Alberta Premier Jim Prentice announced Monday he will put himself and his mandate to the test on Oct. 27 in one of four byelections.
“We’ve begun to shape a new Progressive Conservative government with essentially new leadership, new voices and a new way of doing things,” Prentice told a news conference. “We’re ready to hit the doors and to engage every voter in these constituencies.”
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Three of the byelections will be in Calgary and one in Edmonton. The Tories hold 57 of 87 seats in the Alberta legislature, so the results won’t affect the balance of power.
Prentice, who won the Progressive Conservative party leadership on Sept. 6, will run in Calgary-Foothills, in the city’s northwest.
The constituency adjoins the federal riding of Calgary Centre-North, which Prentice won handily three times when he served as a Conservative MP from 2004 to 2010.
Prentice, a 58-year-old Calgarian, said his home is in north Calgary and that is where he wanted to run.
The riding came open just hours earlier Monday when Independent legislature member Len Webber announced he was resigning. Webber, a three-term MLA, won the federal Conservative nomination on the weekend to run in Calgary-Confederation.
He left the PC caucus in March to protest what he called the bully tactics and tantrums of then-premier Alison Redford. Redford resigned soon after as caucus and party discontent mounted over her leadership style, lavish travel and office expenses.
Also Monday, backbencher Ken Hughes quit his riding of Calgary-West to return to the private sector, allowing Prentice to introduce Calgary police Sgt. Mike Ellis as the party’s standard-bearer in that byelection.
Hughes, a former Conservative MP and cabinet minister under Redford, said in a news release he wanted to help Prentice with his agenda for government renewal.
Gordon Dirks, a former chairman of the Calgary Board of Education, was brought into cabinet by Prentice to be education minister and was acclaimed last week as the PC candidate for the byelection in Calgary-Elbow, which is Redford’s old constituency.
Dirks said he’ll focus on the future, including getting schools built for a rapidly growing population.
“I’m not focusing on the opposition. I’m not focusing on the past.”
Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel was appointed health minister by Prentice two weeks ago. He has been acclaimed to run for the Tories in Edmonton-Whitemud. That riding opened up recently when Dave Hancock, who took over as premier after Redford, announced he was leaving public life.
Since taking the top job, Prentice has been on a whirlwind tour of announcements: he has put the government air fleet up for sale, axed changes to public-sector pensions and cancelled a redesign of the province’s licence plate.
The opposition is urging voters not to let the Tories off that lightly.
“Mr. Prentice can probably fix up some of the corruption and the scandals that plagued the Redford government, but he can’t run away from the government’s record on health care or education or on the development of our natural resources,” said NDP Leader Brian Mason in Edmonton.
“Those are the issues that we’re going to be taking to voters in these byelections.”
The Opposition Wildrose party is running its campaigns under the slogan: “Help Send the PCs a Message.”
Prentice had promised the byelections would be out of the way before the legislature resumes sitting on Nov. 17.
A general election must be held by law in the spring of 2016.
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