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Unsuccessful Conservative leadership candidate, Hill staffers poised for battle in Ambrose’s former riding

By Abbas Rana      

Garry Keller, who's been both a staffer and political opponent to Rona Ambrose, is expected to announce this week if he's running.

From the left, businessman Rick Peterson, former Hill staffer Jamie Mozeson, and Hill staffer Dane Lloyd have publicly announced that they are running to seek the Conservative Party nomination in Sturgeon River-Parkland, Alta. Former senior ministerial staffer Garry Keller is to make an announcement whether he wants to run for the nomination this week. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright and courtesy of Twitter
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Two more candidates threw their hats in the ring last week to seek the Conservative Party nomination in the coveted and safe Alberta riding of Sturgeon River-Parkland vacated by outgoing interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose last month.

Businessman and former Conservative Party leadership candidate Rick Peterson and Hill staffer Dane Lloyd told The Hill Times that they have officially entered the race. Former Hill staffer and Conservative Party’s regional organizer in Alberta, Jamie Mozeson, was the first candidate to enter the race last month.

Garry Keller, a former senior ministerial staffer in the Stephen Harper government, and chief of staff to Ms. Ambrose as interim leader, told The Hill Times last week that he was still undecided, but would make an announcement about his decision this week—possibly as soon as Monday, Aug. 21.

“I’ve been speaking with a number of people across Sturgeon River-Parkland recently, and I will be making a final decision in the very near future,” Mr. Keller wrote in an email to The Hill Times.

Mr. Keller also served as chief of staff to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) for a few weeks after the leadership election in May.

Former Conservative MP Rona Ambrose resigned from her seat last month. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

If Mr. Keller seeks the nomination, it would be his second attempt. In 2004, he lost a nomination contest to Ms. Ambrose in the riding that was, at the time, known as Edmonton-Spruce Grove. A change in boundaries and name came into effect in the 2015 election. After winning the 2004 nomination, Ms. Ambrose went on to win five elections and represented the riding for about 13 years.

Mr. Peterson, who most recently lived and worked in B.C., told The Hill Times last week that he has now moved to the Sturgeon River-Parkland riding. He grew up in Alberta and spent the first 20 years of his life in the province. Regardless of the outcome of the nomination contest, Mr. Peterson said he would continue to live in the riding.

“We’re staying here; this is home for us,” he said. “We’ve made a very conscious family decision to come and live in Spruce Grove. My roots are [in] Alberta. My family is from Grand Prairie, just north of here. I went to school in Edmonton.

“It’s a great place to come and live and to get back to the roots where I’m from. Win or lose the nomination race, we’re going to be residents of Spruce Grove for a long time to come.”

In the Conservative leadership contest this year, he won 10th place out of 13 candidates on the first ballot, and held that same position until the third ballot when he dropped out due to being last out of the 10 who were left. Mr. Peterson won 0.67 per cent of the vote nationally on his last ballot.

Businessman Rick Peterson is running for the Conservative Party nomination in Sturgeon River-Parkland. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

In the riding of Sturgeon River-Parkland, Mr. Peterson won only four votes on the first ballot of the leadership election vote. Conservative MP Steven Blaney (Bellechasse-Les Etchemins-Lévis, Que.), and former Conservative MP Chris Alexander also won four votes each, and all three came in second last in the riding. Conservative MP Maxime Bernier (Beauce, Que.) won the riding on the first ballot with 334 votes and Mr. Scheer, the eventual winner, garnered 201 votes from this riding.

Former Conservative Party leadership candidate and businessman Kevin O’Leary has endorsed Mr. Peterson for the nomination meeting.

Mr. Lloyd, who works in Conservative MP Michael Cooper’s (St. Albert-Edmonton, Alta.) office but is currently on a leave of absence, entered the contest last week. In the Stephen Harper government, he served as special assistant to then-International Trade minister Ed Fast (Abbotsford, B.C.), and as an intern for then-Citizenship and Immigration minister Jason Kenney. He is a reservist in the Canadian Army and holds the rank of second lieutenant.

Mr. Cooper and Mr. Fast have endorsed Mr. Lloyd for the nomination.

Mr. Cooper told The Hill Times that he won’t campaign for Mr. Lloyd in the nomination contest but he would for the byelection—and for whoever wins the nomination contest.

Ms. Mozeson, a former federal party organizer in Alberta and former Hill staffer, was the first candidate to enter the contest in July. She has received the endorsement of a number of federal Alberta MPs, including Matt Jeneroux (Edmonton Riverbend, Alta.), Tom Kmiec (Calgary Sheppard, Alta.), Arnold Vierson (Peace River-Westlock, Alt.), Kerry Diotte (Edmonton Griesbach, Alta.), Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park, Alta.), and Michelle Rempel (Calgary Nosehill, Alta.). Two former Alberta MLAs, Ken Lemke and Shayne Saskiw, have also endorsed Ms. Mozeson.

More candidates could enter the nomination race in the coming weeks. As of last week, the Conservative Party had not announced the date of the nomination meeting in the riding.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) has six months to call a byelection from the date Ms. Ambrose formally submitted her resignation, which was July 4. Former Conservative MP Denis Lebel resigned from his seat  earlier this month, and no byelection has been called for that riding either by the prime minister, nor has the Conservative party set a nomination date. Mr. Lebel represented the riding of Lac-Saint-Jean, Que., since 2007.

Since her retirement from Parliament, Ms. Ambrose has joined a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank called the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars as a visiting fellow. Earlier this month, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Alta.) appointed the former Conservative MP and interim opposition leader to a 13-member advisory council on North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations.

In the 338-member House of Commons, there are 183 Liberal MPs, 97 Conservative, 44 NDP, 10 Bloc Québécois, one Green and one Independent MP. Two seats are vacant.

Like in most other federal Alberta ridings, a Conservative nomination contest in Sturgeon River-Parkland is likely to be a lot closer contest than the byelection itself. The winners of most Conservative nomination contests in Alberta ridings are almost guaranteed to beat rivals from other parties.

In the last election, Conservatives won 29 of 34 seats in the province. Of the five that went to other parties, Liberals won four and the NDP got one.

Ms. Ambrose carried Sturgeon River-Parkland in the last election with 70.2 per cent of the vote. Second-place Liberal candidate Travis Dueck garnered 15.5 per cent, and the third place NDP candidate Guy Desforges won 10 per cent. In 2011, Ms. Ambrose won 71.1 per cent of the votes. Since 2004, when she first became the candidate, Ms. Ambrose has won at least 60 per cent of the votes in all five federal elections.

arana@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times 

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