United right could leave centrist Albertans 'politically homeless': PC party insider

With Alberta's right now mobilizing towards a united party and the left — the NDP — in government, the province's current political environment could leave those with centrist beliefs out in the cold, political experts say.

'There is a lot of red meat being thrown out, and it doesn't represent many of us,' Kerry Cundal says

PC leadership candidate Jason Kenney and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean both say they want to unite the right. (CBC)

With Alberta's right now mobilizing towards a united party and the left — the NDP — in government, the province's current political environment could leave those with centrist beliefs out in the cold, says a PC party insider. 

The unite-the-right movement in Alberta is shaping up to be a showdown between PC leadership candidate Jason Kenney and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean. Both are now declaring their aspirations to lead a united party, even if it means raising a new political banner.

Speaking to the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday, Kerry Cundal said if Kenney — a staunch social conservative — wins the leadership race, it would render those who identify with the "progressive" part of progressive conservative "politically homeless."

"I've volunteered at some of the delegate selection meetings and have also attended Jason Kenney's rallies," said Cundal, a former federal Liberal candidate who recently volunteered on Stephen Khan's now-defunct PC leadership campaign.

"There is a lot of red meat being thrown out, and it doesn't represent many of us who consider ourselves progressive and conservative," she added. 

Where is the centre, anyway?

Longtime political operative Stephen Carter argues most people don't associate themselves with the left, the centre, or the right when it comes to politics.

"If you were to walk up and down the street and ask people, 'Are you a right-winger or a left-winger?,' they'd look at you and say, 'Well, I don't play hockey,'" said Carter, who worked on the campaign of another former PC leadership hopeful, Sandra Jansen.

And regardless of where they fall on the spectrum, governments in Canada tend to move towards the centre once they're elected, said Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams.

Mount Royal University political science professor Lori Williams says a united right in Alberta opens up a lot of space in the centre of province's political spectrum. (CBC)

"The centre just seems to be the place where Canadians are across the country," Williams said.

That poses a challenge for politicians of all stripes, including Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, said Cundal.

"Premier Notley [is] going to have a challenge pivoting to the centre as much as she'd like to because of the branding of the NDP," Cundal said. 

Cundal said she thinks any efforts by Kenney to move towards the centre will be insincere.

"Kenney will try to pivot, it will not be authentic and it will not be genuine, because his voting record on social conservative issues and civil liberties is very clear," she said. 

'Polarized' politics ahead

If Kenney wins — either the PC leadership or the leadership of a combined party — expect the more centrist politicians and supporters to get moving, Cundal said.

"There are a lot of us that are going to become incredibly mobilized to do something a little different than following a social conservative off that cliff," she said.

During their decades-long reign in Alberta, the PCs were the "big-tent" party that attracted support from the left and the right, Williams said. If that party ends up combined with the Wildrose under a new name, that'll leave Alberta's centre wide open once again.

Williams argues the NDP is itself a centrist party. Both the Liberal Party and Alberta Party fall in the middle of the political spectrum. But it's not clear yet just where centrist Albertans and politicians — like Richard Starke, Donna Kennedy-Glans or Byron Nelson — could actually go in the event the PCs move further to the right, she said.

"Will the NDP succeed in being centrist enough to appeal to those folks? Or will the Alberta Party or the Liberal Party or some new party emerge to occupy that space?" she asked.

"The problem is that it's going to be very difficult for any party to establish itself in that space before the next election," Williams added.

"We're probably looking at more polarized politics, at least through the next election."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener