All last week Donald Getty, the lanky former football player and acknowledged front-runner in Alberta’s Conservative party leadership race, appealed to delegates to award him a first-ballot victory at the party’s Thanksgiving weekend convention in Edmonton. Such a victory, argued Getty, would give him a position of strength from which to govern as successor to Premier Peter Lougheed. But Getty’s eleventh-hour drive came as evidence mounted that his two rivals for the leadership—Municipal Affairs Minister Julian Koziak and Calgary lawyer Ronald Ghitter—had eaten into the former energy minister’s lead to the point that Getty had slipped from the position of certain victor to likely winner.
As delegates prepared for the three-day convention at Edmonton’s Convention Centre and AgriCom building-highlighted by a tribute to Lougheed and the Sunday-morning balloting—the conclusion of the race promised to be as tense as the 12-week campaign. Almost from the start, the leadership race was marred by allegations of rigged delegate meetings, ballot box stuffing and political blackmail. As a result, many Alberta Tories say that in the future the party will have to reform its leadership selection process. Getty and Ghitter proposed a new system modelled on the party-wide vote that chose Pierre Marc Johnson as the new leader of the Parti Québécois last month. Instead of 20 elected delegates representing each of the province’s 79 ridings voting for the leader, the reform
proposal would allow every card-carrying Tory to cast votes for a new leader. Said Ghitter: “The system now is not reflective of the party but of who can organize best.”
Some Tories were equally dismayed by the glaring absence of any real debate among the candidates on issues. Both Getty and Koziack made few policy statements, explaining that they thought the party caucus should generate new ideas and programs. Only Ghitter, a party maverick, regularly issued policy pronouncements advocating such things as development of long-term agricultural policies and government programs to help develop markets for energy products. Noted D’arcy Levesque, an Edmonton delegate committed to voting for Getty on the first ballot: “I don’t think it’s wise for Albertans to see Tories hiding from difficult situations.”
The party’s new leader, who is expected to be sworn in as premier during the first week in November, is almost certain to make restoration of the party’s tattered unity a first order of business. At the same time, most Conservatives expect the new man to call an election next year. With their existing command of all but four of the legislature’s 79 seats, the Tories seemed likely to win another term of office. But both the New Democratic Party and the Liberals were determined to make substantial gains in the next election from a party that, after a fractious and divisive campaign, no longer seemed as sure of itself.
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