Stephen Mandel, would-be uniter of Alberta’s "centre," when he was a Tory minister. (David Climenhaga photo.)

The effort by a group of politicians previously associated with the Progressive Conservative, Liberal and Alberta parties to “unite the centre” suggests divisive social conservative doctrines that increasingly dominate the Wildrose and PC parties are starting to seriously worry economic conservatives.

Meanwhile, one of the very issues that has been worrying these would-be centrist conservatives, the dispute over how to respond to gay-straight alliances in schools, has now seeped into the open with publication of an attack on Wildrose Opposition Leader Brian Jean on a social media page run by one of his caucus members, Cardston-Taber-Warner Wildrose MLA Grant Hunter.

About 50 members of the self-styled united-the-centre crowd — which might also be called “the Coalition of the Failing” — met behind closed doors in Red Deer on the weekend at the invitation of former Edmonton mayor and Prentice PC cabinet minister Stephen Mandel.

Mandel, apparently, is one of several old Tories — who can only be described as centrists if you’ve seriously misplaced your left — who haven’t quite tuned into the fact Alberta already has a successful centre-right party and they’re not members of it.

It’s called the New Democratic Party and it’s led by Premier Rachel Notley. Rhetoric from Alberta’s two social-conservative parties notwithstanding, about the only difference between the Dippers of ’17 and the Tories of ’71 is that a slightly larger percentage of NDP policy is more than mere rhetoric. Still, the similarities between the two parties are striking — and often annoying to longtime NDP loyalists. If you don’t believe me, just ask a New Democrat from British Columbia!

But to see that, you have to pay attention to actual policies — on royalties, deficit spending and the effort to build an inclusive big tent platform — and not just listen to the ever-more hysterical rhetoric of the leaders competing to lead the increasingly loony right.

“This was just a preliminary get-together to see if there are any grounds to continue,” Mandel told the CBC on the weekend. “We will see what happens next.”

What the excessively cynical think will happen is that these old Tories will try to grab what’s left of the Alberta Party and turn it into the New PCs to compete with the New Dems.

“If I was Clark, I’d be worried,” observed an experienced Alberta political operator of my acquaintance, referring to Alberta Party Leader and sole MLA Greg Clark. 

For his part, Clark didn’t sound particularly worried, possibly because short of joining the far-right Frankenparty that both PC Leader Jason Kenney and Wildrose Opposition leader Brian Jean hope to animate as soon as they can figure out where to attach the electrodes, it’s about the only possible way for him to keep his job as an MLA.

“Albertans are centrists, I think broadly, and want a centrist political option,” Clark told the CBC in the same story — an observation that is most certainly true, subject to the same caveat as that regarding Mandel’s commentary above.

Alberta Liberal leadership candidate Kerry Cundal was there too — as was St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse, until recently a candidate for the same job — presumably both aware that the last time a merger of the Alberta Liberal Party and the Alberta Party was proposed, the ALP board of directors put the kybosh on it.

It’s interesting that three Alberta political parties — the Liberals and the Alberta Party thanks to their difficulty getting on the radar in the current Legislative setup, and the PCs seeing as they’ve just elected a leader determined to shut them down and merge them with the Wildrosers — are now facing existential crises as the wake of the 2015 Alberta general election continues to spread across Alberta’s troubled metaphorical waters.

Speaking of the Wildrosers, just days ago Jean was insisting manfully there are no major divisions in his caucus — despite constant talk of the phenomenon throughout Alberta political circles.

Jean’s optimistic denials notwithstanding, one rift within Wildrose Caucus is now right out in the open with the publication by Hunter on his Facebook page of a long screed by Parents for Choice in Education director Donna Trimble.

As noted in this space recently, the social conservative Wildrose base just can’t leave alone the issue of gay-straight alliances in schools and their belief that students who join them should be outed to their parents. They keep picking at it, alienating more and more mainstream Abertans.

But when Trimble directed her anger at Jean for daring to agree with the NDP, not to mention many conservatives of the sort who were meeting in Red Deer, that children who join GSAs could be put at risk if their parents are automatically informed, Hunter passed it right along.

While Education Minister David Eggen “Threatens to Expand State Control,” Trimble wrote in quaintly capitalized headline style, “there is a greater danger posed by Wildrose Leader Brian Jean demonstrating such weakness on this portfolio in the Legislature.” (Emphasis mine.)

“When the opposition in the Legislature fails to stand up to protect families from state control of their own children, Minister Eggen and the NDP are empowered to expand that state control,” Trimble protested, urging her militant organization’s member-parents to “contact Brian Jean and remind him that his job is to represent you, the good families of Alberta, and not the rhetoric of iSMSS (Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services) and the NDP!”

She advised her readers to “ask that he clarifies or retracts his statement regarding the circumvention of parents.”

I imagine the Wildrose Leader was none too pleased by his MLA’s freelancing, which tends to bring into question Jean’s ability to lead a united right-wing party, not to mention damaging the ability of that party and its two constituent parts to be seen by the broader public as anything but a mob of obsessive homophobic nuts.

Jean obviously gets this, but for some reason lacks the wherewithal to stand up to the social conservatives in his own caucus or among his party’s general membership.

For his part, Kenney seems to be discreetly encouraging them, while keeping his distance from the media or anyone else who might ask him rude questions about what he really believes.

This certainly puts the desire of economic conservatives to rebrand themselves as the centre of the province’s centre in proper context, no matter how difficult that will be with a genuinely centrist social democratic party in government.

Today marks 101st anniversary of women’s right to vote in Alberta

Today marks the 101st anniversary of the right of women to vote in Alberta.

Alberta followed Saskatchewan, which implemented women’s suffrage on March 14, 1916, and Manitoba, which did so on Jan. 28 the same year.

The West led on this important development in Canada, it has been argued, with the support of the co-operative, labour and temperance movements, the latter which saw women’s suffrage as another tool to end alcohol-spurred violence against women and children.

The United Farmers of Alberta, the political movement that lingers as a co-operative retail fuel chain, endorsed the vote for women in Alberta in 1912.

Alas, not all supporters of the franchise for women were as concerned with democracy as using its availability as a tool for encouraging immigration to wrest the recently colonized lands of the West from their Indigenous inhabitants, a part of Prairie history we tend not to acknowledge when we remember this important development in our past.

NOTE: This post will eventually appear on David Climenhaga’s blog, Unfortunately, it’s broken right now, possibly the result of a viral surge in interest in yesterday’s post about the creation of 20,000 new full-time jobs in Alberta last night, and the way the right and the media are pretending it didn’t happen. As soon as is back in operation, this will be posted there as well.

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David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...