Alberta Premier Alison Redford made her case to Progressive Conservative members Friday night before a pivotal mid-term leadership review by portraying the party as a large family that sticks together "through thick and thin."
Surrounded by her MLAs and 2012 election candidates, Ms. Redford spoke to an energetic, packed convention hall to kick off her party's 2013 annual general meeting and convention. However, there were some patches of quiet applause, and her speech also favoured topics such as Alberta's status as a low-tax jurisdiction, as well as her government's move to freeze public sector management salaries and bonuses – actions that play well with fiscally conservative members who question why the province has introduced a deficit budget this year.
While she touted her party's ability to adapt and survive as the province's politics shifts, she noted "that doesn't mean we abandon our Progressive Conservative principles and values." She said Alberta's economy thrives "because we have the lowest taxes in Canada. And as your premier I will keep it that way."
She said also made a familial appeal to delegates, saying it's all about "becoming friends at an early age, and then in some ways, growing up together. That's why I'm so proud of who we are as a party, and as a family."
As soon as Ms. Redford finished her speech Friday night, the ballot booths opened, allowing up to 1,600 riding delegates, MLAs and other senior party members to cast a vote as to whether a new leadership contest should be held. While most party insiders and political watchers now expect more than 50 per cent of party members to vote "no" to a new race, and will stick with Ms. Redford, a simple majority will not allow her to easily carry on to the 2016 election.
The results, which will be released about 3 p.m. local time Saturday, will be measured against former premier Ed Stelmach, who survived the last PC party leadership vote in 2009 with 77 per cent support from delegates.
Her government has been challenged by a stiff discount on Alberta crude, public sector cuts and big pay outs for departing senior staff. While there are no obvious and organized leadership challengers, retired Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel is an often talked about as a potential candidate. But Mr. Mandel refuses to discuss whether he is interested in Ms. Redford's job and said he is attending the convention to immerse himself in the party's policies.
The Alberta PCs have been in power in Alberta since 1971, when the party led by Peter Lougheed swept to power. In her speech, Ms. Redford said Alberta's success -- with the strongest economy in the country, low unemployment and a population projected to grow to five million in the next decade -- "comes from the support of generations of Progressive Conservative governments."
Ms. Redford touted her government's law to build the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund to $24 billion by the next election. She draw large applause when she mentioned a portion of Calgary's ring road that was officially opened Friday, and the signing a framework agreement on moving Alberta oil to the West Coast "after months of hard-fought negotiations" with B.C.
Former cabinet minister Lorne Taylor won't reveal whether he will support the premier, but acknowledged Friday that "she gave a good speech." He said he hopes once the leadership review is completed, the party can focus on rebuilding its support in rural southern Alberta, where the Wildrose party dominated in the last election.
The leadership test comes as the Official Opposition Wildrose party positions itself as a softer, kinder conservative party than it was often portrayed in the last election. Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith's most recent speeches have favoured topics including seniors care, and paying more attention to Edmonton, where her party failed to win any seats in the 2012 provincial election.