Ric McIver brings fiscal conservatism to Alberta PC leadership race, experts say

Ric McIver will add a dose of fiscal conservatism to the debate as he vies for the leadership of the Alberta Tories, political watchers say.

Calgary MLA resigned from cabinet this week to run for Progressive Conservative top job

Former cabinet minister Ric McIver will bring fiscal conservative views to the debate as he vies to be the next leader of the Alberta PC party, observers say. (CBC)

Ric McIver will add a dose of fiscal conservatism to the debate as he vies for the leadership of the Alberta Tories, political watchers say.

The Alberta MLA resigned as infrastructure minister this week before stepping into the race on Wednesday to replace former premier Alison Redford as leader of the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party.

Mount Royal University political science professor Lori Williams says McIver’s presence in the race will ensure fiscal conservative views are represented.  

But the former Calgary alderman and mayoral candidate will need to broaden his support outside his home city in order to be a serious contender for the top job, she said.

McIver is going up against Calgary MLA Ken Hughes and former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice, who is widely viewed as the man to beat even before making his candidacy official.

The leadership convention will be held in September. 

Losing won't hurt

But Williams says even if he loses, there isn’t much of a downside for McIver.

“This is a race with such a strong frontrunner, someone with such connections and broad appeal and such credibility, that losing to him is not going to be something that would hurt a candidate that runs against him,” she said.

“It's going to raise rather than diminish their profile. And so it certainly won't hurt him to run against Jim Prentice, but nobody's expecting him to win.”

However, the cost of getting his name on the ballot is $50,000 —  which is non-refundable​.

Stephen Carter, a national director of campaign strategy for Hill and Knowlton Canada, agrees McIver has fiscal conservative credentials.

He says the man who earned the nickname “Dr. No” on Calgary city council for his approach to public spending has many loyal supporters.

“I think Ric McIver is going to be an absolute wild card in this election. People who know him love him,” he said.

'Goldilocks' strategy

But he did serve in Redford's cabinet — and that has the potential to hurt his chances, Carter said.

“I think that anybody that’s been around the table is part of the problem,” he said.

However, McIver’s relatively brief time in provincial politics might save him, Carter said.

“I think he goes with the Goldilocks message — I’m not from outside, but I’m outside enough. And that should do him pretty well,” he said.

“Ric has been there only the last two years. He’s still been trying to figure out what's going on. I think that him as a candidate is a great step, it offers a different voice that's not going to be heard from many of the existing caucus members,” he said.

No matter who wins the PC leadership, keeping the party in power through another provincial election is going to be very challenging, Carter said.

“Let’s say that Jim Prentice is successful and wins the leadership. Does he win the next election? Today, I’d be hard pressed to say that a Progressive Conservative, any leadership candidate, will win the next election,” he said.

“There’s a long ways to go to rebuild that party’s brand.”