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Front-running Alberta PC leadership candidate may have just set party vote benchmark

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Jim Prentice

Looking tired and uncharacteristically slightly rumpled, Progressive Conservative leadership front-runner Jim Prentice pleaded with supporters at his new Edmonton campaign headquarters Tuesday evening to help him sell 100,000 Tory Party memberships by September.

"We need you to take a membership book and sell it over the summer," Prentice told the crowd -- which was substantial, but not exactly a multitude -- after showing up to open the downtown 108th Street office after a long drive from Calgary. He suggested family, friends and neighbours might be suitable recipients for the sales pitch.

"This party has reinvented itself before … time and time again," Prentice said, and it might have only been your blogger's imagination that he sounded just a little plaintive when he said this.

At any rate, by dropping the figure of 100,000 memberships to by sold in time for the Sept. 6 first ballot during an otherwise low-key and rather anodyne campaign speech, in which he did call for "pipelines in every direction," the former banker and federal cabinet minister set an interesting benchmark for the long-ruling party.

In recent years, the weird custom has developed in Alberta of the PCs signing up large numbers of non-Tories for a nominal fee to vote in the their leadership election on the theory it's the only contest that matters. How well the party does meeting the membership target set Tuesday by Prentice -- and how many of the new members actually turn up to vote -- will tell a lot about whether the PCs are still the province’s Natural Governing Party, as they have been for the past 43 years.

In 1992, more than 78,000 people voted in the final round of the leadership election that chose Ralph Klein as premier.

In 2006, just over 133,000 Albertans voted on the final ballot, choosing Ed Stelmach as leader and premier. (More than 144,000 voted on the second ballot.)

In 2011, the numbers were back down to 78,000 on the second ballot, and 72,500 on the final ballot that chose the catastrophic Alison Redford.

Unless something unexpected happens, Prentice is now the party's designated saviour, and with the help of candidates Thomas Lukaszuk and Ric McIver between them, they'd better sell enough memberships and persuade enough members to get out and vote to reverse the perception the party is in a decline that can only end in tears.

Are there any brave prognosticators who care to make predictions? Mine is 50,000.

Wildrose permits challenge to Joe Anglin; former Green leader to soldier on

It's safe to say Joe Anglin, the independent-minded MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, who for the moment is still technically part of the Wildrose Legislative caucus, won't go quietly in the wake of yesterday's decision by party officials to permit his constituency association president to run against him for the riding nomination.

Earlier this week, as reported in Alberta Diary, Anglin appealed to the party to disallow the candidacy of Jason Nixon on the grounds Nixon was still the constituency association's president when he began to campaign for the nomination, arguing that was a violation of the party's rules.

After the party said nope yesterday, the fight went very public. Anglin told a professional reporter from the Calgary Herald, on the scent of a big story at last after being pointed in the right direction by the blogosphere, that "if the Wildrose can't follow their own rules, I am not sure they're fit to govern."

That one must have seen jaws plummeting at Wildrose Headquarters! The former U.S. Marine said he would continue his skirmish to hang onto the nomination, but it's safe to say after yesterday's exchange of fire a reconciliation is unlikely.

If this fight were in family court, instead of the court of public opinion, the verdict would almost certainly be "irreconcilable differences."

In the event Anglin loses the nomination, he has said he will consider himself to have been fired by his own party and, therefore, "my options are wide open." Most likely that means he is pondering a run as an Independent, resulting in some interesting arithmetic if there are three conservative-leaning candidates in a conservative-leaning riding where fewer than 15,000 people voted in 2012.

"I understand why some people want me gone," Anglin, the former leader of Alberta's Green Party, said before the latest developments, admitting he can be caustic and abrasive. "I don't believe they're the majority in my community."

Sounds like the Wildrose leadership is crossing its fingers that they are.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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