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Prentice in a walk -- but the low Alberta PC voter turnout tells the real story

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Jim Prentice

VICTORIA, B.C.

Well! That's it then. Jim Prentice in a walk, the first time the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party has actually chosen the frontrunner in the past three leadership races, maybe four if you count Ralph Klein.

My phone chirped the results to me from the floor of the EXPO Centre in Edmonton at 6:54 p.m. Alas, I'm in exile in a disturbingly sunny and warm Victoria, B.C., so if you want coverage from the floor, you're going to have to visit Daveberta.ca.

The numbers were a wipeout for Mr. Prentice in one key regard -- 17,963 votes compared with 2,742 for Ric McIver and 2,681 for Thomas Lukaszuk, and I'll bet you Mr. Lukaszuk wished he'd managed to rustle up a 65 or so more!

It must have been those fund-raising numbers that swayed the remaining die-hard PC supporters to plump for the former banker, lobbyist and federal cabinet minister from Calgary. Plus, of course, his ability to claim he had nothing to do with the government of Alison Redford.

Mr. Lukaszuk and Mr. McIver were stuck with the fact they’d been members of fired former premier Alison Redford's cabinet, their reputations tarnished like everything else she touched.

But that was good enough to call it a landslide, which was what the local media proceeded to do.

The numbers were a wipeout of Mr. Prentice, though, in another important regard -- he fell just a little short of his benchmark of a total of 100,000 memberships to be sold by his campaign alone, dontcha think?

This lack of interest is a big problem for Mr. Prentice and the Tories and shows just how much damage Alison Redford did during her short reign to the once esteemed PC brand.

In 2006, 144,000 Albertans voted on the second ballot in the party leadership race that vaulted Ed Stelmach past frontrunner Jim Dinning to the province's top political job. About 133,000 of them hung in for the final ballot, which put Mr. Stelmach over the top.

By 2011, 78,000 voted on the second ballot, helping to push the catastrophic Ms. Redford past frontrunner Gary Mar.

Now the numbers of people who think the PC leadership race is worth participating in are down to 23,000 and change? And many of those voters didn't even pay for their memberships? C'mon! This hardly augurs well for the future of the PC Dynasty, 43 years old and everyone's counting.

Indeed, what it says clearly is that Albertans no longer think of the PCs as their Natural Governing Party. The lack of interest also suggests voters who in the past might have thought the PC race was their only chance to influence the province's leadership think they'll have a real choice next time, or can hardly wait to see the PCs gone.

Mr. Prentice's main job is to turn that around. He has two years to do it, less really. Recent events in Ontario and here in British Columbia have proven this is possible, but it’s got to be a long shot in trouble as deep as the Alberta Tories.

His first big job, though, is going to be just getting elected in a by-election so that he can run the party from inside the Legislature. There is no guarantee that Mr. Prentice will succeed even at this -- although, at least thanks to his proven fund-raising capabilities, the PCs will have money to throw at the problem.

But count on it, the opposition parties will throw everything they've got at him in the by-election, wherever it takes place. And with the results Mr. Prentice got from his $1.8 million raised, he might have been smarter to hold union-style pizza meetings!

Well, what more can I say? I'm going for a swim. By the time I get back to Alberta, it'll probably be snowing.

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

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