As incoming Alberta premier Jim Prentice hunts for fresh blood for his cabinet, speculation is growing that he could tap former federal Conservative colleagues as potential ministers.
Some current Alberta Tory MPs who support Prentice and the provincial Progressive Conservatives believe the premier-designate may need to look outside the current provincial caucus to distance himself from the problems of the previous regime of Alison Redford.
Prentice said this week he is considering all alternatives as he prepares a new cabinet that could be sworn in as early as Monday.
The former Calgary Conservative MP and senior federal minister in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government would not rule out naming non-MLAs to his cabinet, saying he’s “giving full consideration to all of the alternatives.”
Prentice has a list of respected, experienced and democratically elected politicians in the federal Conservative government whom he could possibly tap to join his front bench. And a handful of other Alberta Conservative MPs have resigned their federal seats over the past couple of years.
Any current MPs tapped by Prentice would need to resign their federal seats, then find vacant provincial seats to contest in a byelection for the Alberta PCs.
Moreover, any Tory MP interested in provincial politics would be giving up a federal seat that’s largely considered a lock in true-blue Conservative Alberta, in order to join a provincial PC government mired in scandal and trailing in the polls to Danielle Smith’s Wildrose party.
The next Alberta provincial election is planned for spring 2016, but Prentice could call a snap election earlier. The next federal election is planned for October 2015.
Edmonton-Leduc Conservative MP James Rajotte, the chair of the House of Commons finance committee, is highly respected in federal circles and has long been viewed as federal cabinet material, but appears to have been squeezed out solely because the Harper Conservatives have such a strong crop of Alberta MPs.
Rajotte, a big supporter of Prentice, sought feedback from Albertans in the spring about his own possible run for the provincial PC leadership, before deciding against it.
“I’m very pleased that he won the leadership. Jim is a first-class individual,” Rajotte, an MP since 2000, said in an interview. Of himself, he said, “At this point, my focus is federal.”
Calgary Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs and also a Prentice supporter, said the incoming premier needs to consider all options for cabinet in order to restore Albertans’ confidence in the government and distance himself from the previous regime that had a “culture of entitlement.”
“Mr. Prentice has 18 months to prove that he can lead the Tories. And so, it is very crucial for him to choose a team that can give a direction,” said Obhrai, an MP since 1997.
“He would need to distance themselves from the old regime … and to do that he needs competent individuals to run the show. Now that will be a challenge for Mr. Prentice,” he said. “If he needs help from outside, that’s what he should do.”
Asked whether he has any interest in serving in a Prentice provincial government, Obhrai was coy.
“Let me put it this way. It is up to Mr. Prentice. He has to decide how he wants to go and we’ll leave that decision to him,” he said.
By the time the next federal election is held, in 2015, Harper will have lost at least eight of his Alberta Conservative MPs from the last campaign.
Three Alberta Tory MPs have already resigned since the last election and another five have announced they won’t run again in the 2015 federal election.