Two defeated candidates back Stelmach to replace Klein

Two Alberta Progressive Conservative party leadership candidates eliminated in Saturday's first ballot say they are throwing their support behind third-place finisher Ed Stelmach.

Less than a day afterbeing knocked out of the race to replace Ralph Klein, two Alberta Progressive Conservative party leadership candidatessaid Sundaytheyare throwing their support behind third-place finisher Ed Stelmach.

The race for the leadershipwas narrowed early from eight candidates to three, with former treasurer Jim Dinning leading the pack after a first round of ballotingSaturday.

Dinningwill facebackbencher Ted Morton and Stelmach in a second ballot on Dec. 2.

Candidates Votes
Jim Dinning 29,470
Ted Morton 25,614
Ed Stelmach 14,967
Lyle Oberg 11,638
Dave Hancock 7,595
Mark Norris 6,789
Victor Doerksen 873
Gary McPherson 744

Dinning was ahead with just under 30 per cent of the votes, followed by Morton with 24 per cent.

Stelmach, the former intergovernmental affairs minister,had crept up to 20 per cent.

None of the eight candidates on thefirst ballot received the 50 per cent required to win the leadership outright.

Those not in the top threehave dropped off the ballot.Fourth-place finisher Lyle Oberg and former cabinet minister Dave Hancock, who came in fifth,said they will back Stelmach on the next ballot.

Stelmach said he hopes to gain from Oberg's strong supportand organization in southern Alberta.

"That's one of the benefits of coalescing, bringing everyone on board," Stelmach said Sunday."Everyone has certain strengths,avery good core of workers, and we are going to use it very effectively this week."

Stelmach said he is also "cautiously optimistic" he will get the support of candidate Mark Norris, who placed sixth.

The three defeated candidates together garnered about one-quarter of the votescast in the first ballot, but voters are not required to move tothe camp their candidate is supporting.

Top two contenders trade barbs

Morton said he believes Alberta needs to challenge the federal government on transfer payments.
Ted Morton, seen here, finished second after the first ballot in Alberta's Conservative leadership race. ((Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press))

He also said many Albertans want change and that the person to deliver it would not beDinning,who was in the caucus under bothKlein and his predecessor, Don Getty, including stints asminister of community and occupational health, minister of education and provincial treasurer.

"You don't have to be a genius to see that a lot of Conservatives have become disillusioned with the Conservative government in the last few years," Morton said.

"And I'm afraid Jim made the mistake of hiring on a bunch of advisers that are very much associated with the status quo. People aren't happy with the status quo— they want some change."

Dinning took aim at Morton's hardline stance against the federal government.

"This is a week when Albertans get to make some choices — the choice between tackling the future of this province with vigor and optimism and confidence and excitement, or looking to the past and building walls and building firewalls and fighting old battles."

Even though he came in third, Stelmach said he believes he can still win on the second ballot. Stelmach has not taken shots at other candidates so far and is not starting now. But he is trying to position himself as the man who can preserve the party's so-called "big tent" or broad base of support.

"Now is the time to unite all Albertans. Albertans deserve a leader who will do just that — unite our party, unite our province and build a stronger Alberta to secure good quality of life for our grandchildren and for generations to come."

A televised debate is scheduled for Wednesday between Dinning, Morton and Stelmach,who were expected to sellmore party memberships in the coming week.

Overall voter turnout wasstrong with nearly 100,000ballots cast, twice as many as the first ballot in Alberta's last Tory leadership contest 14 years ago.

But some rural polls reported slow turnout due to poor driving conditions and temperatures ofaround -25 C.

With files from the Canadian Press