EDMONTON - Alberta's Progressive Conservatives are ramping up their candidate selection process, fuelling speculation that a spring election is on the way.
PC party executive director Kelley Charlebois said Monday that on the weekend the party struck a committee to oversee nominations and plans to have 35 nominated candidates in place by Feb. 21.
"(We're) setting us up for kind of a Super Saturday scenario (on that date)," Charlebois said in an interview.
"We'll get some energy, excitement and media attention out of that date."
He said more nomination dates are expected to be approved next weekend, with others to follow.
A source told The Canadian Press the plan is to have all candidates in place by mid-March.
Charlebois said he has not been given a hard deadline date for all nominations but said, "we're moving on nominations in a very intentional way."
There were other signs of Tories ramping up their election readiness.
PC party president Terri Beaupre, in an open letter on the party's web page, announced that all 2014 memberships would be renewed for free in 2015 and "will also be considered valid for the purpose of signing candidate nomination papers."
A nominated candidate needs 25 signatures from party members in his or her constituency.
Beaupre also announced that any Wildrose members who want to join the Tories can simply hand in their party card for a free Tory one.
"We are happy to welcome them to our party," wrote Beaupre.
By law, Alberta is to hold an election sometime in a three-month window in the spring of 2016, but Premier Jim Prentice hasn't ruled out taking voters to the polls a year early.
The law also gives the lieutenant-governor the flexibility for a writ drop at any time.
Prentice has said he is focused for now on Alberta's budget, which faces a $500-million deficit this year due to collapsing oil prices.
Wildrose party president Jeff Callaway said his party will be ready with a full slate of candidates regardless of the date, but said Prentice should stick to his PC leadership campaign promise to respect Alberta's election law.
"It's tremendously unfortunate that a premier who promises to do things a new way is actually doing more of the same old same old — breaking his own law when he finds it at its most advantageous," said Callaway.
Callaway's party has been working to rebuild after nine Wildrose caucus members, including former leader Danielle Smith, bolted across the floor to join Prentice just before Christmas.
The Wildrose leadership race has yet to begin. Callaway said if there's an early election, interim leader Heather Forsyth will carry the party's banner.
The party had 19 candidates nominated as of last week.
The Tories have 72 members in the 87-seat legislature compared with five for the Wildrose, five for the Liberals and four for the NDP. There is one Independent.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said going to the polls three years after the last vote would needlessly break the spirit of the election law.
"Jim Prentice's panicked proclamations about the dire state of our economy are nothing more than him playing politics," said Notley.
"It's about what's good for Jim Prentice and his advisers in terms of when they think they can most likely win."
The NDP has 10 nominated candidates and all four incumbents are set to be renominated, including former leader Brian Mason.
Five more nomination meetings are on the way with more to be scheduled.
The Liberals begin their nomination process next month.
They are already down two incumbents: Darshan Kang and Kent Hehr, both from Calgary, are running for the federal Liberals.
Lethbridge-East Tory backbencher Bridget Pastoor announced Monday she will not run in the next election.
Pastoor was first elected in 2004 as a Liberal but crossed to the Tories in 2011, saying she wanted to work with then-premier Alison Redford.
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