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Politicking abounds at annual Tory leader's dinner in Calgary

Albert President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance Doug Horner delivers the budget in Edmonton, Alberta on Thursday March 6, 2014. Horner says he won't seek the leadership of the governing Progressive Conservatives. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

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Albert President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance Doug Horner delivers the budget in Edmonton, Alberta on Thursday March 6, 2014. Horner says he won't seek the leadership of the governing Progressive Conservatives. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

CALGARY - There was plenty of politicking but very little of it came from the podium as Alberta Progressive Conservatives gathered for their annual leader's dinner in Calgary on Thursday night.

Leadership candidates, declared and undeclared, used the gathering of 1,800 party supporters to press the flesh and drum up support.

"I'm trying to move through to sort of shake some hands here. I'm trying to meet some Albertans," said Jim Prentice, the former federal Conservative cabinet minister who is expected to soon announce his own leadership bid.

"Stay tuned but it's going to be an exciting time," Prentice said. "We're talking shortly. And when I start, you'll know it."

Prentice chaired the dinner which brought in the huge crowd at $500 a plate. He was scheduled to introduce Hancock but decided to opt out.

"I don't think it's appropriate for me to speak tonight. I just want to say thank you to the people who are here."

Prentice did say a few words as chairman of the dinner to thank business, industry and community leaders as well as longtime supporters of the party.

"Tonight's success is for all of us to share and for all of us to be proud about and ladies and gentlemen, it's just the beginning," he said to loud applause.

Finance Minister Doug Horner, who was one of a handful of cabinet ministers considering a run for the top job, said he has decided against it.

He said he came to that decision after "a lot of discussion with my wife and family and recognizing there's a candidate I think will emerge and will be good for the party."

Horner is widely expected to endorse Prentice.

In his speech, Hancock repeated a previous apology to Albertans which acknowledged the governing caucus has been talking too much and listening too little.

"I meant every word," said Hancock.

"Our values are founded on recognizing when we've made mistakes and gone wrong. Our promise to you is that we'll work hard than ever to earn back Albertans' trust, so we can go on fulfilling our mandate."

Prentice, who hasn't been a part of the provincial government, said the apology was appropriate.

"I think that David Hancock has done the right thing with the apology. It needs to be said."

There are two candidates officially in the race — former Infrastructure minister Ric McIver and former Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes.

Alberta Jobs Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said he will make his intentions known early next week.

"I was always very clear — don't count me out," said Lukaszuk, the only potential candidate from outside of Calgary.

"I'm giving it very serious consideration. I'm not rushing into it. There's no extra points for coming in fast. I think this decision has to be very deliberate and well thought out."

Another potential candidate, Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, said he's received plenty of encouragement but won't let his intentions be known until Monday.

Lukaszuk, who is from Edmonton, doesn't want the party to be divided by regional boundaries.

"This shouldn't be north versus south," he said. "It can be divisive like that but indeed each part of the province has its own aspirations.

"I believe it is very constructive, not only for the party, to have a race, to bring different opinions forward. That never happens when you have an acclamation."

Horner, who ran in the last leadership race, agrees that it shouldn't matter from where the candidate hails.

"It doesn't matter where you lay your head down. What matters is how well you represent and how well you have a vision and how well you lead," Horner said.

"Mr. Prentice, for example, was born in Grande Cache. That's not Calgary. It's the knowledge of our party that's important."

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