Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race

Jim Prentice celebrates his victory in the PC Party leadership contest on September 6, 2014.

The Progressive Conservatives gave hints today that they could be preparing for a Spring 2015 provincial election.

Reported by the Calgary Herald and confirmed by sources close to this blogger, the PC Party has set a deadline for candidates to be nominated in all 87 provincial constituencies by March 15, 2015. The Herald also reports that the PC Party has scheduled a “large number” of nominations to take place on February 21, 2015. The early nominations would put the PCs in a position to call an election in Spring 2015, and demonstrates the folly of the province’s fixed election laws.

The news of an updated nomination schedule was preceded by news that the PC Party was extending the expiry dates of all party memberships purchased in 2014 to December 31, 2015. In an email from PC Party president Terri Beaupre, party supporters were told that Wildrose supporters can now exchange their memberships for PC Party memberships. The PC Party is said to have sold just more than 40,000 memberships during its lacklustre 2014 leadership contest.

The quick nomination deadline will showcase the PC Party’s impressive organizational capacity, especially in the wake of the mass defection of Wildrose MLAs on December 17, 2014. By extending the membership expiry dates by one year, Albertans who purchased memberships last year will not need to be convinced to renew in order to vote in the 2015 candidate nomination contests.

March 15 will come quickly for some PC MLAs, especially the Wildrose floor crossers, who have barely had time to introduce themselves to their new local party members. Some new PC MLAs, like Danielle Smith, who is currently on vacation in Mexico, are expected to face strong nomination challenges from annoyed PC Party supporters in their constituencies.

The quick nomination timeline will also force some long-time PC MLAs to decide whether they are going to try and seek re-election. Lethbridge-East PC MLA Bridget Pastoor, who crossed the floor from the Liberals in 2011, announced this week that she would not seek re-election. Attention will also turn to the gang of former PC cabinet ministers who sit in the backbencher thanks to Premier Jim Prentice‘s September 2014 cabinet shuffle.

It is suspected that former cabinet ministers, such as Doug Horner, Doug Griffiths and Fred Horne, can expect to be nudged aside in order to make room for new candidates as Mr. Prentice attempts to rebrand the long-governing PC Party in his own image.

The early election call will put the opposition parties in a tough situation.

Fresh from their own leadership contest, Rachel Notley‘s New Democrats have only nominated ten candidates in 87 constituencies. The Liberals and Alberta Party have not yet started their candidate nomination process. The Liberals had originally planned to hold their first nomination meeting for January 24 in Edmonton-Mill Woods, but cancelled the event soon after it was scheduled.

Numerous Wildrose candidates have withdrawn their candidacies, leaving the party with 16 nominated candidates since the floor crossings.

The March 15 date is also perilously close to the earliest date the leaderless Wildrose Party has set to select its new leader, March 17. Rumours circulated on social media today that offensive conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders is considering running for the official opposition party’s leadership. Mr. Anders candidacy would be a blessing for the PCs and a deathblow for the Wildrose.

Financial disclosures submitted to Elections Alberta are expected to be released in the coming weeks and will reveal the financial situation of Alberta’s political parties. The Tories will report to have raised a considerable sum of money in 2014, as will the Wildrose Party, which is said to still have $300,000 in their election war chest.

With March 15 less than two months away, Mr. Prentice may seek to use the Spring provincial budget as an election platform, as the PC Party has in the past. Relying on a disorganized opposition and using hyperbole to fan fears of an economic downturn, Mr. Prentice is in a strong position to lead his party to win its 14th consecutive election.

This is a stunning turnaround from six months ago, when the PCs were rocked by an endless string of scandals and were trailing the Wildrose Party in the polls and in fundraising. The PC Party’s apparent recovery serves as an important reminder to political watchers not to underestimate the 43-year governing PC Party.