PHOTOS: It may not be spring yet, as in this photo, but the clock is ticking down on a spring 2015 election. Below: Bridget Pastoor, the former Liberal floor-crosser who served a term as a Progressive Conservative MLA before announcing she’s retiring, and former Tory finance minister Ted Morton, who’s now calling for a sales tax.

There were two hints yesterday that Alberta Premier Jim Prentice is edging closer to calling an early election this spring, maybe three if you’re of a particularly conspiratorial turn of mind.

With most of the Wildrose caucus back in the bosom of the Progressive Conservative Party and oil prices low enough to justify both a Taser-like jolt of the Shock Doctrine and heartfelt cries that now is the time for conservative unity, why the heck not?

PastoorI once predicted in this space there would be an election called this month, with a vote in February, but that time schedule seems a little tight now. At any rate, the PC Party board of directors voted on Saturday to have all their candidates nominated by the Ides of March. After that, no matter what anyone says right now, an election is bound to be called quickly.

So here are yesterday’s three signs a spring election is in the air:

Hint No. 1: The PC Party executive announced in the afternoon it will be extending all memberships for a year for free, the better to keep the “paid up” faintly committed on the mailing list and maybe round up a few potential candidates who don’t have “Alison Redford” or “Ed Stelmach” tattooed all over them for the province’s 87 ridings.

“This decision is a recognition that not all members were able to participate in our recent leadership selection process,” party president Terri Beaupre was quoted by the Edmonton Journal saying in an email message yesterday to the party’s supporters.

Well, that interpretation includes a little bit of spin. After all, some of them chose not to take part. But was back when it seemed like an awful lot of PC party members were sitting out the party leadership vote entirely as they rubbed their hands gleefully and awaited the opportunity to vote Wildrose in the next general election. Moreover, an awful lot of the PC members extant at the time seemed to be in possession of then-controversial free memberships handed out and paid for by Mr. Prentice’s well-financed campaign.

Well, that was then and this is now. The Wildrose Party is but a shadow of its former self and for some reason the controversy about the free memberships seems to have died down, both within PC party ranks (Hey, Ric McIver? Tom Lukaszuk?) and without.

Plus, the party says it will exchange any crumpled old Wildrose Party membership card brought to it, possibly even if it’s been cut in two by a chainsaw or partly burned, with a crisp new PC card.Morton

Former Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, now understandably enjoying a brief respite in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where no one needs to know where she comes from, former Wildrose House leader Rob Anderson, whose vacation itinerary has not been disclosed even if his truncated political career plans have been, and nine other former Wildrose MLAs have all recently taken advantage of this generous offer.

Hint No. 2: Floor-crossing Lethbridge-East Tory MLA Bridget Pastoor Tweeted yesterday that she will not be running again. Perhaps it just didn’t seem like the right moment for a floor-crosser to be running for public office in this province, given all the bad ink generated by the 11 Wildrose MLAs who did the deed.

Ms. Pastoor did not cross from the Wildrose Party and she didn’t do it last month, it must be noted, but rather from the Alberta Liberals in November 2011. Her departure, she protested too much at the time, had absolutely nothing to do with Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman.

Other than that point, though, her arguments sounded a lot like those of the recent Wildrose floor-crossers: “I’ll be able to say from the inside what I’ve saying from the outside.”

So now that the province of Alberta is “under new management,” perhaps Premier Prentice didn’t want to remind us that not much really has changed since Alison Redford was premier.

Aw, that’s unfair. Ms. Pastoor is 75 and thus well past her best-before date, and the New Democrats have been polling strongly in Lethbridge.

From Mr. Prentice’s perspective, then, it’s best to have a candidate on board in Lethbridge West who will appeal both to furious Wildrosers, still nursing feelings of betrayal at the hands of those more recent floor-crossers but unable to bring themselves to vote for a progressive candidate, and disaffected Liberals who might have trouble voting for a New Democrat in particular.

Possible Hint No. 3: Former finance minister Ted Morton is calling for Alberta to adopt a sales tax, seeing as without a steady source of revenue unaffected by volatile oil prices the province’s finances are “an accident waiting to happen.”

“Basically, our budget is stuck in the same cycle,” Dr. Morton solemnly and rather self-righteously told the CBC. “It’s sort of a guaranteed-to-fail policy.” (Emphasis added.)

I’ll say! Not much to disagree with there at all. But where, readers may wonder, was Dr. Morton when he was in a position to do something about it?

The answer, of course, is that he was running for the leadership of the PC Party, a venture in which success is not traditionally associated with the advocacy of a sales tax in this province and therefore not ever associated with courageous resolve of the type now advocated by the University of Calgary “executive in residence” in public policy.

As they say, that was then and this is now, so Dr. Morton is in a position to run it up the flagpole for Mr. Prentice, presumably so that the premier has something to say he’ll never consider doing, ever, no matter what, read his lips, yadda-yadda. That’s the conspiracy theory interpretation.

Then again, maybe the political right really has decided it’s time for a foray on the sales tax front. At any rate, I’m sure they figure it beats an honest progressive income tax. If that’s the case, Dr. Morton will have softened up the ground for the premier, presumably for after the election, though.

Or maybe it had nothing whatsoever to do with a spring election and was just Dr. Morton, at 66, literally becoming a “senior fellow” and slipping absently back into the mellow state of mind that led him to participate in those peacenik demonstrations in Wyoming or wherever during the Vietnam War, the ones he brags about now and then when he’s trying to make the point he may be a conservative, but back in the day he was one conservative who was hep to the jive.

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