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The Amazing Race, Alberta Political Edition: Can the Tories find their missing mojo?

Premier Jim Prentice called a news conference yesterday morning in Calgary and announced, as widely expected, that he and his two likewise-unelected cabinet ministers will run in by-elections to be held within the shortest time frame legally possible.

Unexpected was that Prentice himself would run for the Progressive Conservative Party in the Calgary-Foothills riding in Cowtown's northwest, not Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill in the same general part of town, where most of the educated speculation had him running.

Also unexpected was the fact that four by-elections would be held. In addition to a by-election in Edmonton-Whitemud (vacated by former premier pro tem Dave Hancock) for Health Minister Stephen Mandel, and in Calgary-Elbow (dramatically vacated in March by former premier Alison Redford) where Education Minister Gordon Dirks will run.

The fourth race will be in Calgary-West (just opened by the voluntary departure of former municipal affairs minister Ken Hughes). Calgary-West will be contested for the PCs by former police officer Mike Ellis, presumably no relation to the Arthur Ellis, notwithstanding the gravity of the Tories' present troubles.

All four ridings have a history of being safe Tory seats -- which means they are as safe as any Tory seat can be in Alberta nowadays.

Getting back to the race in Calgary-Foothills, MLA Len Webber made way for the premier. Webber had conveniently been nominated over the weekend to contest the federal Calgary-Confederation seat for the Conservative Party of Canada.

The goal of the tight campaign time window is obviously to help Prentice's campaign in particular by keeping the opposition parties off balance as long as possible and giving them as little time to campaign as legally possible. The election will take place so quickly it will make our little heads spin -- on Oct. 27.

The tight time frame also amplifies the advantages Prentice holds as head of the government, albeit as a leader who is still unelected.

Progressive Conservative strategists obviously hope ballots will have been counted long before anyone remembers that the premier was only chosen by 23,000 PC Party members and the honeymoon effect from his first few weeks in office lingers.

Notwithstanding public disillusionment with Redford's catastrophic tenure, the Opposition parties will have to hustle to get credible candidates knocking on doors before Prentice's campaign has all but wound up.

The Wildrose Opposition will name their antidote to Prentice this morning, and they need to have a high-profile challenger if their effort is to succeed. Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith was right to try to keep a lid on expectations Friday when she introduced the party's candidate in Edmonton-Whitemud.

The New Democrats planned to run communications consultant Jennifer Burgess against Prentice in whichever riding he chose -- but the Tories' last-minute riding choice kept her from being able to get an early start on door knocking.

It goes without saying that if Prentice loses, it will be a disaster for the 43-year-old PC dynasty, so you can expect the party to throw everything it's got in its commodious political tickle trunk at the campaign in Calgary-Foothills.

This will inevitably lead to some speculation this is a mini test election, a practice run for the big show whenever Prentice gets around to calling a general election -- possibly even during the silly fixed-election-period in the spring of 2016 legislated by the Redford Government.

I see it more as an entertaining reality show for political nuts -- the Amazing Race, Alberta Political Edition. Contestants from the government side will run all over Calgary and Edmonton, looking for what's left of the PCs' reputation as Alberta's Natural Governing Party, which has been missing since the middle of 2012.

Perhaps it'll turn up in an envelope near somewhere in the Hamptons!

Candidates List

Known candidates in the four by-elections announced by Premier Jim Prentice yesterday:

Calgary-Foothills

Progressive Conservatives: Jim Prentice, premier

Wildrose Party: TBA today

NDP: Jennifer Burgess, communications consultant

Alberta Liberals: TBA tomorrow

Alberta Party: Michelle Glavine, teacher

Greens: Polly Knowlton Cockett, environmental educator

Calgary-Elbow

Progressive Conservatives: Gordon Dirks, education minister

Wildrose Party: John Fletcher, armed forces officer

NDP: Stephanie McLean, lawyer

Alberta Liberals: Susan Wright, lawyer and blogger

Alberta Party: Greg Clark, party leader

Calgary-West

Progressive Conservatives: Mike Ellis, former police officer

Wildrose Party: TBA

NDP: Brian Malkinson

Alberta Liberals: TBA

Alberta Party: Troy Millington, IT consultant

Edmonton-Whitemud

Progressive Conservatives: Stephen Mandel, health minister

Wildrose Party: Tim Grover, business owner

NDP: Bob Turner, cancer physician

Alberta Liberals: TBA

Alberta Party: William Munsey, berry farmer, blogger and party president

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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