The head of Alberta's PC party says she will take swift action to investigate allegations of intimidation and harassment after the only two women running for the leadership dropped out Tuesday.
Sandra Jansen and Donna Kennedy-Glans — socially progressive voices within the party — both gave notice on Tuesday that they were withdrawing.
Kennedy-Glans — the former PC MLA for Calgary-Varsity — stated she felt there was no room for centrist views within the party. Jansen, the PC MLA for Calgary-Northwest, created even more of a stir when she said she was harassed online and at the PC Party convention last weekend in Red Deer.
"This past weekend in Red Deer has left me quite shaken," Jansen said Tuesday in a statement. "As you know, I have been a member of the PCAA [Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta] since 1985. I have volunteered for several leadership campaigns, constituency races, party president contests and more than a few general elections.
"In all of that time, I have never before experienced harassment like that which occurred up to and including this past weekend in Red Deer."
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On Wednesday morning, PC party president Katherine O'Neill told the Calgary Eyeopener that she would be taking the allegations to the leadership election committee later in the day.
"I'm just very disappointed," O'Neill said.
"We have two passionate, articulate women who have been long-time members of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta and I was looking forward to having them in the race."
The committee, which she chairs, is made up of volunteers from across the province.
"We will be getting to the bottom of this," O'Neill said.
"They both had very different visions about how to improve not just the party, but the province. It's just a very disappointing day."
Premier Rachel Notley said the allegations were "deeply troubling".
"Yesterday was not a great day for women in politics in Alberta," she said during a media scrum on Wednesday.
She said it's up to the PC Party to set things right.
'We welcome all people to the party'
The departures leave four candidates in the race to lead the party: former Calgary MP Jason Kenney, PC MLA Richard Starke, former PC MLA Stephen Khan and Calgary lawyer Byron Nelson.
"We've committed to Albertans that we're going to run an open, fair and transparent race, and we want to make sure that when allegations like this come forward, that they are taken very seriously and that they are dealt with in a quick manner," O'Neill said.
"I don't want women to think this is a hostile place to come ... that our political party does not welcome you, this is just not the case. We welcome all people to the party, no matter the gender."
In her release, Jansen said she has been harassed online and her social media feeds have been "filled with filth." The final straw in Red Deer was when "insults were scrawled on my nomination forms."
"Volunteers from another campaign chased me up and down the hall, attacking me for protecting women's reproductive rights, and my team was jeered for supporting children's rights to a safe school environment."
Jansen also cited Kenney's tactic of busing in youth delegates to the convention in Red Deer, alleging that longtime youth members were "pushed aside from executive positions so one candidate could garner a few extra delegates."
Kennedy-Glans says she does not believe the PC Party is a hostile environment for women, but offered support to Jansen.
"I didn't see it, but when I chatted with Sandra, I was aware that she wasn't feeling really comfortable, and I felt very saddened by that," she said.
She said dropping out of the race at the same time was purely coincidental.
"It was actually a very coincidental thing that we both announced our withdrawal within 15 minutes of each other. And I care deeply that any person — male, female, young, old — faces that kind of harassment. That is just wrong."
'This is really shocking': political scientist
Mount Royal University political scientist David Taras says Jansen's allegations are unprecedented.
"This is really shocking. My first response is shock, my second response was shock," Taras said.
"This alters the race completely. All the pieces on the chessboard change."
Jansen has not responded to interview requests.
Kenney, a former Calgary MP, has polarized debate in the PC leadership race. The other candidates are running on a platform to revitalize the party, which finished third in the 2015 election.
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Kenney is running on a promise to call for a membership vote to collapse the party, then seeks to merge it with the Wildrose Party and create a new big tent conservative coalition he said is critical to defeating Premier Rachel Notley's NDP in the 2019 election.
The Wildrose is viewed as more socially conservative than the PCs, and both Jansen and Kennedy-Glans have said they worry Kenney is taking the PCs down the same path.
Jansen has often sparred with the Wildrose in the legislature and has previously said if Kenney wins the race, she'll quit the party. In her letter Tuesday, she took a parting shot at Kenney.
"Work for a candidate who opposes the Trump-style politics imported to Alberta from Ottawa," she wrote.
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener and The Canadian Press