Leadership Selection in Alberta, 1992-2011: A Personal Perspective

Article 8 / 12 , Vol 36 No 2 (Summer)

Leadership Selection in Alberta, 1992-2011: A Personal Perspective

In 1991, the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta changed its rules for selecting its party leader. They abandoned their traditional method of a leadership convention (with delegates drawn from each constituency), and instituted a new one-member, one-vote system. Under this new system, the Alberta PCs have elected three new party leaders: Ralph Klein in 1992; Ed Stelmach in 2006; and Alison Redford in 2011. In each of these leadership contests the winner immediately became the Premier of Alberta. This article looks at the impact of the new selection procedure for politics in Alberta.

The 1991 leadership reforms can best be described as creating what the Americans call an “open primary.” Not only is it based on the one-member, one-vote principle, but the membership requirement is essentially “open”. That is, there are no pre-requisites such as prior party membership or cut-off dates for purchasing a membership. Memberships can be bought at the door of the polling station on the day of the vote for $5. The system allows for two rounds of voting. If no candidate receives an absolute majority (50% +1) on the first voting-day, then the top three1 go on to a second vote one week later.2 Membership sales remain open right up until the polling stations close on this second day of voting. Finally, in the second round, the vote is by preferential ballot.3 For the three remaining candidates, voters indicate their first and second choice. If no candidate receives a simple majority, the third place finisher is dropped, and his supporters’ second preferences are redistributed to the top two finishers. This guarantees that one will then have a majority. Taken together, these new rules gave the Alberta PC’s the “most democratic” (i.e. open and transparent) leadership selection process of any political party in Canada., perhaps in the entire Parliamentary world.