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Former Harper cabinet minister considers bid for Alberta PC leadership

Former Harper cabinet minister Jim Prentice is seriously considering a run for the leadership of Alberta's beleaguered Progressive Conservative Party.

Sources close to Mr. Prentice, who left federal politics in 2010 for one of Canada's Big Five banks, say he is actively preparing the ground for a campaign in the event he should decide to throw his hat into the ring.

A number of high-ranking PC party members and Calgary business leaders are actively pushing Mr. Prentice to run in the party's leadership contest, forced by Alison Redford's resignation last month. They believe he can not only win the leadership vote, scheduled for September, but also has the best chance of getting the long-governing party out of the political doldrums before the next provincial election in 2016.

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Mr. Prentice has federal politics and private sector experience, and counts allies on many parts of the political spectrum. He has the added bonus of not being in cabinet while Ms. Redford took a number of controversial high-priced flights and the party sank in the polls.

"All I can say is he hasn't said no, and he hasn't said yes," said Calgary oil-patch veteran and philanthropist Jim Gray, who considers Mr. Prentice a friend and has talked to him, among others, about the leadership contest.

"He could put a team together, and he could put a powerful team together."

Mr. Prentice, who has stoked chatter by refusing to rule out a bid in the last four weeks, will take a Calgary stage May 8 in front of hundreds of Progressive Conservatives to introduce Alberta Premier Dave Hancock, who is serving in an interim capacity, at the provincial party's key fundraiser in the city.

The Globe approached Mr. Prentice through his staff for comment several times, but did not receive a reply.

"There's a mounting crowd of people," said lawyer Brian Felesky, a key party fundraiser and part of the group of insiders encouraging Mr. Prentice to run.

"It's a given that the party would benefit from someone who is very well known, very well respected, but nonetheless not the part of the current regime," he said. "It is uplifting that there is such a sense of hope and anticipation."

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Mr. Felesky said it's not just politicos within Alberta encouraging Mr. Prentice to run, but also business leaders – whom he declines to name – from across Canada who believe he could be instrumental in getting Alberta oil to seaboards and onward to global markets in the role of premier. Since leaving Ottawa, Mr. Prentice, 57, has signed on to help the Northern Gateway pipeline project by negotiating with native groups on behalf of Enbridge.

Alberta Progressive Conservatives will vote for a new leader, who will automatically become the province's next premier, in a process that culminates on Sept. 20. So far, only MLA Ken Hughes – who stepped away from his municipal affairs cabinet portfolio this month – has officially declared his candidacy. Popular former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel said Wednesday he will not run, ending weeks of speculation. Edmonton Conservative MP James Rajotte has left the door open to entering the contest, as have provincial cabinet ministers Thomas Lukaszuk, Diana McQueen, Jonathan Denis, Manmeet Bhullar, Ric McIver and Doug Horner.

One senior Progressive Conservative operative, who asked not to be named, said the PCs might be inviting trouble by focusing on another "federal, Joe Clark" Tory with little understanding of the provincial party, its caucus, or its members – a criticism often levelled at Ms. Redford.

But Alan Hallman, a long-time Conservative organizer, said while there are a lot of good people in the provincial cabinet, they have been "tainted" by the Redford expense scandal, and an outsider is desperately needed. Ms. Redford announced her resignation on March 19 in the face of an approval rating of around 20 per cent, and under siege from within her own party and caucus over travel-expense controversies and questions about her leadership style.

"There's no sense of having a leader that can win the battle and lose the war. This is all about winning the next election," Mr. Hallman said.

PC MLA Kyle Fawcett – whose Calgary-Klein riding overlaps in part with the federal riding Mr. Prentice used to represent – said Tuesday that although he is talking to many of the potential leadership candidates, he would lean toward Mr. Prentice if he were to join the race. Strong support for Mr. Prentice in caucus, he believes, is "almost a guarantee."

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