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Ron Liepert, then Alberta's health minister, speaks to reporters at the legislature in Edmonton on May 15, 2008. (PERRY MAH/The Canadian Press)
Ron Liepert, then Alberta's health minister, speaks to reporters at the legislature in Edmonton on May 15, 2008. (PERRY MAH/The Canadian Press)

Letter from Alberta

Has Ron Liepert hitched his wagon to the right horse this time? Add to ...

Five years ago, the message to Tory MLAs in Alberta was clear: Fall in line and support Jim Dinning as the party's new leader, or risk losing influence.

Mr. Dinning was the frontrunner and party veterans worked fervently behind closed doors to rally the troops behind him - but it amounted to "thuggery and bullying," according to one conservative. In the end, Mr. Dinning lost.

This time around, former cabinet minister Gary Mar was the first of the Progressive Conservative leadership race's five candidates to draw public support from caucus (though rival Doug Griffiths is set to record his own first caucus endorsement Tuesday).

One of Mr. Mar's caucus supporters is Energy Minister Ron Liepert, thereby raising a question. It was Mr. Liepert who acted as the so-called "caucus liaison" for Mr. Dinning and tried to strong-arm support behind closed doors.

Is he doing the same for Mr. Mar?

"With Dinning, I did. But I am not right now," Mr. Liepert said Monday, adding he'd only talked with colleagues about Mr. Mar: "I have done no urging, [but]lots of talking."

Mr. Mar said he hasn't asked Mr. Liepert to act on his behalf. "Ron was Jim's caucus liaison. He doesn't serve that role in my campaign," Mr. Mar said.

In addition to being symbolic, caucus support is valuable because it brings an MLA's grassroots organization with it. "Every MLA has got their own support networks in their ridings. That's how they get elected. So, MLA support is important," Mr. Mar acknowledged.

Veteran cabinet minister Iris Evans is also backing Mr. Mar. He was rumoured to have locked down other caucus support - a handful of MLAs' names appeared on a private Facebook group supporting his candidacy - but one, first-term MLA Fred Horne, said it was an error and that he didn't know about the group.

"I have not made any commitments," Mr. Horne said.

Mr. Griffiths, meanwhile, is set to announce Tuesday that Calgary MLA Kyle Fawcett will endorse his bid for leader. Both are among the youngest PC MLAs.

Mr. Griffiths represents the renewal the party needs, Mr. Fawcett told The Globe and Mail, while other candidates represent the "old school politics of the past."

"If the PC party wants to survive and win back the trust of Albertans, it's going to take substantial change," Mr. Fawcett said.

Former finance minister Ted Morton, who scored scant caucus support when he ran for leader in 2006, plans to announce endorsements next month.

Campaign teams for Doug Horner, the former deputy premier, and Alison Redford, the former justice minister, said the candidates also have caucus support but have so far declined to announce it.

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