Closed-door unite-the-centre meeting hopes to start a conversation

A few dozen Albertans from across the political spectrum met up in Red Deer to get the unite-the-centre conversation started.

But some centrists already support the NDP, political scientist says

A conversation to find common ground with Alberta centrists began Saturday in Red Deer. Kerry Cundal, a leadership candidate for the Alberta Liberal party, former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel and Alberta Party leader Greg Clark all made the trip for the closed-door meeting. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

A few dozen Albertans from across the political spectrum met up in Red Deer to get the unite-the-centre conversation started.

A former three-term Edmonton mayor who helped organize the meeting says it's just the first conversation of many.

"It's just a fair number of people who are in the centre looking for a home, looking to come together and this was just a preliminary get-together to see if there are any grounds to continue," Stephen Mandel told CBC News Saturday.

Stephen Mandel, a former Edmonton mayor and health minister under a previous Progressive Conservative government, says the meeting was just a first step of many. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Mandel was also a former Progressive Conservative health minister before the party lost the May 2015 provincial election.

"Today was an interesting meeting, and nothing definitive came out of it, but we will see what happens next," Mandel said.

Leader of the Alberta Party Greg Clark says there is a thirst for something other than the NDP or the two right-wing parties.

"People tell me all the time they are very frustrated with the polarization, with an irresponsible left-wing, what looks like a very intolerant right-wing," Clark said.

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark says there is a thirst for a centrist option in the province. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

"Albertans are centrists, I think broadly, and want a centrist political option."

Clark says the meeting was about finding common ground.

"We talked about whether we have shared values, whether we think we can work together and we said we'll keep the conversation going so that was very encouraging," he said.

"People came out of it feeling like we all probably ought to be on the same team," Clark said, speaking for himself.

One of two Alberta Liberal leadership contenders says there are plenty of people without a political home right now.

"We need to start talking about ideas and solutions and how we work with fellow Albertans," Kerry Cundal said.

Alberta Liberal leadership candidate Kerry Cundal says most Albertans are not members of any political party. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

"The majority of Albertans are not members of any political party. Most Albertans are not looking for some kind of two-party divisive system. It's not what they want."

About 55 people were at the table, including members of the Alberta Party, Liberal Party and Progressive Conservative Party although the Liberals and PC members were not officially representing their parties.

Cundal says the group has a few options to move forward.

"It could be a coalition, it could be something like a new party," the Calgary lawyer said.

"There are all kinds of options, all kinds of ways that we can work together so this is really just a first step to see if we share some of the same principles in how we move forward."

A Mount Royal University political scientist says a coming together of centrists could be significant.

"I think it has a great deal to offer," Lori Williams said.

MRU political scientist Lori Williams says some centrists already feel at-home with the NDP. (Stephanie Wiebe/CBC)

"I don't know if it's going to yield something that will make much of an influence on the next election. Just remember the votes for the Liberal Party and for the Alberta Party in the last election were relatively low."

The challenge, Williams says, is that some centrists already have a home.

"Some centrist voters have already chosen the NDP and they like Rachel Notley and the legislative agenda that she is pursuing," she said.

"Obviously many of them would prefer that the deficit were lower and that the economy were doing better but if those sorts of things come around ... then I think it is going to be difficult for somebody at the centre to offer an alternative."

Leadership should reflect 'modern Alberta'

Meanwhile, Clark is hoping a united centre will lure voters from across the spectrum.

"It's really important for Alberta that we have a political leadership that reflects the values of modern Alberta, that is forward-looking, that is optimistic, that has a foot in today's economy that wants to take a step into tomorrow's economy," Clark said.

"That is what Albertans are looking for because that is who Albertans are."

He said the next step will be another meeting in coming months.

With files from Mario De Ciccio, Dave Gilson


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