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Today's Big Story

Albertans Turf Five in Race for New Leader

Corporate favourite battles farmer and firewaller in battle to replace Klein.

By Richard Warnica 27 Nov 2006 | TheTyee.ca

Richard Warnica is a senior editor at The Tyee.

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Jim Dinning had everything he needed to stroll to an easy victory in the race to replace Alberta Premier Ralph Klein.  By the time the contest began, the former Alberta treasurer had more money, more corporate support and more caucus endorsements than the entire rest of the field combined.

But what Dinning doesn’t have, for today at least, is the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party.  Instead the long-time presumptive Premier in waiting is facing a second ballot next weekend after surprisingly strong challenges from a former farmer described as “charisma-challenged” and a social conservative who wants to radically alter Alberta’s place in the federation.

Dinning’s massive pre-race lead didn’t disappear entirely on Saturday. The favourite of the Calgary boardroom set won 30 per cent of the vote in the one member, one ballot first round, good enough for first place.

Not far behind, however, was Ted Morton, a member of the now almost mythical Calgary School of political scientists who formed the intellectual backbone of the Stephen Harper revolution. Morton, who was a signatory of the ‘Firewall’ letter in 2001, rode a message of massive decentralization and democratic reform to second place and 26 per cent of the vote.

But the day after the vote, the man making the most news was the one in third place. Steady Eddie Stelmach, who garnered 15 per cent Saturday, snagged two more key votes on Sunday when the fourth and fifth place candidates jumped to his camp.  According to the Calgary Sun, if Lyle Oberg (fourth) and Mark Norris (fifth) can swing their supporters, Stelmach will be best positioned to win next weekend. (Stelmach received more kind words from Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell this morning.)

Whoever wins the now three Tory contest will be almost certain to win re-election the next time Albertans go to the polls. Ralph Klein leaves behind him a legacy of unparalled centralization of power, according to Alberta writer Frank Dabbs. As a result, Albertans, by and large, view the Conservatives as the only choice for government, regardless of who leads them.

But if Albertans are happy with any old Tory, British Columbians, or at least British Columbian politicians, are probably hoping for one guy in particular. Jim Dinning has close ties to BC premier Gordon Campbell. Campbell even appointed Dinning to the board of his pet P3 project, Partnerships BC, in 2003. Dinning is also no stranger to BC. He held a $250 a plate fundraiser in Vancouver just last January.

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