Albertans are hungry for a fresh political star. Who will it be?
B rand loyalty in politics isn’t what it once was. Mainstream political parties in Canada have their knots of diehard supporters, but there is a great swath of voters whose allegiance shifts like a weather vane.
This is the great hope of the Alberta Party.
Its leader, Greg Clark, shook the province’s political firmament recently, announcing that he was resigning to make way for a leadership race – one that he may enter. Yes, we know. Odd. But it’s all part of a master plan to generate fresh excitement around a party that has a great name but little else going for it.
With the ascension of Jason Kenney as the head of United Conservative Party, and support for the governing New Democrats in freefall, there is a sense among some political eggheads in the province that the time is ripe for a centrist alternative.
The idea isn’t as farfetched as it sounds.
The political scene in Alberta is in tumult. Two years ago, voters turfed one of the most storied political franchises in Canada – the Progressive Conservatives – in favour of the NDP. In a province often viewed as the most right-wing in the country, it was a development few ever imagined happening. Now the Tories don’t even exist, having folded up operations to join with the Wildrose Party under the banner of the United Conservatives.
There are many former Alberta PCs, however, not happy about that development, and who are deeply suspicious of the ideological leanings of Mr. Kenney. These would be politicos who identified as “progressives” and who held sway, for a brief while, under former premier Alison Redford.
“You have the Redford Tories, you have people who voted for Don Iveson [as mayor of Edmonton], you have the people who voted for Naheed Nenshi as mayor of Calgary,” says Stephen Carter, a political strategist now volunteering his time to make the Alberta Party a political contender.
“There are a lot of moderates in Alberta who are looking for a place to land, who are looking for something other than Jason Kenney and the UCP on the far right and the Notley New Democrats on the far left.”
Mr. Carter knows something about beating the odds. He was the strategic force behind the surprising rise to power of both Mr. Nenshi and Ms. Redford. Now he’s looking for his next project. In attempting to make the Alberta Party a political force he has his work cut out for him.
It has little money in the bank and a scrawny supporter base. It does have two MLAs in the legislature, including Mr. Clark, and could soon have another. The party is holding an AGM this weekend in Red Deer that is sold out. A leadership race could generate public interest, needed cash and an expanded membership. What it needs most, is a charismatic voice to communicate some grander vision.
Some believe that person is Ryan Jespersen, a highly likeable and smart 40-year-old talk-radio host from Edmonton.
The fact that he has zero previous political experience is seen as an asset by some, especially in a general election against career politicians such as Mr. Kenney and Ms. Notley. On other hand, they might just eat him alive. At this point, the Alberta Party may not have anything to lose.
Not many are giving the party a chance of becoming a credible force by 2019. Admittedly, that is a narrow window. Also, soon the other two main parties will begin tacking toward the middle in an effort to woo voters essential to electoral success.
Mr. Kenney will try and assuage members of the public worried about his views around social issues, such as homosexuality. Ms. Notley, meantime, will bring in a budget next year intended to convince a skeptical electorate that the NDP isn’t going to bankrupt the province. Ms. Notley is a compelling politician, especially in campaign mode. Mr. Kenney is a political machine and possessor of unparalleled organizational chops.
They are an intimidating pair to take on, to be sure.
However, the political dynamic in Alberta has never been more in flux. The right political leader, with the right story to tell, could make a powerful connection with a public starving for authenticity and something fresh and exciting.
Whether that’s the Alberta Party under a new leader, who knows? But there’s no reason why it couldn’t be.