Alberta could have a new premier-designate Saturday after the results of first-ballot voting in the Progressive Conservative leadership race are announced in Edmonton.
The contest between Jim Prentice, Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk could be decided at 7:30 MT when the PC party releases the results.
A candidate who receives more than 50 per cent of the vote will be declared the winner. If none of the candidates reach that threshold, party members will vote on the two top finishers in a second ballot on Sept. 20.
The three men are vying for the leadership that was vacated in March when former premier Alison Redford resigned amid a party revolt over her expenses and leadership style.
Prentice, a former Conservative MP and cabinet minister, stepped away from politics in November 2010 to become the vice-chairman of CIBC. He revealed last week that his campaign has received $1.8 million in donations.
CBC will be livestreaming the results of the first ballot on Saturday night. The 7:30 announcement will be preceded by a show hosted by legislature reporter Kim Trynacity starting at 7 p.m. MT.
His challengers are two former members of Redford’s cabinet: McIver, a former infrastructure minister and Calgary alderman, and Lukaszuk, her deputy premier until he was demoted in December.
Although Prentice is widely believed to be the frontrunner, problems with the party’s new electronic voting system could change things.
Bruce Cameron, president of Calgary-based polling firm Report on Insight, believes the voting difficulties and disqualifications due to the vetting process could persuade some party members to just give up.
“All that indicates to me that there will likely be a very low number overall, and with a low number, the challenges of predicting an outcome become greater,” he said.
Ghost of premiers’ past
Redford’s time as premier has hung over the race.
In power since 1971, the PC party has faced questions about a culture of entitlement throughout the four-month campaign.
In two separate reports earlier this year, CBC News revealed Redford took her daughter on more than 50 government flights and that a private residential penthouse was being built for her on the top of an office building under renovation near the Alberta legislature.
Then on Aug. 7, Alberta Auditor General Merwan Saher released a scathing report into Redford’s expenses, finding that she used public resources for personal and partisan reasons.
The expenses were not questioned by others in government, Saher wrote, because of an “aura of power” around Redford and her office.
Saher’s findings renewed the candidates’s vows to clean up government and in the case of Lukaszuk and McIver, to distance themselves from their former boss.
Prentice, who has never been elected to the Alberta legislature, cast himself as an outsider who was not at the cabinet table when controversial decisions were made.
McIver has claimed — despite CBC reports to the contrary — that he “killed” the penthouse, which came to be known as the “Skypalace.”
Lukaszuk said he knew nothing about the penthouse and claimed he was demoted within cabinet because he told Redford that the government had lost its moral authority to govern.
Leaks and free memberships
While the race has met with indifference from much of the public, the candidates have faced their own share of controversy.
Early on in the campaign, McIver was forced to apologize for participating in an event in Calgary sponsored by March for Jesus, a religious group opposed to homosexuality.
Prentice’s campaign was caught giving away $10 party memberships for free. Prentice didn’t deny the practice and instead defended it as a common practice allowed under party rules.
Then Lukaszuk got caught up in revelations that he incurred a $20,000 cell phone bill while serving as deputy premier in 2012.
The information was leaked to the Edmonton Sun. Days later, CBC News received an anonymous tip that Lukaszuk flew with his school-aged daughter on seven government flights between 2007 and 2012.
Lukaszuk paid back the costs of the flight after the auditor general released his report on Redford’s expenses.
While the candidates campaigned to be the next leader, veteran Edmonton MLA and cabinet minister Dave Hancock served as interim premier and party leader.
Hancock, who declined to enter the leadership race, reflected on Thursday about his time as premier.
“It’s the best summer job I ever had and I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly,” he said. “I think we’ve accomplished a lot of things and yeah, it’s going to be a bit bittersweet leaving the office.”