Alberta Votes 2015: Jim Prentice expected to call election today

Months of speculation should end today, when Alberta Premier Jim Prentice is scheduled to appear at 10:30 a.m. MT at the Crestwood Community Hall in Edmonton to make a "major announcement," expected to be the long-awaited election call.

Premier to make 'major announcement' at 10:30 a.m

Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice is expected to call an early spring election to campaign on the March 26 budget. (CBC )

Last week, Premier Jim Prentice was asked once again what reporters have been asking for months: When would Albertans go to the polls?

"Well, I think we should all enjoy the Easter weekend," he quipped.

The months of speculation should finally end today, when Prentice is scheduled to appear at 10:30 a.m. MT at the Crestwood Community Hall in Edmonton to make a "major announcement," expected to be the long-awaited election call. 

A standard 28-day campaign would send Albertans to the polls as early as May 5. 

According to Alberta law, the date of the next election is supposed to take place a year from now. So why would a premier with 72 of 87 seats in the legislature ignore his government's own legislation and go to the polls so soon?

Wildrose down, but not out?

After Prentice won the Progressive Conservative leadership vote in September 2014, the Tories hoped to put the Alison Redford era behind them.

Prentice was working in the private sector while Redford was premier and had no connection to the spending scandals that led to her resignation.

For the first few months, the party looked as if it had made the right choice. By reversing some of Redford's most unpopular decisions and shedding symbols of the excess such as government airplanes, Prentice appeared to do no wrong.

The PCs swept the four seats up for grabs in byelections in October. The poor showing by the Wildrose Party raised questions about the leadership of Danielle Smith and set the stage for her floor-crossing two months later.

At the same time, the price of oil began its dramatic decline, and by November the new premier was warning of the dire effect on Alberta's finances.

Talk of an impending election started around that time. The thinking was that Prentice would want to call a vote to avoid the political consequences caused by low oil prices and falling revenue.

Election talk heated up before Christmas, as Smith shocked political watchers across Canada when she and eight of her Wildrose caucus colleagues joined the PCs.

That defection, along with the departure of two other members of the legislature a month earlier, left the Official Opposition with just five seats in the legislature.

With the Opposition in disarray, many believed there was added incentive for Prentice to go to the polls.

On Monday, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean (right) tweeted this photo of him with Tany Yao, the Wildrose candidate in Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. (Brian Jean )
There were some miscues along the way. Prentice made his first misstep with the original version of Bill 10, which prompted a public outcry because it allowed religious schools to prevent students from setting up gay-straight alliances on school property. 

Then there was Prentice's remark that Albertans needed to only "look in the mirror" to see who was responsible for Alberta's financial problems. 

The Tories are expected to campaign on the March 26 provincial budget, which introduced a number of new taxes to make up for a $7-billion drop in oil revenue.

Prentice abandoned the 10 per cent flat rate for personal income tax, a measure introduced by Stockwell Day, provincial treasurer under former premier Ralph Klein. Albertans are also paying more for cigarettes, alcohol and fuel.

However, in a budget where everyone was supposed to feel the pain, corporations got off without any tax increases, a decision not playing well with the public.

Old makes way for new 

In the meantime, some of Redford's cabinet ministers started announcing their intentions not to run again.

Fred Horne, Doug Griffiths, Doug Horner and Cal Dallas were sent to the backbenches when Prentice chose his cabinet in October.

Some longtime PC members of the legislature like Wayne Cao and Mary Anne Jablonski also called it a career. A total of 25 of 87 MLAs are not running for re-election.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley greets supporters at a pre-election event in Edmonton on Monday. (CBC)
Meanwhile, the Alberta NDP was buoyed by the election of Rachel Notley as leader. The NDP kicked the nomination process into gear earlier this year and has matched the PCs in getting a full slate nominated within days of the election call.

In 2012, a number of progressive voters cast ballots for the Tories to keep the Wildrose out of office. This time the NDP is hoping those voters look its way.

The NDP aims for a strong showing in Edmonton and is pinning its hopes for a breakthrough in Calgary on Joe Ceci, the former alderman running in Calgary-Fort.

The Wildrose appears to be on the rebound under new leader Brian Jean, who won a three-way race on March 28.

The former MP doesn't expect to become the next premier this election. Instead, he plans to focus on rebuilding the party so it can form a strong opposition in the legislative assembly.

Greg Clark, leader of the Alberta Party, is running again in Calgary-Elbow where he finished second to Education Minister Gordon Dirks in a byelection last October. The party is still looking to elect its first member.

As for the Liberals, three of their five incumbents are not running again and so far the party has only nominated 25 candidates.

After Raj Sherman resigned as leader, Edmonton Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman introduced a proposal to unite the Liberals with the Alberta Party.

Blakeman's proposal was rejected by the Liberals as former leader David Swann stepped in as interim leader.

Several weeks later, Blakeman announced she was running to represent the Green and Alberta parties, as well as the Liberals. However, she will appear as a Liberal on the ballot, in accordance with rules set down by Elections Alberta.


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