With the question of an interim replacement for Alison Redford settled, there is growing pressure in the top ranks of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party to design a leadership selection process that tips the scales in favour of an establishment candidate emerging as the province’s premier.
Ms. Redford, facing abysmal polling numbers and under siege from within her own party and caucus over travel-expense controversies and questions about her leadership style, announced her resignation late Wednesday – just 29 months after taking office. Her quick departure has set off her party’s third leadership race in a decade, and raised major questions about the political survival of the Tories who have governed the oil-rich province for 43 years.
Both Ms. Redford and Ed Stelmach – her predecessor who was forced out under similar circumstances – were considered party outsiders. They both used wily campaign strategies and captured grassroots support to outmanoeuvre establishment candidates who were the preference of the party elite. Already, the party has instituted some changes to the voting process since Ms. Redford’s leadership win in October, 2011, getting rid of the preferential ballot that helped vault her to victory. Now there appears to be growing pressure inside the PCs to make further changes.
“If there is a conversation in the party that is going on today, it is certainly about the selection process,” said a senior-ranking member of the party who asked not to be named. “It’s not about who might run, it’s actually about the process itself. There has been a feeling with the last two leadership races that the party didn’t get the person that the party people wanted to win.”
In the interim before the next leader is selected, Dave Hancock, a Progressive Conservative stalwart and loyalist to the outgoing Ms. Redford, will act as premier.
Mr. Hancock, a five-term MLA known as being a steady hand in cabinet, was named to the temporary post Thursday. The man who will become Alberta’s 15th premier on Sunday, when Ms. Redford officially resigns, ran and lost for the PC party leadership in 2006. But the caucus decision to make him interim leader shows he has no interest in vying for Alberta’s top political job again.
While Mr. Hancock promised that the majority government won’t be on auto pilot while he’s in charge, he also said “this is not a time for me to bring forward an agenda.”
With an interim leader now in place, attention shifts to the board of the Progressive Conservative Party, scheduled to meet Monday. It is at this meeting that a date for a leadership vote will be discussed and possibly even announced. According to the party constitution, a leadership vote must take place between four and six months after a leader resigns. Four months would put an election some time in the summer, which is unlikely to happen. Six months would put it in September.
It’s also certain that the board will talk about the current, one-member, one-vote leadership selection process. One possibility being considered, according to the party official, is a return to a more traditional model where the leader is elected by delegates selected by constituency associations. In theory, this can give the leg up to an establishment figure who exerts control over the party apparatus.
While there’s no one obvious successor to Ms. Redford, a number of possible contenders emerged from the woodwork Thursday. Cabinet ministers Thomas Lukaszuk, Doug Horner and Jonathan Denis did not rule out running. Former PC party president Bill Smith, still a key backroom player in the party, is strongly rumoured to be interested in the job. Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel, currently out of the province, is expected to comment on his political future in the days ahead.
Now-independent MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans – who left the PC caucus Monday over what she said were budgetary and entitlement issues on the part of the government – said it would be “premature” to comment on the leadership race, but to ask next week.
Unless a snap election is called, the Tories will face off against the right-leaning Wildrose Party in about two years’ time. Campaign strategist Stephen Carter, who ran Ms. Redford’s leadership campaign and served for a short time as her chief of staff, said he once believed Ms. Redford could enact change from within the PC ranks.
But he said Thursday he no longer has such illusions about either Ms. Redford or the party, which he described as a tired entity that has been slowly disintegrating since former premier Ralph Klein’s tenure ended in 2006. “They don’t know who they are,” Mr. Carter said.
From the federal Conservative side, finance committee chair James Rajotte, an Edmonton-area MP, is said by party sources to be considering a provincial leadership bid. Brian Jean, who resigned as the Fort McMurray MP earlier this year, is also said to be eyeing a run – he has earlier publicly said he may not be done with politics.
In Calgary on Thursday, prominent cabinet minister Jason Kenney ruled out any interest.
One federal source wondered why any MP would go near the “mess” in the Alberta PC party. Another source expected, ultimately, no sitting MP would run.
With a report from Josh Wingrove in Ottawa