The former leader of the Wildrose Party is expected to be challenged for the Progressive Conservative nomination in the Highwood riding.

Danielle Smith crossed the floor in December to join the Tories. She will now have to fight to be the PC candidate in the next election.

Several people have expressed interest in running against Smith, according to Highwood PC constituency association president Suzanne Oel. She would not mention any names because no one has officially declared their intentions.

The nomination race could begin as soon as March. Key dates for the nomination process are expected to be finalized at a meeting this weekend.

"We think having an earlier nomination may be helpful to us all to understand where the support will be," said Oel.

The constituency association board has been in contact with Smith about the nomination process.

"We respect our new sitting MLA, but we also respect the residents of Highwood and their participation in this process," said Oel.

Smith has faced criticism in her riding since she crossed the floor. A petition is circulating in Highwood urging the MLA to resign her seat.

Smith faces stiff test

Smith crossed the floor along with eight of her Wildrose colleagues in mid-December. Dean Leask, a past president of the Highwood PC constituency association, thinks Smith will have a tough time securing the PC nomination.

'"I think it will be very difficult.' - Dean Leask on Smith's chances

"I think it will be very difficult because she has alienated her Wildrose supporters and as far as I know she is not really widely popular with the PC group, so I don't know where her base of support would be," he said.

He says everyone involved with the PC nomination in the riding is in uncharted waters following the floor crossing, including the local constituency association.

"They just spent the last number of years basically fighting against Danielle and now they have to support her or work with her," he said. "Anybody that has been involved in politics knows that is a tough thing to do."

When the group of Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor, there was speculation the politicians would be protected from any challenges for PC nominations for the next election. But the PC party has declared nominations in all ridings are up for grabs.

All PC nominations open

"All 87 constituency associations under the PC party have to hold nomination meetings in 2015," said Kelley Charlebois, executive director with the PC Association of Alberta.

"There is no question all of the recent additions to our caucus and our party will be going through a nomination."

That includes party leader Jim Prentice in the riding of Calgary-Foothills. He just became an MLA after winning an October byelection.

The timing of the races will be decided locally in each riding. In ridings where a Wildrose MLA crossed to the Tories, the PC Association of Alberta urges they work with the sitting MLA to pick a time for both the MLA and the constituency association.

Possible outcome

Smith would remain Highwood's MLA even if she loses the PC nomination, but someone else would become the party's candidate for the next provincial election. 

"We don't know what the future will hold," says Oel.  "We are going to try and make our best effort to work through it and be very professional about it."

Smith was not available for comment as she is out of the country, according to her staff.

The Highwood riding is south of Calgary and includes the communities of Okotoks and High River.