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The Annals of the Alberta Party: A mystery created, a mystery solved

Greg Clark

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It's a mystery why the Alberta Party would choose not to run a candidate in the March 22 byelection in the Calgary-Greenway riding.

"Running in this byelection is not the best use of our resources as we build towards 2019," Greg Clark, the Alberta Party's leader and sole MLA, said in a news release yesterday.

"We're on track to be a significant factor in the 2019 general election," said Clark, who was elected in the 2015 general election to represent the well-heeled Calgary-Elbow riding.

Well, sure, Mr. Clark, whatever you say.

The news release said the party had "more than one qualified candidate" interested in running to replace Tory MLA Manmeet Bhullar, who was killed in a highway crash last November. However, it added, the party's Board of Directors decided not to let anyone run.

"We decided it was best to stick to our long-term strategic plan," explained Alberta Party President Pat Cochrane in the release.

Well, it's their party, they can take a bye if they want to, but not running a candidate in 2016 sure doesn't sound to me like the way to win the riding in 2019, which is what the news release said they'd like to do. Even if they couldn't run their ideal candidate, whomever that might be, any old name on the ballot would have kept them in the game.

As Dave Cournoyer pointed out in his Daveberta.ca blog, Clark's run against Conservative cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in the October 2014 four-by-election "mini election," ably assisted by Calgary-based political strategist Stephen Carter, went much better than expected. His close-second finish certainly didn't do him any harm when he ran again in May 2015.

Oh well, it's not for me to judge. A lot of what the Alberta Party does has never made much sense to me, and every time it starts to look like it may be on the way to a winning strategy, it does something weird.

Despite its long-ago start as one of the plethora of far-right parties that spring up in the fertile political soil of Alberta, the current version of the Alberta Party, a completely different organization, describes itself as "a centrist and pragmatic party that is not dogmatically ideological in its approach to politics."

Although it has tried to brand itself as vaguely progressive -- and it certainly had a Bernie Sanders cut to its jib in its first year of life as a political non-party entity called Renew Alberta -- nowadays it's really just another small-c conservative party on economic issues that's fairly easy-going on social issues.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi would fit right in -- as, indeed, he once did.

Anyway, I'm glad to report regardless of this new mystery, there's also a mystery solved.

Back in December 2014, a day after the infamous Wildrose Caucus nine-member floor crossing to then-premier Jim Prentice's Tories, the National Post reported that not long before the Wildrose Party's leader at the time, Danielle Smith, had "flirted with joining a different party."

That party was the Alberta Party, Smith confirmed yesterday.

"I was meeting with Stephen Carter … to see if we could bring the Alberta Party and the Wildrose together," she told me in an email in response to a query about the Post report.

"They had credibility with urban conservatives, we had credibility with rural conservatives," said Smith, who is now a Calgary talk radio host. "You need both to have a real party and I was getting nowhere in the cities."

This was happening about the same time as Wildrose MLAs Rob Anderson and Shayne Saskiw, both of whom have left politics, were negotiating with Prentice's PCs, Smith said.

"Carter thought the basis of an agreement could form around unanimous support for GSAs," she said -- a reference to the call to permit gay-straight alliances in schools, which Smith personally strongly supported but which her party's rank and file wanted no part of.

A month before, rebellious Wildrosers at the party's annual policy convention voted down what Smith had called "a definitive statement to protect the equality of all Albertans, including our friends in the LGBTQ community." Smith had touted this approach as a way to prove the party exemplified the kind of moderate centrism Albertans would vote for. It must have been an immensely frustrating moment for her.

Carter also sought agreement on "bringing back a health-care premium to address the looming funding shortfall caused by $50 (and now $30) oil," Smith noted yesterday.

"I floated both ideas with my caucus and was turned down cold," she said. "Dead on arrival."

What happened next is history.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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