Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft announced Thursday he will introduce a private members' motion to make rodeo the official sport of Alberta. ((CBC))

Alberta has two NHL hockey teams, two teams in the Canadian Football League and curling rinks in communities across the province, but Liberal Leader Kevin Taft thinks rodeo should be the province's official sport.

Attired in a cowboy hat and western gear, Taft told reporters at the Alberta legislature that he is launching a public campaign to get the public behind the idea.

"Rodeo's heritage in this province is so strong," he said. "Alberta's home to Canada's greatest rodeos and some of the best in the world."

Along with the world-famous Calgary Stampede, Alberta is also host of the Canadian Finals Rodeo, which takes place in Edmonton every November. The 2008 version started Wednesday night. 

Calling it a "natural," Taft said he was surprised rodeo hasn't already been given this honour.

"I'll be bringing in a motion, a private members' motion, in a couple of weeks to the assembly," Taft said.

Taft dismissed suggestions that endorsing rodeo could be a controversial move, given the concerns animal rights groups have expressed about some events.

"I believe the rodeo industry takes animal welfare very, very seriously. The cowboys I know treat their horses with the greatest care," Taft said. "The rodeo industry understands they have to be leading when it comes to issues of animal welfare, animal safety, and I think they take that seriously. So I'm comfortable with that position.

"But you know what? Let's stir up that debate. Let's have everybody come forward and hash it out," he said.

MLAs might heed Taft's call for cross-party support from everyone at the Alberta legislature; he got a hearty round of applause after he read a members statement about his rodeo campaign just before the start of Thursday's question period.

But one Edmonton-based animal rights activist said it was "surreal" that Taft is the person who raised this proposal.

Tove Reece, the executive director of Voice for Animals, has campaigned against rodeos, chuckwagon races and zoos for years.

"I'm not quite sure why the Liberals or anybody for that matter would think that brutalizing animals is a sport,"  she said.  "And basically that's what rodeos are all about."