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Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Alberta Dispatch

With Stelmach's resignation, Alberta's leadership race begins Add to ...

With Ed Stelmach nearly out the door and the legislature all but emptied for summer, it's an in-house choice that now faces Canada's longest-tenured governing party - what type of leader can deliver yet another win?

Alberta's Progressive Conservative party faces an unprecedented challenge and, flanked on the right by the Wildrose Alliance, is seeking to once again reinvent itself.

The PC leadership race was officially kicked off on May 27 when Mr. Stelmach - the premier who said in January he'd leave, but didn't say when - formally submitted his resignation letter. Six people are now running to replace him.

The latest entrant is Rick Orman, who finished third in the 1992 leadership race and is jumping, once again, into the political fray. In that race, with the party stumbling under former premier Don Getty, former Calgary mayor Ralph Klein won and reinvigorated the party.

Mr. Orman is a well-heeled businessman and energy industry veteran casting himself as an anti-deficit, low-taxes, right-wing conservative in a field of red Tories.

His candidacy, announced in May, is effectively a pitch to be the party steward - turning 63 this week, he's pledging a maximum of two terms to beat and bury the Wildrose insurgency, whose support, he insists, is "an inch deep and a mile wide."

"I'm not doing this to sit in opposition. I'm doing this because I want to win and I want to beat Wildrose," Mr. Orman says, adding he's the only candidate who isn't a current or recent MLA. "For our party to survive, we needed somebody from outside with government experience ... this party needs new blood. There's no question about that."

He's staking the same political turf as former finance minister and social conservative Ted Morton. With both men battling on the party's right flank, the centrist and progressive wings are also crowded.

They include longtime cabinet minister Gary Mar, former justice minister Alison Redford, former deputy premier Doug Horner and backbencher Doug Griffiths, the race's youngest member. At least two other MLAs are seriously considering bids, which must be made by July 15.

The race is already picking up. The candidates have begun attending town-halls, with the first formal debate scheduled for July 28. Voting begins Sept. 17. If none of the six candidates earn a majority, a second-ballot run-off will determine the winner on Oct. 1, the date Mr. Stelmach's resignation takes effect.

"There's a lot of great stuff about Premier Stelmach," PC party president Bill Smith said, praising the premier's integrity. "I think, unfortunately, he was never able to get the broad traction. He was able to demonstrate his personality in small settings but was never able to convey that in the broader picture, and I think that's one of the things that's very difficult for him. It was difficult to watch as well."

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