Prentice to kick off PC leadership campaign on Wednesday

The man considered to be the front-runner in the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership campaign is to formally kick off his campaign Wednesday.

EDMONTON — The man considered to be the front-runner in the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership campaign is to formally kick off his campaign Wednesday.

Jim Prentice is scheduled to make a morning speech in Edmonton before heading to Calgary for an afternoon event, his team confirmed Tuesday.

“Jim Prentice will begin to align his vision for the campaign and what he’s hoping to talk to Albertans about over the next few months,” said Patricia Misutka, one of the former federal cabinet minister’s four campaign leaders.

Prentice, 57, is to speak at the renovated historic Alberta Hotel in downtown Edmonton and then head to the Metropolitan Conference Centre in Calgary.

It will be the first time he will outline his policies and priorities for Alberta since he let it be known three weeks ago that he would run to become PC party leader and premier.

Prentice, a one-time Calgary MP, has made the odd public comment on social media but has otherwise restricted his campaign to pictures on Twitter.

With about half the PC caucus supporting him, he is considered the candidate to beat. On May 8, a record 1,800 people turned out for a $500-a-plate party fundraiser in Calgary — something that was attributed in part to burgeoning interest in a Prentice candidacy.

He has filed his nomination papers, which include the requisite 500 signatures.

Prentice is running against former Alberta infrastructure minister Ric McIver, who stepped down from his ministry so he could run. McIver has already signalled he will conduct a grassroots campaign to try to eradicate the excesses under Alison Redford’s premiership.

Redford quit March 23 in the face of free-falling support in caucus and within the party over spending scandals and accusations of poor leadership.

McIver has promised to bring in new rules to keep campaign insiders and lobbyists from benefiting through government contracts. His theme is that everyday Albertans “are the boss.”

Prentice has not directly addressed Redford’s record. But at the Calgary fundraiser he agreed that recent public apologies from Premier Dave Hancock needed to be made.

Hancock will stay on as premier until party members choose a new leader in September, but he is not running.

Jobs Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has hinted for weeks he might enter the race, but at this point has just over a week to decide. Nominations close May 30.

The vote is to be held Sept. 6, but if a third candidate enters the race — and no candidate gets more than 50 per cent on the first ballot — a runoff vote is to be held Sept. 20.

Other potential candidates, including cabinet ministers Doug Horner, Diana McQueen and Jonathan Denis, have announced they will not run.

Prentice has three decades of experience with the provincial and federal Conservatives, but has spent just over six years in public office.

He was the MP for Calgary Centre-North from 2004 to 2010 and served Prime Minister Stephen Harper in three cabinet portfolios. He left public life three years ago to take an executive position with CIBC.

The winner of the leadership race will be faced with taking on the Opposition Wildrose party in an election set for the spring of 2016. The Wildrose, a fellow right-centre party, has been dominating the PCs in the polls during Redford’s decline and fall.

The party is already trying to convince voters that no new leader can single-handedly reverse the financial and ethical failings of the PC caucus.

It also hopes to paint Prentice as an elitist outsider, referring to him already on Twitter as “Bay Street Jim.”

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