Alberta Tory contenders face off in televised debate

The three remaining contenders in the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership race faced off in a televised debate on Thursday night.

The three remaining contenders in the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership race faced off in a televised debate on Thursday night, two days before the second ballot.

Jim Dinning, the first-round leader in the race to replace Premier Ralph Klein, attacked rival Ted Morton on Thursday as someone who would alienate Albertans and isolate the province.

"We have to make sure this is a big-tent party," Dinning told Morton.
Edmonton Tory party members line up to cast a ballot in the advance polls Wednesday night. ((CBC News))

Dinning, Morton and veteran cabinet minister Ed Stelmach are the three remaining candidates to replace Premier Ralph Klein.

The three were asked questions by a three-person panelduring the debate, which was not open to the public.

Dinning warned thatMorton's plans to reform thehealth system wouldforce seniorsto usecharge cards to pay for basic care, an assertion Morton rejected.

Dinning alsosaid Morton's plan to allow doctors to work part time in the private system would be the final blow for health regions such as those in northern Alberta already struggling with critical staff shortages.

But Morton,a Tory backbencher who was policy director for the Canadian Alliance party, said his government would monitor the system to make sure there were enough doctors and nurses and would actively recruit outside the province.

"Grow the entire pie. More Albertans will get more health care, more quickly," he said.

Morton added he would allow more private operators to speed up wait times.

Morton also promised that Tories across the political spectrum would be let into his cabinet.

An inclusive promise

Stelmach, a former intergovernmental affairs ministerfrom the northern Alberta riding of Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, said he would also run an inclusive government.

"My campaign has been based on honesty, integrity and sincerity and doing what's right for all Albertans."

He saidhe would move quickly to get an immigration agreement with the federal government to bring in more health professionals and would scrutinize all aspects of health delivery.

"We are paying more per capita than any other province in the country. I want to make sure that we get value for those dollars," he said.

Volunteers overwhelmed

In thefirst round of balloting on Nov. 25, Dinning led the way out of eight contenders with29,470 votes, followed by Morton with 25,614 and Stelmach with 14,967.

Because no one received enough support for a clear victory, the three candidates will be ranked in a preferential ballot on Dec. 2 to determine who will replace Ralph Klein as premier.

How the preferential ballot works:
  • Each party member gets ballot with three names on it.
  • Voters will markaNo. 1next to their first choice and aNo. 2 next to their second choice.
  • If a candidate gets 50 per cent plus one of the No. 1 rankings, he will be the winner.
  • If no candidate gets a majority, the candidate with the least votes drops off.
  • The second choice votes on his ballots are transferred to the remaining two and a winner is declared.

Volunteers were overwhelmed by the numbers of people who showed up tocast a ballotin Calgary and Edmonton last week, withvoters waiting up to an hour to vote.

However, party officials said they didn't experience the same lineups at the second ballot's advance polls on Wednesday night.

With more volunteers and ballot boxes on Wednesday night,voters were in and out in about 15 or 20 minutes.

Party officials will beef up resources for Saturday night's vote too. On Nov. 25, 97,000 peoplecast a voteacross the province.

Any Albertan 16 and over with a $5 party membership can vote.

With files from the Canadian Press