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Political centrists gather in Red Deer to organize and unite

The meeting in Red Deer, which had an attendance of approximately 300 people, was organized by the Alberta Together committee, which aims to support and shape the centrist political voice in Alberta.
The meeting in Red Deer, which had an attendance of approximately 300 people, was organized by the Alberta Together committee, which aims to support and shape the centrist political voice in Alberta. Julia Wong/Global News

More than 80 per cent of attendees at a meeting to unite the political centre have voted to get behind the Alberta Party.

Roughly 300 attended the meeting in Red Deer, which was organized by the Alberta Together, a committee aiming to support and shape the centrist political voice in Alberta.

READ MORE: Former PC party executive launches plan to support ‘centrist’ parties ahead of next Alberta election

Katherine O’Neill, who used to be the president of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta and is now executive director of Alberta Together, said Saturday’s meeting was a cross-section of Albertans.

“Not only do we have PC-ers here. We have people who are former Liberals, federal and provincial, we have people from the NDP, some Wildroses are here,” she said.

O’Neill said political polarization was likely behind the greater than expected attendance at the meeting.

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“I think people feel our political system – there’s two extremes right now. They don’t really feel like anyone is speaking to them. Most Albertans are moderate. They’re in the middle,” she said.

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Three-time Edmonton mayor and former PC health minister Stephen Mandel, who is also a chairperson for Alberta Together, said that frustration is fueling a desire for a centrist movement.

“This is more about bringing people together who have a desire to try and build a more dynamic Alberta,” he said.

The Liberal Party, which was invited but declined to attend the meeting, and the Alberta Party both only hold one seat in the Alberta Legislature. Mandel said there is the potential for the centrist movement to win more seats in the Legislature.

READ MORE: New leader David Khan says he’s ready to rebuild Alberta Liberals

“There’s a tremendous number of people who are frustrated and they’re looking to find a home. Our job as Alberta Together is to bring them together,” he said.

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Greg Clark, the leader of the Alberta Party, made the pitch Saturday morning for centrists to rally behind the party banner, saying it is possible for a party to be socially progressive while also being fiscally responsible.

READ MORE: Rachel Notley makes appeal to conservatives turned off by potential merger between Wildrose and PCs

Clark said there was a need to consolidate forces and offer a sole choice in the centre – the Alberta Party – that already exists rather than creating a new party, something the Wildrose and PC Party are trying to do.

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READ MORE: Alberta PCs, Wildrose unveil plans to merge, create United Conservative Party

“If we give Albertans something that is compelling, that reflects their values, that’s free from the baggage of history, we can design the house using the architects in this room,” he said.

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Some PC members have left the party in recent weeks and have expressed fear it’s becoming less progressive and is adopting a more socially conservative position.

Saturday’s meeting drew some notable PC party members, including former leadership candidate Stephen Khan, who said he is looking for a political home.

“I think there’s a lot of people who are looking for a moderate, centrist, pragmatic option for Alberta. I know that’s why I’m here,” he said.

“There’s obvious concerns about the direction of the new party, if that new party should exist. I don’t believe where Mr. Kenney is leading that party is aligned with the central core values of the majority of Albertans – it’s as simple as that.”

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The next provincial election is set for spring 2019.

-with files from the Canadian Press