Conservative nomination battles are heating up in Alberta, home of some of Stephen Harper's safest ridings, after the party committed to wide-open races leading up to the 2015 election.
The races are revealing old divides in Canada's united political right, in some cases pitting those from the Conservative Party's Reform and Progressive Conservative wings against each other.
While nominations haven't been formally announced, many candidates in Alberta expect votes will take place before summer. Incumbent MPs have agreed not to run against one another, according to one of them, though they're not all safe: a former Alberta finance minister, Ron Liepert, on Thursday launched a campaign to unseat long-time Calgary MP Rob Anders. At least nine of the 34 ridings aren't expected to have incumbents.
In Mr. Harper's hometown, Calgary, three ridings don't. Provincial MLA Len Webber, 53, is eyeing a bid in one of those, Calgary Confederation, making him one of four Alberta MLAs considering a jump to federal politics. "I'm seriously considering it, absolutely," Mr. Webber said in an interview.
Premier Alison Redford's director of planning, Matthew Macdonald, is also eyeing a bid for the Conservative nomination in the same riding, one that the Liberals are also targeting. "I think it is important to have the right candidate for this area to keep it in the Stephen Harper conservative column," Mr. Macdonald said. He hasn't made a decision.
In Calgary Rocky Ridge, also wide open, former Reform MP Eric Lowther, 59, and party activist Steve Ladd, 28, are among a field said to be eyeing bids. Mr. Ladd declined comment, while Mr. Lowther said he's "actively preparing" a campaign, worrying nomination races threaten the conservative brand. "I don't want to see all that we've done be marginalized or undermined because good, solid Conservatives aren't in the race," he said.
The new riding of Calgary Shepard was carved partly out of Jason Kenney's turf – and Mr. Kenney's ex-staffer, Tom Kmiec, launched his campaign Thursday and is widely viewed as the front-runner. Mr. Kenney declined to say whether he'd endorse Mr. Kmiec.
In Southern Alberta, Lethbridge MP Jim Hillyer had previously said he'd challenge fellow Conservative MP LaVar Payne in Medicine Hat, but has since backtracked. "We have decided as a party that two sitting MPs will not challenge one another," Mr. Hillyer wrote on Facebook this summer, saying there's a "high probability" he'll run again in Lethbridge.
In Edmonton, maps have been redrawn, and existing MPs are shuffling around. James Rajotte, Blaine Calkins and Mike Lake were all said to be considering the same riding, Edmonton-Wetaskiwin, which is now expected to go to Mr. Lake, who declined comment. In Edmonton Centre, once a Liberal riding, Conservative MP Laurie Hawn hasn't made a decision on retirement. Longtime MP and ex-Reformer Peter Goldring is considering retirement, but is also eyeing the same riding as a provincial PC MLA, Janice Sarich.
Liberal sources see up to six seats in the province the party could win. Those include Lethbridge, Edmonton Centre, Calgary Confederation and Edmonton Strathcona – held by the NDP, which leap-frogged the Liberals in Alberta during the last election, winning the only seat that didn't go Conservative. "We're looking to build on our success in Edmonton Strathcona and will be focusing widely in Alberta," NDP national director Nathan Rotman said.
The party protected incumbents before the 2011 election. This time, the races are wide open, but only one Alberta MP is facing a serious nomination threat so far – Mr. Anders.
Mr. Liepert announced his campaign Thursday, saying voters are "fed up" with Mr. Anders, who in turn has cast Mr. Liepert as a Red Tory – "Red Ron" – open to tax hikes. The race has whiffs of the conservative split provincially, as Mr. Liepert served in Ms. Redford's PC government and Mr. Anders backs the opposition Wildrose.
The Conservative Party's national council is set to meet Feb. 8, and nomination races could be announced soon after.