Members of the Alberta Progressive Conservative party are gathering in Red Deer for a convention this weekend where the main event will be a secret-ballot vote on Premier Ed Stelmach's leadership. The review is a mandatory element in party policy after every election.

Stelmach won the party leadership in December 2006 and led the party to a massive majority in March 2008.


Some Tory MLAs believe supporting party leader Ed Stelmach is the best course in tough times. ((CBC))

But 2009 has been a challenging year for the Alberta premier, with a slumping economy, the loss of a long-held Tory seat in a Calgary byelection, controversy over health-care cuts and the problems that have arisen during the H1N1 vaccination campaign.

Some Tory MLAs say that's why Stelmach should be strongly supported.

"It's not a good time to look at changing a leader," said Lindsay Blackett, culture minister for the Stelmach government.

"Look at the fact that across our world, across our country, we're all facing the same tough problems, whether it's H1N1, whether it's the economy, and we've done a lot to position Alberta to be in a place to be able to recover from this better than most other places, and we'd be the laughingstock of Canada if we changed any of that right now," Blackett said.

"Cutbacks in health care, a lot of people don't like what's happening there," said Genia Leskiw, MLA for Bonnyville-Cold Lake. "But in reality, we want to make a system that's sustainable, and we've got to do what needs to be done."

"I ran because of him, and I intend to support him," Leskiw said of Stelmach.

Slumping in the polls

The Tories have slumped badly in public opinion polls, with the most recent poll showing support from only 34 per cent of decided voters, down from 55 per cent a year ago.

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann has some advice for Stelmach, given all the controversy surrounding health-care cuts and the flu vaccination rollout. "I think if he fired his health minister, that would do a lot for his polling results," Swann said.

There's no formula outlining the support Stelmach needs before he would be expected to reconsider staying on as leader of the party. At a party convention in 2006, former Alberta premier Ralph Klein resigned after receiving the support of just 55 per cent of delegates.

Tony Vandermeer, MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, figures there's no chance of that happening this weekend.

"I think he'll do quite well, between 75 and 80 per cent," said Vandermeer.

"It's always silly season before any vote," said Iris Evans, Stelmach's finance minister. "I think there's a lot of speculation. At the end of the day, he'll win."