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Alberta Tory leadership hopefuls jockey for position ahead of September vote

Alberta Progressive Conservative Party president Jim McCormick, at right, announces at a news conference in Red Deer, Alta., on Monday, March 24, 2014 that party members will vote Sept. 6 on a new leader and premier. They will vote again on Sept. 20 if a runoff vote is needed. Party executive director Kelley Charlebois is at left.


Alberta Progressive Conservatives have set September for their party's leadership vote, and now the fundraising, recruiting of volunteers and organizing begins in earnest.

Candidates are expected to trickle in during the weeks ahead to the competition to replace Alison Redford, who resigned last week amid poor polling numbers, concerns about her leadership style, controversy over her travel expenses, and a swirl of internal party rumours about alleged misdeeds one of her backers called a smear campaign.

While the long-governing PCs have prodded three sitting premiers out the door in the past eight years, including Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and now Ms. Redford, the race is expected to attract a broad field of cabinet ministers and party members. The winner will take over from interim party leader Dave Hancock and will automatically become the next premier of Canada's wealthiest province.

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Cabinet ministers contemplating a run include Jonathan Denis, Thomas Lukaszuk and Ken Hughes – who has established an exploratory committee in the U.S. style of politics to help him test the waters. Finance Minister Doug Horner, who placed third in the 2011 leadership contest that Ms. Redford won, said he is also being asked to run, but is first and foremost focused on promoting and passing Alberta's budget. "I'm not closing any doors," Mr. Horner said in an interview.

Alberta Senator Scott Tannas, who has served one year in the upper house, said he will likely decide whether to run within the next two weeks. "I need to be convinced and reflect a bit on whether or not the skills that I have could be better used in that extremely important job … or whether I should stay the course," he said on Tuesday.

The party laid out the basic rules of the contest on Monday night. The first leadership vote will be Sept. 6, and any candidate who wins more than half the total would be declared party leader. If no one wins a clear majority – the most likely scenario – the two leading candidates will go on to a second day of voting two weeks later.

In previous leadership contests, Tory party members could select from three candidates on the second ballot, and pick a second choice. Second-choice votes for Ms. Redford in 2011 gave her the win over Gary Mar, who received the most first-choice votes.

This led to criticism that the system gave second-choice or "compromise candidates" an edge. The new system was introduced in 2012.

PC leadership campaigns have cost the top contenders a million dollars or more in recent years, and fundraising mechanisms are now under greater scrutiny. Under leadership rules brought in by Elections Alberta since the PC contest in 2011, candidates must disclose the names of contributors who donate more than $250. Unions, government entities and non-Alberta residents cannot contribute.

Alberta has no spending or donation limits in leadership races, but Progressive Conservative executive director Kelley Charlebois said candidates must agree not to accept any single donation larger than $30,000.

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