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Alberta Tories pray 'third time's a charm' as their effort to recover their party's missing mojo begins today

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Jason Kenney

Today marks the official opening of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership race, although it's probably not the most important date in the third effort by the former Natural Governing Party of Alberta to recover the mojo that went missing when premier Ed Stelmach threw up his hands and announced he was quitting back in 2011.

Alberta's Tories are praying there's enough truth to save their bacon in the old saw "Third time's a charm!"

Stelmach -- whom I suspect hadn't expected to win when he ran up the middle to victory in the 2006 race to replace Ralph Klein -- was a decent person, but didn't really have the constitution required for the rough-and-tumble that comes with being a premier, a game played with elbows up at the best of times.

Still, as has been said in this space before, and not all that long ago, Stelmach would probably be premier today if he'd stuck around, which would mean we'd be just done grimly marking the 45th year of Tory rule in Alberta.

Instead, we got Alison Redford as premier in 2012, to whom must go the credit for smashing the mould of Alberta politics forever, followed by pro tempore party leader, Dave Hancock, who also served as premier but wasn't the beneficiary of an election by anyone except the PC caucus, and then by Jim Prentice, the nattily dressed former bank VP who looked great on paper and in the mirror but couldn't deliver in person.

And instead of Premier Prentice on election night 2015, to everyone's astonishment we got Premier Rachel Notley of the NDP. And this in what was supposedly the most conservative province in Canada. Prentice immediately quit in a huff and another interim leader, Ric McIver, took up the reins of what had become the third party in the Legislature for a spell.

Which brings us to the present moment, the official start of the effort to find a leader who can bring the party back from the crypt and, all good PCs certainly hope, restore the seemingly lifeless Tory dynasty.

Arguably, as others have observed, the race actually began back in early July when former Harper Government cabinet member Jason Kenney launched his unofficial pre-campaign campaign for the PC leadership on the understanding he was seeking a mandate to merge the party with the Wildrose Opposition through a process that can be fairly described as a reverse hostile takeover of the former by the latter.

This scheme has the paw prints of Preston Manning, godfather of the Canadian Right, all over it, as the old market fundamentalist relives the glory days when he used the Reform Party to take over Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in much the same way. That destroyed the federal PCs, as intended, and gave Canada a decade of Stephen Harper, from which the country will be recovering for some time yet.

Kenney’s official campaign slogan is "Unite Alberta," a subtle tip o’ the frumpy fedora  to the days when the PCs and the province were pretty well synonymous in the minds of plenty of Albertans and almost everyone else in Canada.

However, given the front-runner’s far-out social conservative beliefs, which are not really suited to the 21st Century, it really now should be "Forward to the Fifties with Jason Kenney!"

Other candidates so far are Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke (pronounced Starkey), former Calgary MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans and Calgary lawyer Byron Nelson. All three seem to be running on the I'm not Jason Kenney platform, or, leastways, on the slogan, I don't think we should turn this party into the Wildrose Party if we can possibly help it.

A couple of more candidates are expected to emerge from the woodwork before the deadline for nominations to join the race, Nov. 10, with such names as former Edmonton MLA Thomas Lukaszuk, Calgary MLA Sandra Jansen and McIver himself being bandied about.

Gone are the heady days when the PC Party chose its leaders with one vote per member -- and PC activists told Albertans joining the party was the only way they could actually have any influence on who was going to run the place.

The party's new leadership vote rules, complete with "Superdelegates," seem to be designed to ensure the party establishment stays firmly in control, and no more catastrophic accidents like the election of Redford in 2011 will ever be allowed to happen again.

Under the delegated system to be used, party members will vote for delegates from constituency associations and the chosen delegates will then decide on the leader at a convention, scheduled to take place on March 18 in Calgary.

The rules are said by some to be designed to make it harder for Kenney to win, but they won’t necessarily have that effect if he's running against a herd of candidates all taking the same position against him. So far, no one who agrees with Kenney about his Wildrose romance seems to want to run against him.

This suggests a strong Anybody But Kenney-buddy candidate will have to emerge at some point if PC Party members actually want to keep their party from turning into a Wildrose-like entity.

The new rules also require all candidates to disclose all their expenses and donations -- but only from today on. Kenney, therefore, gets a pass on the loads of secret PAC dough he's spent to date.

About 120 people showed up for the leadership election campaign launch last night in a modest Lethbridge hotel.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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