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Ex-federal minister Jim Prentice has team for Alberta Tory leadership: source

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CALGARY - Jim Prentice is forming a team for a bid to become Alberta's next premier, a move one observer says is an "earthquake" for the province's politics.

A source working with Prentice confirmed the former federal cabinet minister has been talking to caucus and cabinet and has received encouragement to run for the leadership of Alberta's governing Progressive Conservative party.

"I can confirm that he is putting together a campaign team and finance team and he'll make a formal announcement in the next couple of weeks at which time he will outline his vision for the province," said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"He's been getting a lot of encouragement and based on that and on his desire to put together a plan for the province and the party, he's made this decision that he's going to take the steps necessary to do so."

Prentice held several portfolios in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet before moving to the private sector in 2010. He is currently a vice-president with CIBC and recently accepted a job with Calgary-based Enbridge to help clear the way for the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline.

Messages left with CIBC seeking comment from Prentice were not immediately returned.

Some Alberta cabinet ministers were quick to offer their support Monday.

Health Minister Fred Horne said he had a lengthy chat with Prentice in recent days.

"He has all of the qualities that we need, both in the party and the province," Horne told The Canadian Press. "I am very, very excited to hear about his candidacy and I will be supporting him actively."

Education Minister Jeff Johnson said he had encouraged Prentice to run.

"Jim Prentice has proven himself a visionary leader of the highest integrity," Johnson said in a statement. "I am very excited at the prospect of him entering the race and will throw my unqualified support behind him."

Acting Municipal Affairs Minister Greg Weadick also offered his support.

"I believe that the inclusion of Mr. Prentice into the race for premier would be very positive and well received by Albertans," Weadick said in an email. "I would personally welcome his decision to seek the leadership of our PC family."

Prentice had received a public endorsement last week from Alberta Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar.

The Alberta Tories are to hold a leadership vote in September to replace former premier Alison Redford. She resigned last month during a caucus revolt over questions about her leadership style and lavish spending.

Only one candidate, former Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes, has officially entered the race, but several others — including cabinet ministers Doug Horner, Thomas Lukaszuk and Jonathan Denis — have said they are mulling a run.

Mount Royal University political scientist David Taras said Prentice's candidacy may turn the Tory leadership race into a "coronation."

"This will be an earthquake in Alberta politics," Taras said.

"Provincially they've always wanted someone to come into this race riding a white horse and be the saviour of the party and there's no question that here's someone who has the charisma, who has the authority, who has the credentials, who has the connections to win a race and remake the party."

Prentice has been widely talked about as a potential candidate pretty much from the day Redford resigned, but has remained silent.

Former provincial treasurer Jim Dinning was also talked about as a potential candidate, but shot those rumours down weeks ago.

"It's a good next step to renewing the party," Dinning said of the Prentice development Monday. "I am glad he's joined the race."

Lukaszuk reitereated that he is considering his own run, but declined to comment on Prentice's candidacy.

"It is a complex decision," he said. "It involves thinking about what I want to accomplish for this party and this province, and what doing that work would mean for my family. It does not involve thinking about what other candidates might or might not do."

Denis said he will announce his own intentions after this session of the legislature concludes.

"Many people have told me they are looking for a common sense, conservative approach to government — someone who manages their office like a small business or a household," he said. "I am looking for the best person for the job — whether it is me or someone else — but someone who shares this vision."

He said he's looking forward to hearing what Prentice has to say.

"I've known Jim from before when both of us were elected," he said. "He has a conservative track record in both the private sector and as a minister in the federal government."

Born in South Porcupine, Ont., Prentice practised law in Calgary for more than 20 years and specialized in property rights and aboriginal land claims. He was a land-claims negotiator for the Alberta government before he ran for leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative party in 2003. He came in second to Peter MacKay.

The following year, Prentice was elected as MP in Calgary North Centre for the new Conservative Party of Canada.

He served in cabinet in the industry, environment and aboriginal affairs portfolios. He was the federal minister who negotiated the residential schools settlement in 2006.

Once touted as a potential successor to Harper as Conservative party leader, Prentice left politics at the end of 2010 and joined the CIBC.

His move to the private sector was a surprise announcement. Married with three daughters, he told reporters he was doing it for family reasons. He went as far as to say he was done with politics.

Taras said the Opposition Wildrose Party will need to re-set with Prentice in provincial politics.

"It's a nightmare for Wildrose," he said. "He's probably able to unite the right wing and the centrist part of the party ... I wouldn't be surprised if some Wildrose people actually cross back over to the Conservatives over time."

Opposition Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith welcomed Prentice to provincial politics on Twitter.

"We've been looking forward to you stepping into the arena," she said, adding a smiley face at the end of the sentence.

— With files from John Cotter and Chris Purdy in Edmonton.

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