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Leadership races provide opportunities, dangers

The announced resignations of Premier Ed Stelmach and Liberal leader Dr. David Swann in quick succession has caused shockwaves across Alberta's political scene the likes of which haven't been seen in many, many years.

The announced resignations of Premier Ed Stelmach and Liberal leader Dr. David Swann in quick succession has caused shockwaves across Alberta's political scene the likes of which haven't been seen in many, many years.

The resignations mean that for the first time three of the province's political parties ñ the Progressive Conservatives, the Liberals and the Alberta Party ñwill be engaged in leadership battles at the same time.

In all three cases the short- and long-term futures of the respective parties will quite literally be decided over the coming days and months.

While it's anyone's guess what impact the races will have on the next election, the contests do offer both opportunities and dangers for all political parties, including the New Democrats and the Wild Rose Alliance.

In the case of the PCs, the leadership race could be a real chance to renew core support among both urban and rural Albertans following months of decline in popular support, almost all of it at the hands of the Wild Rose.

If the PCs can get their new leader in place without too much infighting and controversy, that person may then be able to quickly take the offensive against the Wild Rose ñ instead of simply responding to Wild Rose attacks, as has been the case for months.

If, on the other hand, the PC race degenerates into a bitter battle that leaves the party more divided than ever, the Tories could find themselves in real trouble with voters not afraid to look elsewhere.

For the Liberals, the leadership race offers a chance to finally put a leader in place that will be palatable to Alberta voters traditionally hostile to anything and everything Liberal. For the party, it's a tall order, but also a good chance for change.

For the Alberta Party, which has recently undergone major restructuring, the leadership race offers a golden opportunity to raises its public profile. If the party doesn't use this opportunity to step boldly into the spotlight, it may miss out on its one and only chance to do so.

For both the New Democrats and the Wild Rose Alliance, the leadership battles of their rivals provide a chance to step up to the plate and lead the opposition against the struggling Tories.

If ND leader Brian Mason and Wild Rose leader Danielle Smith really want to show what they can do in terms of opposition leadership, this is their chance.

While the PC, Liberal and Alberta Party leadership races will certainly end up changing the province's political landscape, the ultimate impact of the races will, of course, be seen at the polls in 2012 or 2013.