There are thirty-four days remaining until the Progressive Conservative leadership officially begins on October 1, 2016. The race is already unofficially underway with one candidate in the contest Jason Kenney – the Member of Parliament who launched a hostile takeover campaign earlier in the summer in a bid to merge the PCs with the Wildrose Party with the backing of lobbyists with Wildrose Party ties.
I keep hearing from my friends involved in the PC Party that a social conservative like Mr. Kenney cannot be allowed to win this race.
The third-place PC Party, which formed government in Alberta from 1971 until 2015, have abandoned its former one-member one-vote system that threw open the doors to any Albertan who wanted to participate. The party’s next leader will be chosen by locally elected delegates – 15 from each of the province’s 87 constituencies.
The PC Party committee drawing up the rules for the leadership race has decided that of each group of 15 elected delegates, ten which will be open to any local party member wishing to become a delegate and five reserved for local party officials. This is somewhat similar to the Superdelegate system used by the Democratic Party in the United States.
The adoption of this Superdelegate system means the thousands of Wildrose Party supporters who may purchase PC Party memberships to support Mr. Kenney may have a smaller impact than if all 15 delegate spots were wide open. It will likely make it more difficult for Mr. Kenney to succeed in his hostile take over the Alberta’s PC Party.
But stopping Mr. Kenney would mean someone would actually have to run against him.
We have heard rumours of that Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer is aiming to run, with the support from the party’s monied Calgary establishment. He is the former CEO of the Manitoba PC Party and was connected to Jim Prentice‘s 2014 leadership campaign. Also said be considering a run is Byron Nelson, another Calgary lawyer and a past PC election candidate.
I am told that more than a few moderate Tories are warming up to the idea of supporting soft-spoken veterinarian Richard Starke, one of two remaining rural PC MLAs. Sandra Jansen has also been talked about as a voice of the party’s ‘progressive’ wing. She is despised by federal Conservative activists for throwing her support behind two Calgary Liberal Party candidates in the last federal election.
Will there be a candidate from Edmonton? The NDP remain popular and ahead in the polls in the capital city, which elected New Democrats in every constituency in the 2015 election.
Former Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Thomas Lukaszuk has been rumoured but his support of funding cuts to the University of Alberta, his close association with former premier Alison Redford and his strange $20,000 cell phone bill are significant political impediments. According to a recent ThinkHQ poll, his disapproval rating in Edmonton sits around 50 percent.
City Councillor Michael Oshry has mused about running but his real goal might actually be to secure his spot as a PC candidate in Edmonton-McClung in the next election, a seat that the PCs might be able to pick up. Lawyer Harman Kandola, who was the PC candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie in 2015 is also said to be testing the waters for a run.
I have heard some PC Party members wish party president Katherine O’Neill would join the leadership race. The former Globe & Mail reporter and past PC candidate has been criss-crossing the province at the same speed as Mr. Kenney and his big blue truck, though it is probably too late for the party president to shift gears into a leadership vote this close to the official start of the campaign.
Mr. Kenney has spent the summer travelling around the province preaching his gospel of merging the PCs and Wildrose Party to defeat the risky, dangerous and scary socialists in Edmonton. But it might not necessarily a bad thing that Mr. Kenney has sucked up all the PC leadership oxygen this summer. In doing so he has defined the narrative of this part of the campaign – merging the PCs with the Wildrose – an idea that 1,000 PC Party members, including many who will now vote as Superdelegates, loudly rejected at their annual general meeting earlier this spring.