With Premier Jim Prentice appearing to lay the groundwork for a spring election, the Wildrose party has scrapped its plan to have its leadership vote on June 6 and has instead moved it up to late March.
"The membership seems to be quite confident in the quality of candidates that we have," party president Jeff Callaway said Monday.
"The political advice we've received ... is that it would be much more preferable for us to head into an election with a permanent leader in place."
Callaway said four candidates have filed application papers to become the leader.
They are current Wildrose member Drew Barnes, former Conservative MP Brian Jean, former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk and Derek Fildebrandt, former spokesman with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Only Osinchuk has formally declared her candidacy.
The four spoke to party rank and file behind closed doors at a meeting last weekend in Calgary, but Callaway said they may now try to reach a wider audience by opening up Saturday's speeches to the media.
"Things are moving fast in this province, so we have to adapt," he said in an interview.
Current interim leader Heather Forsyth is not running for re-election.
Callaway said the party executive expects to soon confirm March 28 as the date to elect a new leader and then nail down logistics — whether it will be phone voting, mail-in ballots or a combination.
There will still be a $20,000 non-refundable entry fee and each candidate must have endorsement signatures from 250 party members.
Voters will use a preferential ballot to rank the candidates, but it will only be put into play if no one gets a clear majority.
The Wildrose leadership race is one example of the pell-mell scrambling by all parties to get candidates in place for an election.
Prentice has not promised to call one, but has said he needs a mandate from Albertans to revamp the provincial economy in light of collapsing oil prices.
Alberta's next general election isn't necessary until the spring of 2016, but the law gives the government latitude to go to the polls in extraordinary circumstances.
The Tories have 46 candidates in place in the province's 87 constituencies compared with 25 for the Wildrose.
The Tories have nomination meetings scheduled to run as late as March 28. Eleven nomination dates have yet to be set.
Five of those unannounced nomination battles involve some of the 11 Wildrose caucus members, including former leader Danielle Smith, who crossed the floor to join the Tories late last year.
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