Alberta PCs hold first AGM since election loss to NDP

Alberta Progressive Conservatives are meeting in Red Deer this weekend to discuss what went wrong in the 2014 election and the future of the party.

Delegates discussing how to pick next leader, future of the party

PC interim leader Ric McIver is still debating about whether he wants to run for the permanent leadership of the party. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC)

Alberta Progressive Conservatives in Alberta last held an annual general meeting in November 2014.

Spirits were high at the Banff Springs Hotel as Jim Prentice, who had just become premier, addressed the crowd.

Prentice was riding a wave of popularity. The measures he had taken to undo some of the worst excesses of the Alison Redford era seemed to be going over well with the public.

Two weeks before, PC candidates, including Prentice himself, were able to hold off the Wildrose and win all four byelections in Calgary. There was no reason to believe decades of Tory governance would come to an end anytime soon.

"There's nobody writing obituaries of this party this weekend," Prentice told the crowd on the first night of the 2014 AGM. "We are under new management and we are serious about moving Alberta forward."

Eighteen months later, the mood is guardedly optimistic as party members gather in Red Deer for the first AGM since the humiliating defeat by Rachel Notley and the NDP one year ago.

Jim Prentice had only been PC party leader for a couple of months when the party held its last AGM in November 2014. (CBC)

The event in Red Deer will be a much more subdued affair. Party faithful will ponder their future and figure out rules for the next leadership race.

The meeting takes place as groups ponder different options for uniting conservatives into a single party to take on the NDP in 2019. But even those groups can't agree what to do.

One wants the Wildrose and PC parties to unite. Another is calling for the creation of a brand new political alternative.

But some PC loyalists have resisted the call. Some say people in the Wildrose Party are too socially conservative for their tastes.

The party is also buoyed by its victory in the Calgary-Greenway byelection, a riding held by PC MLA Manmeet Bhullar until he was killed in a highway crash in late November.

Delegate system pondered 

The unite-the-right movement isn't on the agenda, but interim leader Ric McIver suspects it will still come up,

"There is some time where our members will get to go to the microphone and speak about what they want to speak about," he said. "A lot of people, and I'm one of them, wouldn't be surprised if some of our members raised the future direction of conservative politics in Alberta." 

Post-mortems done in the months following the defeat in May 2015 are on the agenda. So are proposals for changing the leadership selection process.

The preferential-voting system used in recent contests led to the victories of former premiers Alison Redford and Ed Stelmach. Neither were considered the frontrunner during their respective contests.

Preferential voting wasn't used in the 2014 contest, but problems with online and telephone voting frustrated party members.

Proposals up for discussion Saturday include moving to a delegate system and changing the rules so people who buy memberships can't immediately vote for a new leader.

One proposal suggests a one-member/one-vote system in combination with a delegate system, with so-called "party stalwarts" getting more say on who wins.

As for McIver, delegates will discuss a resolution that will deal with his ability to run for the leadership. McIver says he is still thinking about what he wants to do.

An amendment proposed by Calgary-North West, the constituency of PC MLA Sandra Jansen, would bar an interim leader from running in a leadership race.

Jansen has said she is thinking about running for leader.