BANFF, Alta. - Alberta's new premier has warned convention delegates that the Progressive Conservatives are not out of the woods yet and that voters are simply willing to give them a "second chance."
Jim Prentice took over as party leader in September after the departure of Alison Redford earlier in the year. Since his election as party leader PC fortunes have rebounded, culminating with four byelection wins last month where the rival Wildrose finished third in two of the ridings.
In his keynote speech to the PC convention in Banff, Prentice cautioned that the next provincial election is just over a year away. He said taking anything for granted would be dangerous.
"Let's be clear about what the people of our province were saying on Oct. 27th. This was not an affirmation of the past two years. Anything but," he said.
"This was not a sweeping mandate. This was a second chance."
Prentice said in preparation for the next provincial election he wants all candidates in place by June 1, 2015.
"So we need potential nominees and their associations to get organized, get ready and get working – sooner rather than later," Prentice said.
"In particular, we want to begin the nomination process in the 'misrepresented' ridings in the new year and we want all of those candidates nominated and in place by June 1st," he added.
"We want these candidates to have ample time to knock on doors, to meet and listen to the people in their communities."
The executive director of Alberta's Progressive Conservative party said in ridings currently held by opposition politicians the local PC associations are "raring to go."
Kelley Charlebois expects that there will be a turnover of 25 to 30 per cent of incumbent MLAs which is about a normal amount each election.
Prentice said Friday night that the party's fundraising team was in its best shape since the 1970s.
Charlebois said many of the fundraisers are business leaders and know how to attract money, and numbers are up substantially since Prentice became premier.
Prentice warned that the falling price of oil will prove a challenge to the province economically and it will not be "business as usual."
"We will make good on our promise to balance the budget in 2014. And we will adhere to the principles of sound, common-sense financial planning as we strive to serve a fast-growing province in a time when oil has fallen to $75 a barrel," Prentice said.
"This new reality represents a challenge. This is not business as usual but Albertans are tough and resilient and we are up for a challenge."
Prentice said for every drop of $1 on the price of oil it costs the province $200 million. He said despite the drop he intends to see a balanced budget.
"We have every intention of balancing the budget in 2015. If we are in a low price environment for an extended period of time there will be implications arising from that. There will be consequences," Prentice told reporters.
"But Albertans have been very clear that they expect the government of Alberta to be operated in the black ink on a day-to-day basis and I think that's wise."
Prentice wouldn't say what areas would have to be cut in order to guarantee a balanced budget with lower prices.
He said Alberta will continue to focus on gaining market access to the Asia Pacific market for the province's oil and to earn a reputation of responsible energy growth and respect for its stewardship of the environment.
Alberta's speech from the throne will be heard Monday.
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