CALGARY — A complicated voting system that provided political longshots with a chance to win leadership races has been dumped by Alberta’s Progressive Conservative party.
Under the preferential ballot system that has been in place in Alberta since 1989, if a candidate failed to gain an outright majority to win on the first ballot the three top candidates would move to a second and final ballot.
If a majority still wasn’t reached the second-choice of those supporting the third-place finisher were redistributed accordingly.
The system paved the way for Ed Stelmach to become Alberta’s premier in 2006 and also led to Stephane Dion’s election as the federal Liberal leader that same year.
Delegates at the Alberta Progressive Conservative convention in Calgary on Saturday voted to turn back the clock.
“In our next leadership the process will be that only two names will carry on to the second ballot,” said Kelley Charlebois, executive director of the PC Association of Alberta.
Ironically it was former Premier Ralph Klein who was the first leader elected under the preferential ballot system in Alberta.
But because the third place challenger in 1992, former cabinet minister Rick Orman, dropped off the ballot it was essentially a two person race.
“Rick Orman decided to drop off and what we reference as the most successful is that we only had the two candidates,” said Charlebois.
“So I think we’ve caught the process up to the reality that the members have been expecting for a long time.”
Charlebois said there was vigorous debate on the matter but the decision was nearly unanimous on the ballot issue as well as a decision to allow candidates to continue to sell memberships in the two week period between votes.
Rookie Calgary MLA Linda Johnson said she is fine with the change and said it’s a lot easier for the general public to understand.
“I always come back to when the party is proposing things, can I explain it to my son who’s in Grade 11? And, two names on the end and whoever is 50 per cent plus 1, wins the vote. So that’s easy to explain to students in classrooms and the general public,” Johnson said.
Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, who challenged Redford for the party’s leadership last year, said both systems have advantages but he is more concerned about the length of time a leadership race can drag on.
“If it’s long, it takes a year, it paralyzes caucus, it paralyzes cabinet, it can leave the government sitting and it leaves Albertans wondering so what are we going to do?,” he said.
The internal debates during the convention, which was Alison Redford’s first as premier, were closed to the media.
Redford, who sat through a question and answer period with the delegates, said she didn’t receive any flak about the way her government is funding capital projects including family care clinics, schools and roads.
“No discussion at all and in fact we’ve been talking very much around infrastructure spending in our convention very much in the same way we’ve been talking about it in the legislature and here today,” said Redford.
“I think there’s a very clear commitment from Albertans that they want us to make responsible decisions with respect to that so we’re very confident.”
Finance Minister Doug Horner confirmed to reporters Saturday that the government was looking at borrowing money from the markets to fund the capital projects.
“When you’re talking about long term assets almost all of the financial analysts that I’ve spoken to say most people don’t buy their house for cash. They make sure it is ammortized over time,” he said.
Horner said Alberta still intends to balance the budget next year and will not be borrowing money to cover the province’s operating costs.
“The debt that we repaid and celebrated was an operating debt that had been accumulated. It’s like paying for your groceries with your Visa – we are not going to do that.”