Unite the centre? Alberta Liberal leadership candidates differ on timing

Alberta Liberal Party leadership candidates Kerry Cundal and David Khan took part in what Cundal called "the most civil, respectful debate" Albertans had ever seen Saturday night in Calgary.

Leadership candidates Kerry Cundal and David Khan took part in first debate Saturday night in Calgary

Calgary-based lawyers Kerry Cundal, left, and David Khan, right, are vying for the leadership of the Alberta Liberal Party. (CBC)

With all the talk in Alberta about uniting the political right, could uniting the centre be next?

At the first debate between Alberta Liberal Party leadership candidates Kerry Cundal and David Khan Saturday night, the topic of the party's future stood out as the most divisible element between the pair.

"It's hard to distinguish yourself from somebody who you share principles and values and ideas with. So really at the end of the day, it boils down to about a two or three per cent difference," Cundal said after the debate.

Both candidates agree there must be a movement in Alberta to unite the centre, but the key difference between their positions comes down to timing.

According to Khan, the time to do that should not be before the anticipated provincial election in 2019.

"We've got to bring people together and we've got to provide another alternative for Albertans, who are mostly in the centre," he said. "But we have to be mindful of the process by which we get there and we've got to be ready for this election.

"We've really got to keep our eye on the prize and not spend time punting the ball around the field when they are scoring goals on the other end."

'We can do this. We've got two years'

Cundal, however, believes there is a real political opportunity brewing in Alberta, and the Liberals need to be poised to provide Albertans with a fiscally responsible, socially progressive alternative.

"If you're listening to Albertans, if you're listening to your neighbours and your communities, they're not going to vote NDP again, so we'd better be ready to offer them a third option," she said.

"Many folks in Alberta, they don't want to move to the hard right, they don't want to unite with the Wildrose, they don't want a social conservative government. So the time is now."

Cundal says she's been actively reaching out to the Alberta Party and other like-minded Albertans who are not affiliated with any political party to discuss a united centre.

"It is a challenge, yes. But when has that ever stopped us before? We can do this. We've got two years," she said.

The Alberta Liberal Party currently holds one seat in the legislature, which belongs to interim Liberal leader David Swann, who assumed the role in February 2015 following Raj Sherman's resignation.

The new party leader will be announced at the Alberta Liberal's annual general meeting in Calgary on June 4.