Jim Prentice tries to figure out what to do about his incredible shrinking party. Actual potential Progressive Conservative leaders may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: the real Mr. Prentice, plus candidates Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk.

An intriguing rumour – impossible for an outsider to verify – did the rounds of Alberta political circles yesterday. To wit: That the Progressive Conservative Party has sold fewer than 24,000 memberships since the 2014 leadership race began.

If the three candidates have managed to sell only 23,700 memberships, this is not very good news for a party that hopes somehow to cling to its role as Alberta’s Natural Governing Party for another generation.

No matter how you slice it, it is particularly bad news for former banker, lobbyist and federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice, who is generally acknowledged to be the frontrunner in the contest, with the support of almost the entire elected PC caucus.

Even if Mr. Prentice manages to win, a victory on a pathetically low turnout like this is not going to do much to cement his credentials with wavering voters as a steady and inspiring leader. And remember, however many memberships are sold, the number of members who actually bother to vote is bound to be be considerably lower.

But to make things more scary for Mr. Prentice’s team, the lower the vote goes, the greater the chances are that he can be knocked off – most likely by second-place candidate Ric McIver, the MLA for Calgary Hayes and formerly the infrastructure minister in cashiered premier Alison Redford’s cabinet.

If it’s close enough on Sept. 6 that the vote must go to a second ballot on Sept. 20, and if candidate Thomas Lukaszuk, MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs and Ms. Redford’s former deputy premier and labour minister, throws his support to Mr. McIver, Mr. Prentice could be done for.

I’m betting that Mr. McIver has sold almost has many memberships as Mr. Prentice up to now, a situation that with a low turnout could result in yet another surprise defeat of the establishment candidate in a Tory leadership race – exactly the circumstances that brought the catastrophic Ms. Redford to the leadership in 2011.

Mr. McIver now appears to be turning to niche marketing to target pockets of potential supporters – for example, religious social conservatives, with whom he has been associated in the past, public employees with public-sector pension plans, whom he told Wednesday would see their pensions left alone under his leadership, and supporters of the soon-to-close Michener Centre for developmentally disabled adults in Red Deer, which he promised to keep open yesterday.

Each of those policies could be worth a couple of thousand votes or more to Mr. McIver, easily enough to turn the tide for him in a tight vote.

This puts Mr. Prentice’s unexpected announcement Wednesday that he would give away free Tory Party memberships to anyone who wanted them in a more understandable context.

Notwithstanding Mr. Prentice’s claims that this is standard operating procedure in party leadership votes, giving away memberships on this scale is really unprecedented. But Mr. Prentice needs the vote not to be embarrassingly low if he wins, and he may require the vote not to be embarrassingly low in order to win. If he has to suffer the humiliation of appearing to buy votes, so be it – desperate times call for desperate measures!

Now, the situation may not be quite as grim for the Tories in general and Mr. Prentice in particular as an extremely low number like 23,700 makes it sound.

Members if the PC Legislative Caucus are poised to hand in the memberships they have sold over the past few weeks, and that will likely mean another 5,000 or so memberships for the party. Since almost everyone in the caucus is on the record as a Prentice supporter, in theory all these should be Prentice votes. If they actually vote, that is.

Still, with less than three weeks left in which memberships may be sold, it remains highly possible, perhaps even likely, that the party will limp to its first leadership vote with only 30,000 legitimate memberships and a few thousand more undependable Prentice freebies.

That’s a far cry from the 100,000-membership benchmark Mr. Prentice set for his supporters back in June, not to mention the 144,000 members who voted in 2006 in the leadership race that chose Ed Stelmach as premier.

The PC leadership race is finally starting to get interesting – though hardly for reasons that can bring any joy to Alberta’s remaining Tory supporters.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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  1. I believe that David Climenhaga takes a perverse pleasure in the torment of the ever pandering right wing in Alberta. For shame!


    Sold? Handed out for free? It’s really just a matter of semantics to the PCs.

    50 caucus supporters ought to be able to bring in 1,000 member each. Alas, the PC caucus is made up of so many coattail riders that haven’t a clue WHO their core supporters are as they’ve not had to ever identify said supporters. Translated into a numerical forecast (a forecast of doom, as it were), I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that those 50 coattail riders will bring in under 9,000 additional members … in sum, not each.

  3. Just for clarity, let us also consider the other party leadership race going on. Memberships in the Alberta NDP are essentially free, since “There is no minimum membership fee. You decide what you can contribute” (https://albertandp.ca/join). Of course, that is clearly stated in the NDP’s rules, so all area aware of this, while the PCs’ rules permit it by omission, i.e. they do not explicitly prohibit this. Regulation by loophole. Sloppy, IMHO.

    1. You’re joking right? Even inside the Tory circle jerk those two are punchline material. Although I do think Tommy boy might make a decent weather vane. McGiver might have a future as an embittered shop teacher if we’re lucky.

  4. Pogo, irregardless of what the preconceived notions are on who is the front or back runner…you cannot discount McIver…he is popular in Cowtown. If Tommyboy decides to throw his support for McIver…it will.be a game changer for those two. Sh-itty, sh-ittier and shit-iest, its just a matter of opinion…do you like your steak cooked, under cooked or cooked and over flavored, Albertans should be prepared to pick the best sh-tty they can get or put their money and vote where their mouth is and change their vote. Personally, I like Lukascuk and McIver…for shear personality and entertainment value, they are truly fun to watch to see them flapping their gums, for that alone, without even caring about their platform and policies, I really would vote either of them first.

  5. I used to vote PC until Harper trashed the party, into a fascist dictatorship that is. Harper has destroyed everything for other, Conservatives running for office. Harper is very busy buying up ethnic votes, for himself of course. Most hold Peter MacKay responsible, for permitting the monster Harper to run this country. Jason Kenny has also out and out blatantly lied regarding, his TFW program.

    Harper the fascist refused to permit Palestinian children to come to Canada, to be treated for their horrendous war injuries. Harper point blank refused. Hopefully if, Israel is tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity? People around the world want Harper tried with Israel. Harper is who, encouraged Israel to make war on Palestine.

    Harper knows exactly how much he is loathed. His security bill has doubled. May Harper have to watch his back, for the rest of his life.

  6. The biggest bad news here is for Danielle Smith. Even throughout all of the Tories’ problems, she hasn’t been able to move much support over to her. Time for the Wildrose to get a new leader, one that can actually make gains in such a negative political environment for the Tories. It just isn’t happening for her.

  7. Oh Joe, always with the concern trolling. Yeah, I’m sure Wildrose is very upset with Smith’s leadership after leading in every poll since February, and eight out of ten polls since the February before that. Keep dreaming…

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