Differing visions at the Alberta PC leadership race launch in Lethbridge

The race to determine the next leader of Alberta's Progressive Conservative party officially kicked off Saturday night.

Leader to be chosen March 18 in Calgary

From left: Richard Starke, Byron Nelson, Donna Kennedy-Glans and Jason Kenney all hope to lead the Alberta Progressive Conservative party. (

And they're off!

 Alberta's Progressive Conservative party officially kicked off its leadership contest Saturday night at a hotel ballroom in Lethbridge.

Four candidates have declared themselves to be in the race, even though the nomination period didn't actually open until Saturday.

Alberta Tories will pick a new leader at a delegated convention next March in Calgary. Their last leader, Jim Prentice, resigned after losing to the NDP in the May 2015 election. 

Former MP Jason Kenney was the first to indicate he's in the race. He spent the summer driving around Alberta meeting Conservatives.

He has been joined by MLA Richard Starke, former MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans and Calgary lawyer Byron Nelson.

Several more candidates are expected to join the race prior to the Nov. 10 deadline for contenders.

Former MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans works the room at the PC leadership launch. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

So far, Kenney is the only candidate to talk openly about merging the PC party with the Wildrose party to give Albertans a united conservative alternative in the 2019 election.

Party president Katherine O'Neill said it will be up to the members to decide the party's future direction.

"For sure, we are at a crossroads," said O'Neill. "It's truly up to them [the party's members] to make that decision about which way we go."

She expects another one or two people will jump into the race.

O'Neill said she's excited the race is finally underway, the latest step as the party tries to recover from its defeat in last year's election.

The speeches begin

The four contenders were given time to speak to approximately 120 people who showed up for the launch event.

Kenney said he would welcome another pro-unity candidate in the race but so far, that hasn't happened.

"I think it would be great to have a choice of somebody who wants to ensure the defeat of the NDP in the next election," said Kenney. "At the end of the day, the members have the say."

Nelson agreed with Kenney that eight years of NDP government would be "a disaster."

"I think we need to focus on not just getting the NDP out in 2019, but in restoring and rebuilding this province once we get them out. Because if we don't have a vision and we don't have a plan, we may never recover this province," Nelson said.

Calgary lawyer Byron Nelson (centre) talks to party members in Lethbridge Saturday night. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

In her speech, Donna Kennedy-Glans told party members about Alberta needing a party and a leader which are both progressive and conservative. She doesn't believe Kenney's strategy will necessarily defeat the NDP government in 2019.

"Asking people who voted left to come back into a party that's leaning farther right seems to me not to be a strategy that's feasible," said Kennedy-Glans.

Starke urged members not to give up on the party.

"Don't let the pundits, don't let the media, don't let the other parties, and don't even let leadership candidates tell you our party is dead because that's not their decision. That's up to you and you already decided our party is alive and we're going to rebuild the Progressive Conservative party of Alberta."

More candidates possible

Interim party leader Ric McIver is among those that may still enter this race.

"Albertans have told me they're shopping for the next government already," said McIver. "I think there's quite an appetite for the type of leadership, the type of hope that existed when we had a PC government."

PC interim party leader Ric McIver (right) chats with a party member. McIver might still enter the race. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

Between November and February, PC members will vote for delegates who will go to the leadership convention to choose the next party leader. It's the first time the party has decided to go with a delegated convention since 1985.

In the past few contests, it was a one-member, one-vote system. It was criticized by some party stalwarts who said it resulted in 'two-minute Tories' — people who voted for a candidate and then left the party.

However, it was also praised for allowing any Albertan to have a say on who the PC leader would be and during the PC dynasty years, who would be the next premier.

Now that it's out of power, the cash-strapped PCs have decided to return to their roots for a cheaper and easier to run leadership vote.

A hotel ballroom in Lethbridge was the setting for the kick-off of the Alberta Progressive Conservative party's leadership race. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

Leadership contenders have to post a $30,000 non-refundable administration fee, as well as a $20,000 compliance bond to ensure they follow the rules.

To be confirmed as a leadership candidate, a contestant must gather 500 signatures from party members. Those signatures must come from each of the party's five regions (Edmonton, Calgary, North, South and Central). They also must disclose all of their expenses and donations.