Wildrose rules prevent MP Rob Anders from running for leader.

Wildrose rules prevent MP Rob Anders from running for leader.

In December, Alberta politics was rocked when eight sitting Wildrose MLAs, including party leader Danielle Smith crossed the floor to join the Progressive Conservative government. With the Tories riding high in the polls and the opposition reeling, many pundits are expecting new Premier Jim Prentice to call a spring election, perhaps as early as March.

The Wildrose Party, which still holds Official Opposition status with five seats (tied with the Liberal Party of Alberta), has scheduled their leadership contest for June 6. Members will be able to vote by mail-in ballot or in person. Also, to be eligible to vote, Albertans must be members two weeks prior to the vote.

Furthermore, the party’s executive committee decreed that leadership candidates had to hold a party membership six months prior to June 6, a decision that disqualifies Conservative MP Rob Anders from running. Anders has lost two federal Tory nomination contests. Anders is rated pro-life and pro-family by Campaign Life Coalition based on his 17-year record as a Reform, Canadian Alliance, and Conservative MP.

While the party said waivers could be granted to potential leadership candidates who did not have a membership if their work required them to be non-partisan. Wildrose president Jeff Calloway said Anders would not qualify for a waiver. “He would not qualify to run for the leadership of the party,” Calloway told the Calgary Herald. Anders still might run for MLA.

Calloway said he expects as many as five contenders for the leadership of the party that has been divided over social issues since it blew a lead in the 2012 provincial election. Moral issues such as conscience rights and gay rights were blamed for the party not winning government and under Smith it had been trying to change its image.

In November, the party membership opposed Smith’s efforts to “modernize” the seven-year-old party, including voting 148-109 against a resolution supporting equal rights for all minority groups, regardless of race, religious belief, sexual orientation or other differences. That vote at the annual general meeting was part of the impetus for the defection of the MLAs the following month.

The Calgary Herald reported that Wildrose MLAs Drew Barnes and Shayne Saskiw, Calgary lawyer Richard Jones, former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk and former Canadian Taxpayers Federation Alberta director Derek Fildebrandt are among those considering entering the race.

Campaign Life Coalition Alberta is expected to rate candidates between now and June 6 as they are officially announced. The cut-off date to be a leadership candidate is May 6.