Much toe-dipping, but no swimming yet in Alberta Tory leadership race

There has been plenty of tire-kicking, but so far no one has officially bought into Alberta’s Progressive Conservative leadership race.

CALGARY — There has been plenty of tire-kicking, but so far no one has officially bought into Alberta’s Progressive Conservative leadership race.

Party officials are expected to set the opening date of the campaign in a week or so, but one name some might have expected to see on a nominations list won’t be there. Former Alberta treasurer and one-time Tory leadership candidate Jim Dinning says he won’t be in the running to replace Alison Redford.

Redford resigned March 23 amid growing concerns about her expenses and leadership style.

Dinning confirmed in an email to The Canadian Press on Wednesday that he isn’t interested in the job, but he refused to comment, instead providing a link to a piece he penned for the Calgary Herald entitled “Alberta PCs Need a Strong Leader, But It Won’t Be Me.”

“I’m grateful to those Albertans who’ve asked me to run for the leadership. I thank you, but I believe my political ’best before’ date is behind me. I’ve done my tour of duty both as a public servant and an elected politician. It’s time for new blood,” Dinning writes.

“I remain an ardent Progressive Conservative, my party affiliation since I knocked on doors for Peter Lougheed in 1971. I believe in what his party stood for and I’ll support a leader who will breathe life into his vision once again.”

Calgary-based Dinning was treasurer between 1992 and 1997 under then-premier Ralph Klein and he ran in the 2006 Tory leadership race won by Ed Stelmach.

He does not mention Redford by name in his article, but does offer observations and suggestions for whoever becomes the next leader.

“Entitlement breeds and flourishes when governments and political parties forget who the boss really is.

“Albertans are the boss. Party members are the leader’s boss. Period,” he writes.

“We must elect a leader who gets it: a leader who believes Albertans are the entitled ones, entitled to good government and strong leadership.”

He also says principles should trump “political expediency.”

“That requires true leadership, the kind that doesn’t come from an exploratory committee or a public consultation or the last-minute ballots of ’two-minute Tories.”’

Another potential candidate was Alberta Conservative Sen. Scott Tannas. He had indicated last week that he was deciding whether to try for the top job, but wanted to hear what Albertans thought. On Monday, he said he didn’t feel he had the heart for what he called a gruelling, uphill climb.

Treasurer Doug Horner, Municipal Affairs Minister Ken Hughes, Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis have all indicated they are contemplating running.

“Nobody wants to be the first one in. You’d become a target,” said David Taras, a political scientist at Mount Royal University.

“A lot of people are on the sidelines, a lot of money is on the sidelines, waiting to see what happens. This could go on for quite some time. Why would you come into a divided party … a viper’s nest of intrigue?”

Denis said it won’t be long before he makes a decision.

“It’s obviously a very big undertaking. We’re in the process of speaking to supporters and potential donors,” he said this week.

“We’re also waiting to see who else is running and we’ll make a decision probably right after this legislative session concludes.”

Denis said he expects there will be a lot of interest with at least half a dozen candidates.

Lukaszuk said he will also wait until the spring sitting ends.

“This is not an easy decision and this is not a decision about me,” he told an Edmonton radio talk show Wednesday.

“I’m weighing the options and waiting to see who else will step in. If there is a person that has a better set of qualities, I will support that person.”

Taras added it’s doubtful that former federal Conservative cabinet minister Jim Prentice will be interested in entering the provincial arena. Prentice’s name has come up as a potential candidate, but he has refused any comment.

Whoever wins the leadership vote in September will face a big challenge to get the Tories re-elected in 2016, Taras suggested.

“It’s an angry public,” he said.

“Is it salvageable? I think it is with the right leader, but I think it needs some real discipline and organization, and it has to be seen to be new and cleaning house.”

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