Thomson: ‘Progressive’ conservatives struggling to find new home

Oh, what is a “progressive” conservative in Alberta to do?

What do you do when your old Progressive Conservative party is being newly piloted by a social conservative who wants to scrap it for parts to meld with bits and pieces from the Wildrose Party to form a brand new hybrid political vehicle?

Oh, on a superficial level you know the yet-to-be constructive United Conservative Party looks big and powerful — and might be able to easily overtake the NDP pedal-car next election — but deep down you’re afraid the UCP will end up being a 1960s Social Credit jalopy that pulls dangerously to the right.

You want other political options.

So, what to do?

Well, for one, you could grab hold of the UCP steering wheel by becoming leader of the new party.

That’s not exactly how Doug Schweitzer would characterize his bid for leadership of the UCP — but it’s sort of exactly what he’d like to do.

(A leadership vote for the UCP will be held Oct. 28 — but only if members of both parties agree to form the new party in ratification votes on July 22).

Schweitzer is a 38-year-old Calgary lawyer who calls himself a “fiscal conservative and social moderate.” He is the epitome of what it used to mean to be a progressive conservative.

In fact, he was intending to run in the PC leadership race last year but decided against it at the last minute.

Now, he wants to win the leadership of the UCP to steer it down the middle of the political spectrum, leaning a little bit to the right, perhaps, but not enough to take it into the ditch.

He is smart, articulate and has years of experience inside the PC party, including running Jim Prentice’s successful leadership race in 2014.

To raise his profile, Schweitzer will be unveiling a series of policy statements this summer. “I believe in man-made climate change,” Schweitzer says as a way to immediately distance himself from Wildrosers and PCs who are in various stages of denial. He also supports gay-straight alliances in school.

“People are tired of being angry on the left and right and they want someone who is going to come forward with a positive plan,” he says. “They’re tired of the division. Right now, priority No. 1 is getting our fiscal house in order.”

Schweitzer has the support of some well-known old-time PCs including Peter Elzinga, a former PC cabinet minister and chief of staff to Ralph Klein. Elzinga speaks highly of Schweitzer as a “middle-of-the-road conservative who doesn’t want to leave a legacy of debt to our children.”

So, that’s one option for “progressive” conservatives looking for a political home — send in Schweitzer to sweeten up the UCP to be more palatable to the moderates.

Another option is epitomized by Katherine O’Neill, who until two months ago was president of the PC party.

She says she is “done with” the PCs under Kenney and has no interest in supporting the new UCP.

She is heading a new political action committee called “Alberta Together” aimed at building a centrist movement to give Albertans an alternative next election to the too-far-left NDP and the too-far-right UCP.

“Alberta politics has become too polarized,” said O’Neill. “We want to give voters something to vote ‘for’ in 2019.”

She is hoping to attract 200 or 300 people to a mini-rally this Saturday in Red Deer where disgruntled PCs, Liberals, members of the Alberta Party, as well as plain old moderates can come together to plan the next step.

O’Neill realizes that forming a new party is probably impossible at this late date, so she’s interested in maybe banding together under the Alberta Party banner.

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark will be speaking at Saturday’s meeting.

He’ll be thrilled at the idea of people flocking to his party but might not be so thrilled when he realizes there are rumblings among free-range PCs that they’d like somebody other than Clark as leader of their new political vehicle — somebody who is not just a “progressive” but somebody who has credentials as a conservative, too.