Federal Tories approached over Alberta PC leadership

'The name everyone is talking about is Jim Prentice,' says party insider

OTTAWA – Several federal Conservatives are being approached about running for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives, but the shaky state of the provincial party might be a major turnoff.

As soon as embattled Alison Redford announced she was resigning as premier, an explosion of speculation began in Conservative circles over who might be the right person to replace her.

There are many overlapping relationships, political and personal, between the federal Conservatives and the provincial Tories.

Former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice has many supporters in Alberta who would like to see him take a stab at it, even though his name is still raised as a potential successor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“The name everyone is talking about is Jim Prentice,” said one Alberta Tory organizer.

“I do think he would win quite handily. Whether he wants it or not is quite another matter.”

Prentice’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Sources say some high-profile federal politicians have already been contacted to gauge their interest, including Commons finance committee chairman James Rajotte, whose riding is in Edmonton.

Rajotte told The Canadian Press on Thursday that it’s “too early” to start talking about the party’s leadership race, which has not yet officially begun. Longtime Alberta cabinet minister Dave Hancock has been named interim leader and premier and the party’s board of directors is to meet Monday to decide the process for the leadership race.

Feelers are also going out to top Conservative women such as Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Western Economic Development Minister Michelle Rempel — both from Alberta. The next Tory boss will go up against Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, who currently heads the Opposition.

“I think that Michelle Rempel is very interesting because she’s everybody’s favourite MP,” said Stephen Carter, a former chief of staff to Redford.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re on the far right or the far left of the spectrum, everyone has a tonne of time and respect for her. She kind of is representing that post-partisan nature that I like to talk about a lot.”

But running for the leadership after such a traumatic period for the party may give the most courageous federal politician pause.

As one federal Tory put it, the Alberta PCs have some problems that need to be overcome before anyone will be keen to step up.

One of those issues is a leadership race where memberships can be sold between ballots on voting day. That means a candidate can bring in people with little connection to the party to win — a criticism made of Redford’s victory.

The government also appears to have a problem with a lack of oversight with expenses.

For now, many Alberta Conservatives in Ottawa are just watching with mouths agape at what’s happening in their home province.

“I think (Alberta MPs) were pretty dazed and shocked initially,” said Michele Austin, a senior adviser at Summa Strategies who has worked with Tories federally and provincially.

“I think they feel kind of a quiet pride that Alberta is so able to take the democratic process as seriously, and fight for the best of this province, but I think they also take that as a warning that they better do a good job.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.