A surprisingly strong turnout of 1,001 registered participants at last weekend’s Progressive Conservative Party annual general meeting in Red Deer gave party stalwarts a glimmer of hope for the third-place party but there remain some significant challenges facing Alberta’s old natural governing party.
1) They only have nine MLAs.
2) They have no money.
3) And they have no leader.
What the PCs do have is a new president. Katherine O’Neill won a contested vote to replace Prentice-loyalist Terri Beaupre, who announced months ago that she would step down at the annual meeting.
Ms. O’Neill is a former Globe & Mail reporter (known as Katherine Harding when she wrote for the G&M) who ran as a PC candidate in the Edmonton-Meadowlark in the 2015 election. As a party vice-president, she spent much of the past year traveling the province holding engagement sessions with local party officials about the future of their party after its electoral defeat.
The PCs also have a new voting system. Party delegates chose to abandon their open one-member one-vote leadership election process in favour of a more closed system where each constituency association chooses delegates to vote at a leadership convention.
The leadership race is expected be held sometime between August 2016 and May 2017.
For four decades, the PC Party’s strongest unifying factor was that it held power as government. But now that they are in opposition as the third-party, the PC Party has struggled to define its purpose for existence. The upcoming leadership race will sort out some of these issues and help define the direction of the party over the next three years.
So, who wants to run for the PC Party leadership? No one, yet, but here is a list of some potential candidates:
Richard Starke – A veterinarian and PC MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster since 2012. He served as Tourism Minister in premier Alison Redford’s government. He is one of two PC MLAs from rural Alberta elected in the 2015 election.
Sandra Jansen – First elected as MLA for Calgary-North West in 2012, she served as associate minister of family and community safety in Ms. Redford’s cabinet. Before her election she was a TV news anchor and worked in Ms. Redford’s office at the McDougall Centre. Even though she fumbled her party’s Gay-Straight Alliance law in 2014 (something she regrets), Ms. Jansen continues to be seen as a voice of the Progressive-wing of the party. Her endorsement of two federal Liberal candidates in last year’s election raised the ire of conservative partisans.
Ric McIver – The current acting leader was first elected as MLA for Calgary-Hays in 2012 and was an alderman on Calgary City Council for nearly a decade before then. Mr. McIver served as a cabinet minister from 2012 to 2015 and was caught up in the Sky Palace scandal while serving as Infrastructure Minister. He sits firmly in the Conservative-wing of the PC Party and sometimes sounds like he would be more comfortable in the Wildrose caucus. He placed second with 11.7 percent in the 2014 PC leadership race.
Mike Ellis – First elected as the MLA for Calgary-West in an October 2014 by-election, former sergeant of the Calgary Police Service Mr. Ellis does not carry the political baggage some of the other candidates carry. His private members’ bill, Bill 205: Pharmacy and Drug (Pharmaceutical Equipment Control) Amendment Act, to restricting pill presses in response to the Fentanyl crisis, has gained him some positive press in the past month. Mr. Ellis has also co-hosted conservative partisan pub nights with Strathmore-Brooks Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt, suggesting that he could be a unite-the-right candidate if he decides to run in this race.
Jason Kenney – There has been speculation in the media that the Conservative Member of Parliament may consider seeking the leadership. I do not put much weight in this speculation, as Mr. Kenney’s politics align more closely with the Wildrose Party and his ambitions appear to be federal. Mr. Kenney was first elected as an Calgary MP in 1997.
Thomas Lukaszuk – A prolific tweeter, former cabinet minister and deputy premier, Mr. Lukaszuk served as the MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs from 2001 until he was defeated in the NDP sweep of 2015. Known as a social moderate in the PC Party, he placed third with 11.4 percent in the 2014 PC leadership race.
Brad Ferguson – The President and CEO of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation was a keynote speaker at a well attended breakfast organized by Conservative partisans earlier this year, which raised eyebrows among some young business conservatives looking for an outsider to bring new blood into the party.