Alberta Party offers not to run candidates in Liberal-held ridings

Renewed co-operation attempts by the Alberta Party and Alberta Liberals are faltering again, as campaigners for both parties fear a staggering Tory majority next election if progressive sides fight among themselves.

The latest proposed deal falls well short of a merger, and is more of a non-aggression pact. Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark has proposed that his group wouldn’t run a candidate in the five Liberal-held ridings, and in exchange the Grits wouldn’t compete in five constituencies where Clark feels his crew has a fighting chance in the election Premier Jim Prentice is expected to call for April or May.

“I’d call it a mutual respect pact, or a clause where we say we’re not going to run down the Liberals, and they’re not going to run down us,” Clark said Monday. “Our fight isn’t with the Liberals. It’s with Jim Prentice.”

After talks with multiple senior Liberals, Clark’s co-operation talks have fallen flat. “It sounds like it’s not really going anywhere on the Liberal side.”

He was asking for Liberals to sit out races in four ridings they’ve won in recent contests: Edmonton-Gold Bar, Edmonton-McClung, Calgary-Currie, and Calgary-Elbow, as well as Wildrose leader-turned-Tory Danielle Smith’s Highwood seat.

It would be the second time in as many months that Liberal brass have rejected unity with the Alberta Party, which has never elected an MLA but has drawn away much of the Liberals’ organizational heft in recent years. Last month after MLA Raj Sherman resigned as Liberal leader, party directors rejected Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman’s proposal to serve as interim party chief with a mandate to avoid election competition with Clark’s party and ultimately merge.

Directors instead chose David Swann, a former Liberal leader and the only opposition MLA running again in Calgary.

He said Monday members of both parties need more time to iron out an agreement and build trust after competing for years.

Swann has pitched greater co-operation with other centre-left parties in the past — and still believes there is a need to explore a potential pact — but he doesn’t want to rush into the decision.

“After the election, when there aren’t committed candidates, there isn’t already dedicated funding, there isn’t already a particular plan in place to move things forward, it will be much easier,” he said.

The Liberals and Wildrose will be going into a spring election without a permanent leader. Alberta Party has also been caught off guard and unready by a Prentice election call earlier than spring 2016 — the date in fixed election law — and won’t field a full crop of 87 candidates.

“We could be looking at an 83-seat PC majority, and that’s not good for Alberta,” Clark said.

This could amount to a race for fourth place among provincial parties. The opposition NDP and Wildrose will both go into an election fielding more incumbent MLAs than the Grits’ two and Alberta Party’s zero.

In the 2012 election, there was not a single seat that would have flipped if the Liberals or Alberta Party had combined their vote totals. But when Clark placed second in last fall’s Calgary-Elbow byelection, adding the Liberal votes would have put him over Tory Gord Dirks.

Vincent St. Pierre, president of the Liberal association in Calgary-Klein, has also bid for a unity candidate who officially runs under one party banner, but is supported by both. He said he’s close to finding agreement among his district’s Grits and Alberta Party activists, but there are entrenched partisans on both sides.

“I’m trying to herd cats over here,” St. Pierre said. He worries an 80-seat Tory majority is possible if the opposition cannibalizes the anti-Prentice vote.

While he was one of the few Liberal directors who endorsed Blakeman’s proposal, St. Pierre said he’s not sure if the Liberals should accept what Clark has offered.

The Alberta Party leader said his party will likely not run candidates against Blakeman and Swann, whether or not there’s a two-party pact.

With files from Reid Southwick, Calgary Herald

jmarkusoff@calgaryherald.com

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