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Both women in the race to lead the Alberta PC Party drop out, one cites harassment and intimidation

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Sandra Jansen

The story is not likely to get the attention it deserves amid the uproar inevitably surrounding the shocking results of the U.S. presidential election, but the two women campaigning to lead Alberta's Progressive Conservative party both withdrew from the race yesterday. Both were associated with the more socially progressive wing of the former governing party.

Sandra Jansen, sitting MLA for Calgary-North West and a former minister in premier Alison Redford’s cabinet, said in a news release she was quitting because of harassment and intimidation. Social conservatives associated with the campaign of former Harper Government cabinet minister Jason Kenney are said to be the culprits.

Donna Kennedy-Glans, a former Calgary MLA and Redford cabinet minister, said only that "there is limited opportunity for centrist voices to be heard" in the PC Party today.

Both spoke the truth. Kennedy-Glans's diplomatic explanation may have been the understatement of the year!

Jansen, however, provided more troubling insights into the current state of the PC Party as Kenney, ably assisted by former prime minister Stephen Harper and the federal Conservative brain trust, moves to execute his planned double reverse hostile takeover of the PCs first, and then the Wildrose Opposition.

The goal of that strategy is not just to set the stage to beat the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley in an election by uniting the Alberta right, but to make sure the only choice for conservative voters in Alberta is a party far to the right of the political space the PCs have traditionally occupied.

If this sounds familiar, it is exactly what Preston Manning, Harper and other Reform/Alliance Party members did to the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 2003.

Jansen is still a member of the current Alberta PC Caucus led by interim Leader Ric McIver. She is the only woman in that caucus.  And that is a place that cannot be described by anyone who has been paying attention as a woman-friendly environment. So it would be fair to conclude that Jansen of all the candidates opposed to Kenney has borne the brunt of the hostility both from her fellow MLAs and party radicals for her socially progressive views.

Indeed, there have been rumblings of a move within the PC Caucus to force Jansen out for holding views once commonplace in PC ranks but now deemed too progressive for a Conservative. With a nine-member caucus, it would only take five votes to kick her out.

If true, this is an interesting way for a supposedly democratic party to deal with an uppity candidate who dared to speak against a social conservative front-runner with the conservative establishment behind him.

No doubt Jansen's recent practice of telling her caucus mates that some NDP policies make sense also rankled other PC caucus members, including McIver. In the past few days she has also ruffled caucus feathers by daring to suggest, party line notwithstanding, that there’s no way home schooling in Alberta is under attack by the NDP. 

At any rate, Jansen's news release was forthright and fairly detailed, even if she had nothing more to say to the media. "This past weekend in Red Deer has left me quite shaken," the statement said. "I have never before experienced harassment like that which occurred up to and including this past weekend."

The release said harassment online has taken the form of social media messages "filled with filth" -- presumably a reference to vicious sexual innuendo and obscenities that have been posted as anonymous comments on the former TV journalist's campaign social media accounts.

Jansen's statement also said "volunteers from another campaign" followed her through the convention hotel in Red Deer, jeering her and her supporters "for supporting children's rights to a safe school environment," a reference to her support for legislation protecting the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender children.

For his part, Kenney published a statement saying he is disappointed Jansen and Kennedy-Glans have left the race. "It is important to have a range of views and choices in a leadership election such as this one," he said.

Calgary-based political strategist Stephen Carter, who had been advising Jansen's campaign, told the CBC he was shocked by the way she was abused in Red Deer on the weekend.

Carter said Kenney supporters harassed Ms. Jansen over her support of LGBTQ rights and also "a woman's right to choose," another hot-button issue for the social conservatives in Kenney’s campaign. However, it seems unlikely any of the four busloads of Bible school students Kenney brought in were involved -- they were led back to their buses as soon as they had had their photos snapped with Harper and voted, then whisked out of town.

Meanwhile the Kenney juggernaut rolls on, crushing anything that gets in its way. There are persistent rumours Alberta Conservative MPs unwilling to support Kenney's provincial efforts have been quietly advised they will have trouble getting a future federal nomination if they don't behave themselves and back their former boss's man in Alberta.

Jansen has also been subjected to the right-wing Rebel video blog's use of pictures of her daughter -- whom she strives to keep out of her political life. The sandrajansen.ca domain name is being misused to redirect readers to Rebel stories vilifying her.

Put together, these activities show the PC Party in late 2016 in a baleful light, badly in need of a candidate like Jansen. But one can certainly see why she and Kennedy-Glans decided they had had enough.

Jansen's accusations prompted a furious storm of debate on social media, with vocal supporters of the Kenney campaign, including at least one who works in the mainstream media, denying there was any harassment and claiming Jansen's decision was motivated solely by the recognition she couldn't beat their man.

Jansen did not indicate in her statement if she would support another candidate still in the race. But if things are as bad as they seem within the PC Caucus, candidates still in the fight may be wary of accepting the support of a progressive and articulate woman. If that seems like a sad state of affairs for a once-great big-tent governing party, there may not be all that many progressively inclined members left for them to influence anyway.

The departure of Jansen and Kennedy-Glans from the contest reduces the number of candidates to four. In addition to Kenney, they are Richard Starke, the MLA for Vermilion Lloydminster, Stephen Khan, former MLA for St. Albert and briefly a member of'Redford’s cabinet, and Byron Nelson, a Calgary lawyer.

Nominations close on Thursday.

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

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