Two months ago, she was president of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta but with the next provincial election looking like a potential showdown between the left-of-centre New Democrats and some type of right-wing alliance between the PCs and the Wildrose Party, Katherine O’Neill is setting her sights on giving a boost to the oft-forgotten third option on Alberta’s political spectrum: the centre.
“Right now, we have a very polarized political system in our province and I think people are really hungry for something that’s more moderate, modern and that speaks to them,” O’Neill said on Thursday, speaking about her decision to spearhead a new political action committee: Alberta Together.
Last week, albertatogether.ca was launched to promote the non-profit organization as it begins working “to help shape and support a growing, fearless, focused and forward-thinking centrist political voice in our province.”
While O’Neill says the organization plans to work with people from all parties and people who don’t belong to any party, she hints at the organization’s efforts being focused on building up the Alberta Party and the Alberta Liberal Party.
“There isn’t the time to organize a party and there are parties in the middle right now,” O’Neill said, when asked why not form a new centrist political party. “But both need support and they need more people to come and join them and I’m really proud to be involved with this cause.
“I’ve had an opportunity to travel across the province and to meet Albertans in every community across our great province and you know, when I stepped down from the PC party as president, they contacted me – a lot of them – and said, ‘What’s next? Where can we go?’ We really still believe in being fiscally prudent but socially progressive.”
On Saturday, Alberta Together will host a meeting in Red Deer where O’Neill said she hopes the groundwork can be laid for how the centrist movement should progress.
“We’re going to be trying to find out a way – quickly – to get behind one of those parties because time is of the essence,” she said. “It’s two years until the next election and we want Albertans to truly go to the polls and vote for something, something they believe in and most Albertans are in the middle. They don’t belong to political parties.”
O’Neill says Alberta Together already has the backing of people of all political stripes, including former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel. She also says the involvement of herself and several other former senior PC executives could provide tangible benefits, particularly for the Alberta Party.
“What that party needs for sure is organization, particularly outside of the urban centres, and that’s something that people like myself and others that have been working in the PC party can bring to the table because you need to be very organized to go into an election.”
The NDP was able to successfully unseat the PC party in 2015 after its decades-long hold on power in Alberta. However, some have suggested adding up Wildrose and PC votes from that election indicates small-c conservatives still rule the roost in the province. That theory will be tested should the PC and Wildrose plan to form the United Conservative Party come to fruition.
Watch below: On May 18, 2017, Fletcher Kent filed this report as Alberta’s unite the right movement took a big step forward.
O’Neill’s emphasis on being fiscally prudent while remaining socially progressive appears to tap into concerns some socially progressive conservatives have expressed about Jason Kenney’s leadership of the PCs and the prospect of a United Conservative Party.
Among those who have left the PC party, citing concerns about its perceived shift to the right, is former cabinet minister Sandra Jansen, who crossed the floor to join the NDP in November.
“I don’t believe that there has been anything moderate or pragmatic being offered or even discussed by the people intent on taking over the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta,” Jansen said at the time. “The dog-whistle politics I heard at the PC policy conference were chilling to me: eroding public education, taking away women’s reproductive rights and trying to out gay kids in schools.”
O’Neill says she hopes her organization will help “give Albertans… a real centrist choice” in the 2019 election.
“We need everyone to step up, it’s a critical time in our history where we do have significant financial issues but if we dream and we plan and we do it properly, our best days could be ahead of us, not behind us.”