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Former PC leadership candidate Sandra Jansen, subjected by Tories to 'intimidation and harassment,' joins NDP caucus

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Sandra Jansen and Rachel Notley

Ten days ago ago she was a credible candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party. This afternoon, Sandra Jansen became a member of the New Democratic Party Caucus in the provincial Legislature.

It remains to be seen how much this decision -- I would say, this "courageous decision" -- by the MLA for Calgary-North West will change the political calculus in Alberta. Jansen certainly must know she will suffer plenty of abuse from the conservative online rage machine's operatives for her decision to join what she described today as a moderate and pragmatic government.

"I don't believe that there has been anything moderate or pragmatic being offered or even discussed by the people intent on taking over the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta," she said during an afternoon news conference with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley in Edmonton.

This was pretty obviously a shot at the social conservatives, backroom boys and federal Conservatives associated with the front-running campaign of former Harper Government cabinet minister Jason Kenney to lead the PCs -- and immediately thereafter lead them into a merger with the Wildrose Opposition.

After the news conference, Jansen told media that "extremists are taking over" the party and assailed the dog-whistle messaging of some candidates -- meaning Kenney.

The morning after the U.S. presidential election, Jansen dropped out of the Tory leadership race saying she had been intimidated and harassed during the PC Party's policy convention the weekend before in Red Deer. The same day, the only other woman in the race, former Calgary MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans also gave up, saying dryly "there is limited opportunity for centrist voices to be heard" in today's Alberta PC Party.

Capital-C Conservatives, of course, will be more polite than their online auxiliaries, but will argue Jansen's floor crossing means nothing, that she was already too progressive for most conservative voters' tastes. In their now-eight-member PC caucus, at least, this is probably true.

For its part, the Notley government surely hopes Jansen can help them recover ground in Calgary, which with rural areas likely gone to the Wildrose Party will be essential to any NDP reelection plan.

Albertans have not been historically sympathetic to floor-crossers, although in this case it is hard not to wonder if the remnants of the PCs in caucus had not only rejected the social progressives in their ranks, but the women too. Regardless of what you think of that, it's a Boys' Club now, and this may have an impact on the attitudes of many voters.

What's left of the PCs since the electoral debacle that struck them on May 5, 2015, and the Wildrose Opposition party too, is certainly a pale reflection of the big tent Alberta's conservatives occupied once upon a time. "To see that legacy being kicked to the curb by extremists who are taking over the PC party has been heartbreaking to me," Jansen told the news conference.

It seems fair to say that in Alberta today, the post-dynastic PCs -- and, indeed, the entire conservative movement -- are intentionally shrinking their camp to something approaching a pup tent. The pattern we saw with the federal Conservative Party's purge of Red Tories during the Stephen Harper era seems to be being repeated now among Alberta PCs -- with Harper, as previously noted in this space, playing a leading role.

Jansen's move gives the NDP 55 seats in the Legislature. She will no doubt sit in the backbenches for a spell, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the former broadcaster given a cabinet post in the New Year.

Stephen Carter, the well-known political operative who was playing a key role in Jansen's PC Leadership campaign, is thought to have acted as a go-between in her talks with the NDP.

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

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Image: CBC

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