Former Alberta PC president to help organize political centre

A political movement to unite disaffected Progressive Conservatives, lost Liberals, and anyone not comfortable with current political choices in Alberta is coming together behind a newly formed political action committee.

Alberta Together will work to bring together centrist voices in time for 2019 election

Katherine O'Neill, former PC president, now leads a political action group called Together Alberta, designed to advocate for centrist voters. (CBC)

A political movement to unite disaffected Progressive Conservatives, lost Liberals, and anyone not comfortable with current political choices in Alberta is coming together behind a newly formed political action committee.

Under the name Alberta Together, the group, backed by high-profile organizer and former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel, has snagged Katherine O'Neill to be its executive director.

O'Neill is the former president of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta. She stepped down in April, three weeks after former federal Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney was elected party leader.

Kenney and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean are now both seeking the leadership of a united conservative party.

The main job of the new group, said O'Neill, will be to bring together "centrist political voices in time for the next provincial election in 2019."

As PC president, O'Neill was frequently at odds with the Kenney campaign and was called on to stickhandle controversial issues emerging from the divisive leadership race.

O'Neill said she wanted a break from politics after the PC leadership vote in Calgary, but her phone wouldn't stop ringing with calls from Conservatives who didn't want to stay in the party under Kenney.

She said Friday she was approached about a month ago to run Alberta Together.

"Right now I think people have this feeling that when they go to vote, they may have to hold their nose, or something like that, and that deeply disturbs me," she said.

Through research, polling and advocacy, O'Neill said Alberta Together will "support the political party that will bring together centrist voices."

Leaning towards Alberta Party

While there's no formal political affiliation with any party, O'Neill says the organization is "leaning probably more to the Alberta Party," which she said has been working closely with the group.

"It's a natural coming together," said Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark.

"I've sat down with Stephen Mandel, I've sat down with Katherine O'Neill, and our values align," Clark said.

Since the PC leadership vote, the Alberta Party has seen a surge of new members, he said. Many of them are former PC members, and some once supported the Wildrose party, he said.

"The people who are coming on board may not be household names, but they're willing to do the work," said Clark.

He admitted the Alberta Party needs help and expertise organizing 87 constituency associations.

"We formed four new constituency associations just this week in Edmonton."

Jared Hernandez Silva-Evans supported Richard Starke for the PC leadership. Now he has resigned from PC board, citing citing "intolerance" within the parties now hoping to unite. (supplied)

One former PC member with organizational experience is Jared Hernandez Silva-Evans from Red Deer.

Hernandez Silva-Evans tendered his resignation as a PC regional director on Friday to join the Alberta Party.

In a letter to the PCAA board, he said he sees "intolerance" in the "DNA" of the Wildrose party.

"I cannot in good conscience align myself with this UCP party," he said, referring to the proposed United Conservative Party.

Members of the PC and Wildrose parties will vote July 22 to approve or reject the new amalgamated party.

Alberta Together has set a fundraising goal of $500,000 by the fall. The group will meet June 24 in Red Deer to welcome members and set direction for the organization.

"Time is of the essence," said O'Neill, who stresses that there's less than two years until the next provincial election.

O'Neill is still a member of the PC party but has no plans to vote on the merger with the Wildrose. She's taken out a three-year membership in the Alberta Party and intends to see where that goes.

Political action committees in Alberta don't have legal standing. They are modeled after powerful political entities in the United States.

Drew Westwater, deputy chief electoral officer of Elections Alberta, said because they are neither third party advertisers, nor political parties, PACs aren't required to register in the province.

"They can do whatever they like and spend and raise as much money as they like and they don't have to report anything," Westwater said.