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Alberta Premier Jim Prentice tells reporters that his government will balance its budget despite low oil prices, in Banff on Saturday, November 15, 2014.The Canadian Press

Alberta's Progressive Conservatives were back to acting like the province's natural governing party at a weekend convention, effectively ending a death watch by many who believed the party's 43-year grasp on power was coming to an end.

Since Jim Prentice took over as leader in mid-September, the party has shed the baggage of the scandal-ridden final months under former Premier Alison Redford, swept four by-elections and put the opposition on the defensive.

With party faithful gathered in this resort town ahead of Monday's Throne Speech, little attention was paid to what Mr. Prentice has called the party's "darkest days." Discussion turned immediately to the practical troubles of governing – how to pay for new schools, hospitals and roads.

Promising a balanced budget this year and next, Mr. Prentice did not rule out finding new revenue sources as the province struggles to stay in the black amid plunging oil prices. The party ruled out introducing a provincial sales tax, opting instead to introduce tolls on the province's new roads. The Tories indicated their first bill will strengthen property owner's rights, a position long advocated by the Wildrose, and a second bill – a new accountability law – will take direct aim at some of the ethical lapses of Ms. Redford.

Closing a weekend that saw the Premier put on a jersey and play ball hockey against members of his caucus, Mr. Prentice vowed to maintain control of the province.

"As long as this province is in the hands of the Progressive Conservative Party, we can sleep well," he said.

Still, some warned against being overly confident, even as the opposition Wildrose struggles.

About 2 1/2 hours to the northeast in Red Deer, Opposition Leader Danielle Smith faced a Wildrose Party that was poised to form government in 2012 and looked strong as Ms. Redford's premiership collapsed.

"We've had a challenging couple of weeks and we'll have a challenging couple of months ahead," a frustrated Ms. Smith told her party on Friday. "Here is the harsh truth: Something we are doing isn't quite working."

After Ms. Smith's caucus rejected a leadership review she had requested, she announced that she would step down if her party didn't form a government after a general election expected in the spring of 2016.

When asked on the weekend how her party could lose all four by-elections a month ago, finishing third in half the contests, Ms. Smith took aim at the media and her party's inability to communicate its positive message.

Several hours later, party members voted to backtrack on an inclusive policy to recognize all Albertans, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation and other differences, as equal. Ms. Smith, who was not in the room during the vote, said she would have voted for the more inclusive policy. Instead, the party voted 148-109 to retain an earlier version of the policy that supports equality without mentioning any specific groups.

During the 2012 election, with victory looking certain, the party's campaign was derailed after it was revealed candidate Allan Hunsperger had written that gays would face an eternity in "lakes of fire." Since then, Ms. Smith has sought to improve relations with Alberta's LGBTQ community.

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