PC leadership candidates face off for the first time tonight

The people running to lead the Alberta Progressive Conservative party will debate each other for the first time in Red Deer Saturday night.

Six candidates expected to be on the debate stage Saturday.

Jason Kenney and Sandra Jansen are among five PC leadership candidates who will take part in a forum this Saturday in Red Deer. (CBC )

The six people running to lead the Alberta Progressive Conservative party will debate each other for the first time in Red Deer Saturday night.

The leadership forum will give party members a chance to hear from Jason Kenney, the most high-profile and controversial candidate in the race.

PC MLAs Sandra Jansen and Richard Starke, former MLAs Donna Kennedy-Glans and Stephen Khan, and Calgary lawyer Byron Nelson are also in the race. The party has been without a permanent leader since Jim Prentice stepped down on the night of the last provincial election, after an NDP victory brought the PC's 44 years in power to an end. 

Kenney wants to lead the PCs in his bid to unite all conservative voters under a new party banner.  But that approach runs counter to the wishes of the PC members, who voted to rebuild their party at the AGM last spring.

Kenney has said that vote didn't reflect the real wishes of the majority of party members.

"There was a rushed vote, a lot of people weren't in the room, there was no alternative on the floor," he told reporters on Monday.

Donna Kennedy-Glans and Richard Starke launched their PC leadership bids on Thursday. (CBC)

"I think in the discussions in the hallways, and in general, you'll see a very significant number of committed PCs saying that we should at least pursue the possibility of unity."

Jansen, the PC MLA for Calgary-North West, said that's not what she's hearing from the members she has talked to,

"What I'm hearing from people is what I heard at our AGM in May, and that is people are excited about the idea of renewal in our party," she said.

"They want to talk about centrist options, they want to talk about centrist policy, they want to talk about what it means to be socially progressive."

Vermilion-Lloydminster PC MLA Richard Starke opposes a merger of the PC and Wildrose parties. He said he plans to use the forum to differentiate himself from Kenney.

"That opportunity, I think, will come up in the leadership forum on Saturday night," he said. "I'm looking forward to taking that opportunity."

Kennedy-Glans and Nelson also oppose a right-wing merger.

Khan, the former St. Albert MLA, officially entered the race on Thursday. Both Starke and Jansen say they will file documents to become official candidates before the Nov. 10 deadline.

Interim leader Ric McIver hasn't ruled out a run.

The next leader will be chosen at a delegate convention on March 18.

Leadership candidate Byron Nelson ran for the Tories in Calgary-Bow in the 2015 provincial election but was defeated by the NDP’s Deborah Drever. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)