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Alberta’s jobs minister Lukaszuk jumps into Tory leadership race

Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, Thomas Lukaszuk officially launches his campaign for the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership, in Edmonton, Alberta on Thursday May 22, 2014.

JASON FRANSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Alberta's former jobs minister says his run to become the province's next Progressive Conservative party leader will include efforts to rebuild voter trust broken during Alison Redford's premiership.

"I was the first one to come out and say there was an issue with entitlement. I was the first one to say this government has lost its moral authority to govern," Thomas Lukaszuk said on Thursday as he announced his candidacy outside a downtown Edmonton coffee shop.

"We will have to focus for the next two years on earning back Albertans' trust."

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Mr. Lukaszuk, a 45-year-old four-term legislature member from Edmonton-Castle Downs, said he believes it can be done.

"With proper leadership, with acceptance of some of our flaws and with focus on improving ourselves, we will earn the trust of Albertans."

Mr. Lukaszuk joins one-time federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice and former Alberta infrastructure minister Ric McIver, both from Calgary, in the race to become Ms. Redford's permanent replacement.

Advanced Education Minister Dave Hancock is serving as Premier until a new leader is chosen in September.

Ms. Redford resigned on March 23 ahead of a caucus and party revolt over her reported imperious leadership style, and amid revelations of big-ticket self-indulgent spending.

Since her resignation, Ms. Redford has refused all comment on her time as premier and the issues that led her to step down.

Mr. Lukaszuk said he was the rebel in Ms. Redford's fold, protested against some of her decisions and paid a political price for that.

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Last December, Ms. Redford demoted him from deputy premier and advanced education minister to the jobs, skills, training and labour portfolio.

"As you may have noticed, I've relocated from the fourth floor to the basement of the legislature. That just didn't simply happen by coincidence," he said on Thursday.

Mr. McIver and Mr. Prentice have already said that earning back the trust of Albertans will be central planks in their campaigns.

The party tumbled drastically in public opinion polls before Ms. Redford resigned and has yet to recover.

Recent documentation shows that the former premier used government aircraft for family trips and political events. She ignored tendering rules to refurnish her legislature offices, and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring extra security.

She billed taxpayers $173,000 for design and structural concepts for a planned luxury penthouse for herself on top of a government building. Mr. McIver quietly cancelled the plan in January.

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Mr. Lukaszuk said he can "swear on a stack of Bibles" he knew nothing about the penthouse project.

Over the next week, he said, he plans to collect the 500 signatures needed from party members to confirm his nomination and pay the $50,000 entry fee. He said he intends to roll out his platform in the coming weeks, and will focus on "everyday issues" such as daycare and seniors care.

It will be a simple grassroots, volunteer-focused campaign, Mr. Lukaszuk said.

"I am not an establishment candidate. That simply never has been and never will be my style."

He said he is not worried that almost all of the Tory caucus members support Mr. Prentice.

"It's not the size of the dog in the fight; it's the size of the fight in the dog."

Mr. Lukaszuk said he's not running to win the leadership per se, but wants to win the debate of ideas and, if people like his ideas, they will vote for him.

"If you're running to win a job, you're in it for the wrong reasons."

Mr. Lukaszuk resigned his jobs portfolio to avoid any conflict of interest.

A spokesman for Mr. Hancock said a replacement will be sworn in next week.

The Canadian Press

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