Premier Alison Redford passed a crucial internal party test of her leadership over the weekend, and now faces the more daunting tasks of delivering results in her push to find new markets for the province's oil, and building the Progressive Conservative war chest in time for the next election.
Seventy-seven per cent of eligible party members at the PC annual general meeting and convention Friday and Saturday voted "no" to a new provincial leadership contest, giving the Premier a sturdy mandate to lead the party into the 2016 election.
"We have party unity," Ms. Redford told reporters after the Saturday afternoon announcement of the voting results. She called it "an incredible endorsement" of the changes she's made to government.
Although her party won a solid majority in the 2012 election, fiscal hawks have hammered her government over its deficit budget this year. Cuts to health care, social programs and a $147-million cut to postsecondary education this year – $50-million of which was reinstated earlier this month – have also generated negative reviews.
On Saturday, the Premier said the party is united behind her government's building plans for new schools and roads, and its push to find new markets and better prices for Alberta's landlocked bitumen. She insisted she never had a number in mind as to what percentage of support she would need to call the leadership vote a victory.
"It's really important in a party that we talk about the fact there's always room for improvement," she said of those who voted against her.
Carefully selected delegates, former and current MLAs and other senior party members were eligible to vote in the leadership review. PC party president Jim McCormick said he's pleased with the results. "It gives us the opportunity to put this particular situation behind us."
The 77-per-cent level of support is exactly what former Alberta premier Ed Stelmach received in the 2009 mandatory, mid-term leadership review. However, that leadership review didn't put to rest all the questions regarding Mr. Stelmach's leadership. Facing low polling numbers and dissent within his cabinet, he announced 15 months later he would resign.
Although Ms. Redford's polling numbers are also weak, and there have been rumours of challengers, there are no ready heirs to Ms. Redford's leadership – as was the case with Mr. Stelmach and former premier Ralph Klein as they faced leadership reviews.
"When Stelmach was suffering, and when Klein was suffering, there were people standing up to say, 'I'm ready,'" said long-time party member and fundraiser Brian Felesky. "There's no one standing up right now."
While the province continues on its run as an economic powerhouse, the Premier reiterated this weekend that the "bitumen bubble," or the steep "differential" between the prices Alberta producers are able to get for their crude compared to world prices for oil, have taken a toll on the province's finances. Ms. Redford touted her trips to Washington, D.C. to lobby for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring Alberta oil-sands bitumen to lucrative U.S. Gulf Coast markets, and her framework agreement for the approval of oil pipelines with British Columbia.
The wobbly financial state of the party, as well as the desire to avoid a third leadership race in seven years, also motivated some members to vote against a new leadership contest. The central party is now ramping up its fundraising efforts after an expensive 2012 election campaign and limited success at raising cash this year.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith has said the end of the leadership-review process is a good thing, as the Progressive Conservatives can now get back to focus on governing the province again.
"I am looking forward to a rematch in 2016," Ms. Smith said of Ms. Redford.