The Only Sure Thing in Alberta Politics is There is No Sure Thing.
The on-going volatility of the Alberta political culture is not smoothing out with Stephen Mandel's recent Alberta Party leadership victory. That volatility is likely to become more vociferous and starkly apparent as the adversarial win-lose, right versus left hardens the positions of the UCP and NDP. Is there any room for a rational, pragmatic and progressive centrist party option in this win-at-any-cost political culture?
Alberta Party 1.0
The Alberta Party wasn't always a progressive centrist movement, in fact quite the opposite. According to Wikipedia, which in this instance I have no reason to doubt, the Alberta Party was founded in 1985 and started out " in the early 1980s as an alliance of small separatists political parties...spawned in the wake of the National Energy Program...."
There were five parties to the right of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives in 1985 and some had elected MLAs but had lost them in the 1982 election. In 1990 there was a movement to join these right-wing parties into a new party called the Alliance Party of Alberta. It unsuccessfully contested 2 by-elections, fielded a handful of candidates in 1993 election and passed on participating in the 1997 general election entirely.
In 1998 the party changed its name to the "Alberta Party Political Association" and became known as the Alberta Party for branding purposes. In advance of the 2004 election there was a failed attempt to merge with the "Alberta Alliance Party" that had formed out of the old federal Reform Party cum Canadian Alliance party but in an Alberta context.
The merger idea was for the new entity to campaign under the Alberta Alliance Party name and to adopt the Alberta Party platform. The merger fell apart when the Alberta Party refused to de-register its name with Elections Alberta. In fact the Alberta Party official changed it name just before the 2004 election and ran 4 candidates in that election and 1 in the 2008 campaign.
Alberta Party 2.0
As the Wildrose Alliance became the dominant right-wing party in Alberta the hard-right conservatives gravitated there leaving the Progressive Conservative Party and the Alberta Party. The Alberta Party was pretty much inert but it was kept registered. It was then that the new efforts to start a movement to attract progressives from the PCs, Alberta Liberals and Greens coming out of a series of three province wide gatherings of progressives called Reboot Alberta. Reboot Alberta arose from a discontent with the rise of the far right and the need for a more effective progressive voice in Alberta politics.
This progressive movement was a loose arrangement of the Progress Party, the Reboot Alberta initiative and a Calgary centric Renew Alberta. The daunting task of raising 8000 signatures to start a new party and the attractiveness of the Alberta Party name resulted in informal discussion with the tired but true board of the Alberta Party. I took the lead in those discussions with the old board acknowledging that the Reboot/Renew initiative where the old board agreed to suspend the old far-right policy platform. The idea was to formulate a fiscal conservative, socially progressive and environmentally responsible platform.
That openness of the old Alberta Party board resulted in the unanimous election of Edwin Erickson, a former Green Party deputy leader as the Alberta Party leader. That was the beginning of a new centrist progressive political party that was a gathering place for a wide range of Albertans looking for a more authentic voice for an integrated and comprehensive pragmatist approach to politics and governance in Alberta. That was the beginning of the Alberta Party as we know it today.
Alberta Party 3.0
What will be the fortunes of the next Alberta Party? Time will tell. It appears that it finally has traction and momentum after many years of frustration and false starts. The recent leadership contest has drawn new members, new energy and renewed purpose. The hard work of raising some real money, some great candidates and viable constituency organizations with a resonant policy platform is on the agenda for the new leadership.