Blakeman eyes interim Alberta Liberal leader job, seeks to unite progressives

Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman speaks at the Alberta Legislature Wednesday, October 15, 2014. Global News

EDMONTON – Alberta Liberal Laurie Blakeman says she is open to becoming interim party leader, and if she gets the job, she wants to work to unite the centre-left to fight the Jim Prentice Tory juggernaut.

“I’m trying to figure out if I could offer the Liberal and perhaps other progressive voters a viable option for the coming election,” Blakeman said Tuesday in an interview.

“I’d have to be taking a plan to the (Liberal party) board and having them approve it or get behind it… I’m just trying to figure out if I can do that right now.”

The Liberal party board meets Sunday in Calgary to decide how to fill the leadership void left after leader Raj Sherman stepped down Monday.

READ MORE: Raj Sherman won’t seek re-election; Doug Griffiths resigns 

The timing is critical. Premier Jim Prentice has not ruled out calling an early election this spring despite a law mandating it be held in 2016.

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The Tories are fast-tracking candidate nominations for an election call expected in mid to late-March.

READ MORE: Tumultuous 2014 in Alberta leads to speculation about early 2015 election 

The Liberals only have two MLAs in their five-member caucus running again – Blakeman and David Swann in Calgary. Darshan Kang and Kent Hehr are running federally while Sherman won’t run again.

Two parties – the Liberals and the Wildrose party – also don’t have permanent leaders.

Heather Forsyth took over the interim job after Wildrose leader Danielle Smith shepherded a massive nine-member floor crossing to Premier Prentice’s Tories in December.

That move, coupled with other defections, has reduced the right-centre Wildrose to a five-member shell of its former self and raised concerns the reinvigorated Tories will steamroll over three splintered centre-left parties in the snap election.

READ MORE: Wildrose mass floor-crossing: a victory or a sign of imminent collapse? 

Earlier Tuesday, NDP Leader Rachel Notley said her members have voted overwhelmingly in the past against merging with the Liberals.

Notley said they hope to woo all progressives into the NDP tent.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity for folks to find a home in our party that they’re comfortable with, people that are looking for a modern, progressive, forward-looking Alberta,” said Notley.

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Told about Notley’s comments, Blakeman said, “Fair enough.”

“There’s no point trying to merge with the NDs if they don’t want to merge with you. That doesn’t strike me as a good use of time.”

READ MORE: Liberals, NDP rule out merger in Alberta to beat PCs 

However, Blakeman said she wants to sit down with the Alberta Party. The Alberta Party is a centrist alternative that eschews left-right labels in favour of pragmatic solutions.

It ran 38 of a possible 87 candidates in the 2012 election, took 1.3 per cent of the popular vote and failed to win a seat.

However, party leader Greg Clark finished a strong second to PC cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in the Oct. 27 byelection in Calgary-Elbow.

Blakeman said the Alberta Party has momentum.

“They’ve got a lot of great ideas. Their policy is very similar to ours,” said Blakeman.

“They certainly walked off with a whole bunch of our volunteers. And they’re doing a bit better in fundraising than we are, so I’ll be talking to them.”

Clark said he’s open to sitting down with Blakeman and Notley if she expresses an interest.

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“I have a lot of respect for Laurie Blakeman and a lot of Liberals,” said Clark.

“If we can find common ground on values, then I’m certainly open to talking about ways of working together.”

Clark said the Alberta Party will begin nominating candidates on Feb. 1 and while they would like to have a full slate of 87 are focusing on “quality over quantity.”

Blakeman, who represents Edmonton-Centre, has made a name for herself fighting on such high profile issues as gay-straight alliances in schools.

WATCH: MLA Laurie Blakeman discusses the contentious Bill 10 

She ran against Sherman for the party leadership in 2011 and lost.

On Tuesday, she said she is not interested in becoming the permanent Liberal leader, saying the party needs fresh faces, but she wouldn’t rule it out altogether.

“There are so many variables at this point, (but) if I was serving as interim leader and if I went into a campaign and if I came out of it spectacularly, well, that’s telling me something,” she said.

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