Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark strode into the rotunda of the legislature building, a dark grey T-shirt clasped in his hands.
When he unfurled it for the TV cameras, the slogan popped out in white letters, “Making friends left & right.”
That pretty much sums up the Alberta Party, which has tripled its MLA count in less than three months and recently leaped into a leadership race.
But the party is a comparatively unknown quantity in Alberta politics. Here’s what it’s all about.
A history in the middle
The Alberta Party bills itself as the centrist filling in the polarized sandwich of provincial politics, jammed between United Conservatives on the right and New Democrats on the left.
A quick spin through its website presents a party with policy rooted in fiscal and social responsibility, sustainability and transparency.
For Progressive Conservative-turned-United Conservative Party-turned-Alberta Party MLA Rick Fraser, his new home was “an opportunity to take a look at how political parties have operated in the past, and do it better.”
Historically, the party has wrestled with modest membership lists and donations.
Take 2016, the most recent annual data available, when NDP contributions totalled $1.96 million and Wildrose pulled in $1.26 million. Even the Liberal Party — which, like the Alberta Party, had a single MLA — scraped together $161,507.
But the party that bears the province’s name managed to raise a measly $67,854.
Like the NDP and Liberals, the Alberta Party was waiting in the wings when Jason Kenney swept to victory in the PC leadership race.
Clark, the party’s then-leader, threw his arms wide to anyone who felt Kenney was too right-wing and divisive, and those who found themselves without a political home.
His welcome mat has been well-trampled.
Since the unity vote wed the PC and Wildrose parties, former red Tories have flocked to the Alberta Party, helping to sell out the Red Deer AGM even after it relocated to a larger venue.
Clark was for years the party leader and its lone representative in the legislature, yet he was almost omnipresent in the legislature.
If he wasn’t sitting at a committee table, he’d dial in. At news conferences, he would regularly leap to the microphone after the official opposition. Heading into the legislature, he unfailingly stopped for interviews about anything and everything.
But in November, Clark quit as boss.
He remains caucus leader and has two new colleagues in his previously lonely corner of the house — former NDP MLA Karen McPherson and Fraser, both from Calgary.
Branching out of Cowtown
That the Alberta Party remains a Calgary-centric enterprise presents it two major hurdles — fighting off the UCP on traditionally conservative turf, and building up its profile in the capital.
The party’s 2015 votes in Edmonton were negligible and, as Monday’s leadership deadline loomed, former mayor Stephen Mandel was the only leadership candidate from the city.
The other two — three, if you count the mysterious Jacob Huffman, a 19-year-old art major studying at University of Calgary — hail from the south, Fraser and Calgary lawyer Kara Levis.
Huffman’s website smacks of satire, but he insists he’s a serious (though admittedly cynical) candidate.
Either way, the party is convinced there is a gaping chasm in Alberta politics it can plug with centrist policies.
Although the party sides more often with the NDP than the UCP, its MLAs and leadership hopefuls all have issues with the current government.
For Clark, that’s an opportunity.
“I think now Alberta is in a more natural political stance where you have different parties representing different spaces on the political spectrum,” he said.
“I think very clearly what’s emerging in the next election is a three-horse race — the UCP on the right, NDP on the left, and Alberta Party in the centre.”