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Ken Hughes says no coronation for Jim Prentice in Alberta Tory leadership race

EDMONTON - The only declared candidate so far in the Alberta Tory leadership race says there'll be no coronation if former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice decides to run.

"I know that that (coronation idea) is a very strongly held view amongst some people who have other interests, and I think that would be a disaster for the province of Alberta," Ken Hughes said in an interview Tuesday.

Hughes said politics — and political parties — benefit from races between strong candidates.

The former municipal affairs minister says he has a wide support base and will tour the province this summer in his Ford F-150 truck to get the word out about his long experience in business and politics.

Prentice, a former Calgary MP, has not officially entered the race to replace former premier Alison Redford. But on Monday a source close to him said Prentice is putting a team together and there'll be an announcement in the coming days.

Some members of the Tory caucus, including Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar and associate ministers Kyle Fawcett and Dave Rodney, have already pledged their support.

Some party members and political observers have named Prentice the front-runner.

Hughes said he's not worried about him, by default, becoming the underdog.

"You folks in the media will characterize the race however you do it," he said.

"What I know is I have a team and I have the capacity to lead this province, and we have a compelling proposition to offer to Albertans.

"I'm ready to take that on, and I fully expect to be on the final ballot on the 20th of September."

Opposition Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith pulled no punches when asked what she thought of Prentice entering the race.

"I have to tell you I think it's an impossible task," she said Tuesday in Calgary. "I'm not quite sure why anybody would want to take over captaining the Titanic after it's already hit the iceberg, but that's exactly what is happening here."

One person can't change the deep-rooted issues of entitlement that is entrenched in the Tory party, Smith added.

"The fact is he's inheriting a pretty troubled party and he's surrounding himself with the exact same people who got us into the mess that we're in today."

The race officially begins May 15. The the first ballot is set for Sept. 6.

If no candidate gets a majority of the votes, the top two will move to a final runoff vote Sept. 20.

The cost to enter is a $50,000 non-refundable deposit.

Redford stepped down last month ahead of a caucus revolt over her management style and revelations of lavish spending.

Dave Hancock took over as premier temporarily, but has said he will not run for the top job and will step down when a new leader is chosen.

— With files from CHQR

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