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Unite-the-left pot starts to boil in Alberta, whether progressive parties like it or not

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Laurie Blakeman

Efforts to "unite the left" are going to happen in Alberta whether certain political parties like it or not.

Both the Alberta New Democrats and the Alberta Liberals have indicated they want no such thing, but Alberta voters who are not part of the loony Wildrose right and are sick to death of the unprogressive Progressive Conservatives are going to push their preferred parties in the direction of co-operation anyway.

Some caveats: The parties of "the left" in Alberta aren’t really very lefty any more, or all that centrist for that matter. Every one of 'em -- New Democrats, Liberals, Alberta Party, Greens and anyone I've missed in my usual hurry -- fall into what we might have called "the reasonable right" back in the day. To some extent they've all drunk the market fundamentalist Kool-Aid. They only look left because the right has gone so far into lunatic territory.

And if we think the Canadian right is bad now, we only have to look at the Republican Party south of the Medicine Line to realize it can get a lot worse, and probably will.

I doubt the Alberta Party would be all that open to this kind of thing either if they had a chance to elect even a single member to the Legislature, and I think we can expect them to change their collective mind about this the instant that opportunity presents itself.

Just the same, there were developments Thursday and yesterday on the unite-the-left front that cannot be dismissed as meaningless because, if nothing else, they indicate the yearning of progressive voters, if not their parties, to be in the game in this ridiculously politically monochromatic province.

Friday morning, Edmonton Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman announced she would be running for three parties at the same time -- the Alberta Liberals she now represents in the Legislature, the Alberta Party and the Green Party of Alberta.

Blakeman has an excellent reputation as a hard-working MLA, so she'd have a good chance of being re-elected to a remarkable sixth term in the Legislature no matter which party she happened to run for.

Exactly how this idea is supposed to work is not immediately clear. Elections Alberta has already indicated it won’t co-operate. Also, on Feb. 1 the Liberal Party explicitly rejected her proposal to lead it through the election if it would endorse her proposal to try to merge the Liberals and Alberta Party. Instead, the party's governing board named former leader David Swann as the replacement for Raj Sherman, who had suddenly quit, so they could preserve the fantasy of a Liberal government for one more election cycle.

Swann, by all appearances not very happy about it, issued a halfhearted endorsement of Blakeman's move yesterday. "I support Laurie, and I thank her for her decision to run under the Liberal banner while uniting with others," he said in a news release. "I look forward to working with the longest sitting opposition MLA in our province's history on the issues Albertans care about most. … Alberta Liberals have consistently shown that our MLAs are more than capable of leading the progressive agenda in the Legislature." (That last line? Emphasis added.)

Unlike the leaders of the Alberta Party and Green Party, Swann didn't manage to make it to Blakeman's announcement.

The move won't actually add much to Blakeman's 2015 campaign, wrote blogger Dave Cournoyer on Daveberta.ca, but as a popular MLA who recently forced the PC Government to relent on its opposition to gay-straight alliances in schools she "is undoubtedly looking past this year's election with a mind of uniting the tiny parties into a viable centrist opposition."

Meanwhile, Calgary pollster and progressive gadfly Brian Singh on Thursday announced the return of his 2012 effort to get a progressive consensus candidate elected federally in the Calgary Centre by-election that saw Conservative Joan Crockatt sent to Parliament, as well as to expand it to provincial politics.

So Thursday saw the launch of a website at 1abvote.ca that Mr. Singh says will provide progressive voters with a way to press the provincial Liberals, NDP, Alberta Party and Greens to join some kind of combined effort, and even run candidates with support from multiple parties, as Blakeman announced she would do yesterday.

Singh and company will also try to use the website to steer voters to the progressive candidate they feel is most likely to win in some provincial ridings, as they attempted to do federally in at the 1CalgaryCentre.ca site in 2012, when votes for the Liberal and Green candidates together outnumbered Crockatt's plurality.

Says the new website: "1ABVote is a citizen initiative to inspire progressive voters to coalesce behind a single, consensus-based progressive candidate (1Candidate Now!) in each riding in the imminent provincial election."

Federally, the candidacy of well-known Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr for the Liberal Party of Canada in the next general election gives progressive voters a real chance to knock off Ms. Crockatt, with or without 1CalgaryCentre.ca to help.

The same sort of thing is bound to be more controversial at the provincial level with both the New Democrats and Liberals determined to run traditional campaigns.

Singh says his group has conducted a poll of Albertans using Google Surveys that shows strong support for the Tories of Premier Jim Prentice but "rising support for progressive parties" -- NDP 22 per cent, Liberal 20 per cent and the Alberta Party at 10 per cent.

Well, we'll see. But you'd think with unemployment in Alberta starting to show significant growth, and the Alberta housing bubble looking like it’s about to burst, at least some voters must be looking for something more than the PC-Wildrose formula of socialism for billionaires and oil companies and austerity for the rest of us.

Shift happens. It's just that in Alberta it doesn't seem to happen very fast. Maybe something's starting to percolate, though, just the same.

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

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