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Alison Redford's replacement will have to heal party divisions

03/20/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 05/19/2014 05:59 EDT
The search is now on for Alison Redford's replacement after she made the surprise announcement to step down as Alberta premier.

The ruling Progressive Conservative (PC) Party constitution requires that a selection be made within six months of a leader's resignation.

- TIMELINE |Alison Redford's turbulent time as Alberta Premier

The topic will probably be front and centre at the next executive meeting, which PC Party president Jim McCormick says will take place Monday. He thanked Redford after she resigned for putting Alberta and her party first.

Redford, who will stay on as MLA for Calgary Elbow, said that too much time has been spent over the last few weeks on questions of loyalty, allegiances and character.

But political scientist Lori Williams says it's rare to see a leader pushed out of office so quickly after being elected, especially when the Alberta economy is strong and the government just passed a balanced budget.

"It's probably the best move for the party. Now the question is can the party heal from the various divisions that have emerged, or erupted, in the past few weeks," said Williams.

Calgary Tory MLA Len Webber abandoned his party to sit as an independent in protest against Redford's leadership, and associate minister Donna Kennedy-Glans followed just days later.

Williams said the party must now run a leadership race at a time when it is behind in fundraising and the Wildrose opposition seems to be filling its war chest.

"It's a huge deficit to make up," said Williams. 

In power too long?

Jack Mintz, who heads the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, says the leadership change signifies what happens when one party dominates for so long. The PCs have been in power for 42 years.

"The only way you can get change sometimes is you have to have an internal fight in order to get new leadership put in. And I think that's kind of indicative of what Alberta does as opposed to what you find in other provinces where you get one party replacing another party for a period and you have a much more competitive political landscape."

The party must also choose a interim premier who has the credibility to run the province but won't be looking to run in the leadership race. Mintz believes Deputy Premier ​Dave Hancock would be a natural choice for the role.

"He is also a good choice from the point of view that ... he probably doesn't want to be the next premier," he said.

Who will run?

But now the speculation begins as to who will throw their names in the ring to replace Redford and be the face of the party for the next provincial election. 

Williams says bringing someone in from the outside would be best to help renew the party's brand.

Many say Minister of Service Alberta Doug Griffiths and Finance Minister Doug Horner, who both made unsuccessful bids for the leadership in 2011, will likely run.

Gary Mar, a frontrunner in the last leadership race before being overtaken by Redford, is also a possible candidate. He is currently Alberta’s representative in Asia.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ken Hughes, a political newcomer, has also been mentioned. 

One of the more interesting names surfacing in the online world of political junkies is former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel.

The leadership race will see some changes this time after the party amended its constitution last fall so that only two names will be on the final ballot.

The preferential ballot system had been in place since 1989. If a candidate failed to gain an outright majority to win on the first ballot, the top three candidates would move to a second and final ballot. It allowed political longshots a chance to win leadership race.

Meanwhile, the party has seen its fair share of leaders in the past decade.

Redford replaced former premier Ed Stelmach, who was also forced out by his party. He warned at the time of the rise of "U.S.-style negative attack politics" that focus on personality rather than on issues.

Stelmach replaced Ralph Klein in 2006, who resigned as premier in 2006 after his party gave him only a lukewarm endorsement during a leadership review.

Party can't be fixed, says opposition

"For the second time in three years, the premier of Alberta has resigned," said Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith in a statement.

"And for the third time in eight years, the PC Party will be looking for a new leader." 

She says Redford was elected to change the PC party direction and was hailed as a new kind of leader that could fix their party. 

"I have no doubt she intended to be that leader," Smith said.

"I have no doubt that Albertans hoped she'd be that leader. But what we witnessed during her short 29 months as premier is the clearest indication yet that the PC party simply can't be fixed."

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