For the latest developments see: PC party to probe harassment allegations after 2 women drop out of race
The only two women vying for the leadership of Alberta's PC Party have both dropped out of the race.
Sandra Jansen and Donna Kennedy-Glans — socially progressive voices within the party — both gave notice on Tuesday that they were withdrawing.
Jansen, the PC MLA for Calgary-Northwest, cited intimidation and harassment for her decision.
"This past weekend in Red Deer has left me quite shaken. 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," she said in a news release.
"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."
'Filled with filth'
In the 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."
She also cited Jason Kenney's tactic of busing in youth delegates to the convention in Red Deer and said longtime youth members were "pushed aside from executive positions so one candidate could garner a few extra delegates."
Stephen Carter, a well-known political operative in Alberta who was a "volunteer strategist" for the Jansen campaign, said he was shocked by what Jansen described.
"I've been involved in politics a long time, and some people might even say that I'm a practitioner of some of the more challenging parts of politics, but I've never seen anything like this. Ever," he said, laying the blame on the Kenney campaign.
He said volunteers with Kenney were harassing Jansen over her support of LGBT rights and a "woman's right to choose."
"We had everything but the desire to continue to fight that type of race," Carter said when asked if the campaign had acquired the necessary 500 signatures.
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.
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.
Kenney is running on a promise to call for a membership vote to collapse the party, then seeks to merge it with the right-centre 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.
'Limited opportunity for centrist voices'
Jansen said her defence of social issues in Alberta has been rewarding, but "my presence in this race has so enraged a socially regressive element that I fear it will take away from our ability to fight what is turning out to be a very hostile takeover attempt on the party that I am so proud of."
Kennedy-Glans — the former PC MLA for Calgary-Varsity — was less combative in her announcement but said there is political polarization taking place in Alberta and said, "there is limited opportunity for centrist voices to be heard."
In a statement, Kenney said he's disappointed to hear the two women have dropped out of the race.
"Both are passionate advocates for their values, and it is important to have a range of views and choices in a leadership election such as this one," he said.
The statement did not address the accusations of harassment and intimidation. Kenney has not returned a request for comment.
'Sexism is a problem in Alberta politics'
PC Party president Katherine O'Neill said she was disappointed the two women were dropping out and vowed to get to the bottom of the allegations of abuse.
"As president of the party but also chair of the leadership election committee, I'm deeply concerned about those particular allegations, and I'm going to be referring them to the leadership election committee for further review. We expect all candidates to be treated fairly in this race," she said.
Cristina Stasia, a gender equity consultant from Edmonton, said she's sad Jansen dropped out of the race and is troubled by the reasons given.
"We are aware that sexism is a problem in Alberta and certainly that sexism is a problem in Alberta politics, and when we lose qualified, intelligent, hard-working candidates like Sandra, then it's a wake-up call for everyone," she said.
Ric McIver, the interim leader of the PCs, said he was surprised by the announcements.
"I thought one or both of them would have been in the contest," he said. "I thought they were both pretty committed and pretty clear about their intentions to run for the leadership."
McIver said he did not witness any bullying at the convention in Red Deer.
"If someone says they were intimidated out of the contest, that's a very sad thing indeed, and I will be interested in learning more about that."
Neither Sandra Jansen, nor Donna Kennedy-Glans responded to interview requests.