gary Mar could be steamrolling towards a first ballot victory against his five opponents. With a flashy campaign launch, a deep war-chest, and a strong showing of support at a fundraiser attended by around 1500 supporters in Edmonton, it may not be far fetched speculation.
Attracting the endorsements of the PC Party establishment, including cabinet minister Iris Evans, Ron Liepert, Mel Knight, Lloyd Snelgrove, and Thomas Lukazsuk, as well as growing bevy of MLAs including Ray Prins and George Rogers. According to the newsletter Insight into Government, long-time Calgary Liberal fundraiser Daryl Fridhandler is supporting Mr. Mar’s candidacy.
Questions that were initially raised about his connections to mismanagement while Health & Wellness Minister in the late 1990s have been swept aside by Mr. Mar’s General Election-style campaign. Even the Alberta Medical Association, which has spent a considerable amount of time in the past cozying up to the Progressive Conservatives (perhaps with questionable results for its members) is promoting Mr. Mar.
His main opponents will do their best to stop Mr. Mar from rolling to a first-ballot victory. Right-wing standard bearer and former Finance Minister Ted Morton has attracted the support of Housing Minister Jonathan Denis and MLAs George Groenveld and Dave Rodney. While his campaign should not be underestimated, Mr. Morton is either on vacation or campaigning in a stealth plane. He has barely made news headlines since a highly-public row with Premier Ed Stelmach over the provincial budget led to his resignation earlier this year.
Former Deputy Premier Doug Horner is criss-crossing the province, and as the only candidate from northern Alberta (and the Edmonton region), he is likely to draw considerable regional support that Mr. Mar may find difficult to tap into. The endorsement of Lac La Biche-St. Paul MLA Ray Danyluk and more expected MLA endorsements may position Mr. Horner as the de-facto “northern opposition” to the Calgary-based Mr. Mar.
Rick Orman, a Calgary oil-man and former cabinet minister who left politics in 1993, is said to be well-funded and eating away at Mr. Morton’s support. For all his good intentions, Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths is said to be struggling financially, which must be disappointing for the young MLAs enthusiastic supporters, which include Calgary-North Hill MLA Kyle Fawcett.
Former Justice Minister Alison Redford may be the biggest obstacle standing between Mr. Mar’s and a first-ballot victory on September 17. A fellow Calgarian with considerable financial support and an aggressive campaign to distance herself from the unpopular administration of Premier Stelmach, Ms. Redford may challenge Mr. Mar for the support of moderates in the PC Party. Challenging Mr. Mar for the votes of these moderate PC members could deny him the base he needs to mount an early victory.