Alberta PC party ends one member, one vote system to choose leaders

The one member, one vote system has come under criticism for recent years. Delegates told stories about people being brought in to vote for a candidate immediately after purchasing a membership.

Wounded but 'not dead,' outgoing party president says

PCAA members approved a motion to move to a delegate system for choosing their next leader. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC News )

The next leader of Alberta's Progressive Conservative party will be chosen through a delegated convention. 

The decision was made Saturday at the party's annual general meeting in Red Deer, the first since the PCs lost power in the May 2015 election. 

The one member, one vote system has come under criticism in recent years. Delegates told stories about people being brought in to vote for a candidate immediately after purchasing a membership. 

From now on, there will be a 14-day cooling off period between purchasing a membership and voting for a new leader. 

Under the delegate system, party members will vote for delegates from each constituency association. The delegates will then decide on the leader at a convention.

Former deputy premier and PC leadership candidate Doug Horner said the old one-member, one-vote system could be exploited by candidates that didn't have support within the party. 

"We need to work as a volunteer organization and the best way to get volunteers involved is that they will have ownership in the leader that they selected," Horner said.

In his remarks, Horner also stated something that was said several times over the day long meeting. 

"I think it's time we stopped electing premiers and started electing the leader of our party," Horner said to applause.

Money problems 

The party's board of directors will decide in the next three to 12 months when to hold a leadership race. PC MLAs Sandra Jansen and Richard Starke say they are both considering whether they will run. 

Delegates passed a motion prohibiting future interim leaders from running for the permanent leadership. However, current interim leader Ric McIver will not be affected as delegates decided not to make the motion retroactive. 

The unite the right issue reared its head only briefly in the morning when the convention discussed a survey of members done after the 2015 election. 

The majority of members said the PCs lost because the party was perceived as "arrogant and entitled," they didn't listen to Albertans and lost their trust. Call of the election one year early was another reason chosen by people who were surveyed.

People were asked to rate five options from one to five: rebuild the PC party; unite the right; renew, then reassess; unite the centre; and rebrand.

While weighted assessments put rebuilding as the most popular option, uniting the right came second. 

Still most of the delegates who spoke at an open microphone session were emphatic they wanted to stay with the party 

"I am a Progressive Conservative," Susan Elliott said. "I intend to stay a Progressive Conservative and I urge you all to vote for that." 

Earlier in the day, party members received some sobering financial news. They will end May with only $10,000 in the bank.

Former and current PC MLAs posed for a picture at the AGM in Red Deer on Saturday. (CBC )

However, a larger than expected turnout to the meeting, the first since the party lost power in the 2015 election, means they should clear an additional $50,000 to $60,000.

Organizers originally planned for about 300 delegates. One thousand people showed up.

Delegates were told the party has paid off $880,000 in short-term debt. But they still owe $770,000.

Party treasurer William Stevenson said the party used to spend $150,000 a month. That dipped to $20,000 a month for the remainder of 2015.

Stevenson said the party needs to raise $4 million for the 2019 election campaign.

The financial difficulties started when the party didn't have enough to fully pay for the 2015 election campaign. Party officials thought they would be able to make up the funding gap with fundraising dinners.

That became less of an option when the party was reduced to nine MLAs on election night and then-leader Jim Prentice immediately stepped down.

'There is a heartbeat'

The PCs were also hurt by changes to fundraising rules after the NDP took power. One change meant corporations can no longer donate to political parties, something the Conservatives had long benefited from. 

The one-day convention started with an emotional speech from outgoing party president Terri Beaupre, who described the past year since the election toppled the PCs one of the worst in the party's history. But Beaupre said the PCs are still a force in the province.

"We are not dead," Beaupre said. "We were wounded. 

"We have learned from these critical lessons and today we are all healing and moving forward together. There is a heartbeat in this room."

The party elected Katherine O'Neill as its new president. O'Neill, a former reporter with the Globe and Mail and PC candidate in the last election, says her priorities will be working with constituency associations and fundraising. 

"We definitely have some financial issues that we need to address," she said. "So we need to sit down and discuss a completely new fundraising strategy because without money, we can't run our associations."

McIver said he was excited that 1,000 people showed up to the convention.

"It's pretty positive for the future of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta," he said, adding several delegates told him they planned to work on selling the party in their communities. 

"We must remain humble. We must remain focused on doing our work."