Activists from Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party will be electing executive officers and debating amendments to their organization’s constitution at an annual general meeting on May 7, 2016 in Red Deer. After 44 years as government, the PC Party was defeated in the 2015 election. But after a year in the doldrums, the party showed some signs of life when it was able to hold its ground in the Calgary-Greenway by-election.
With former Jim Prentice-loyalist Terri Beaupre stepping down as party president, there appears to be a heated race for leader between former Globe & Mail reporter and past candidate Katherine O’Neill and Calgary lawyer Tyler Shandro [note: you may recognize Mr. Shandro from “govern yourself accordingly” fame]. The choice of president may determine if the PC Party moves closer or distances itself from the burgeoning ‘unite the right’ industry.
Among the amendments that will be debated are proposals to change the rules governing how the party chooses its next leader.
According to my reading of the current PC Party constitution, a leadership vote to replace former premier Jim Prentice should have happened between 4 and 6 months after he resigned on the night of the May 5, 2015 election. [note: the Liberal Party also violated their own constitution when they postponed their leadership vote until 2017]
There are various proposed constitutional amendments to change the timelines after the party leadership becomes vacant, including one changing the window to between 3 and 12 months. Another proposal would bar an acting leader from seeking the permanent leadership, which would push current Acting Leader Ric McIver out of the race.
Most of the amendments would keep a variation of the current open one-member one-vote system in tact, but one proposal that will be debated would have the PC Party adopt a delegated convention system to select a new leader.
Once the standard, delegated leadership conventions have fallen out of favour with most mainstream political parties in recent years. The Alberta Party, Liberal Party and Wildrose Party use a similar one-member one-vote system and the New Democratic Party uses a hybrid system that divides votes between members and affiliate organizations.
The return of a system where local members elect delegates to attend a convention and vote for a leader could bring an aura of excitement back to what can become a fairly dull leadership process.
Under the current open one-member one-vote system, any Albertan can purchase a party membership and vote for the next PC Party leader. This led to a wave of excitement before the leadership vote in 2006, when more than 144,000 Albertans cast ballots in the vote that selected Ed Stelmach as leader. But the open system also exposed a giant weakness when only just more than 23,000 Albertans participated in the PC Party’s 2014 vote.