By Kent Hehr
Like many progressives, I watched the Calgary Centre by-election with great interest. Although I was hopeful that one of three outstanding candidates who represented the center/center-left side of the spectrum would win, Joan Crockett’s victory for the federal Conservatives was not surprising. Like Bill Clinton said at the Democratic National Convention describing how to balance budgets, “it’s math”.
Progressive candidates representing the Liberals, NDP, and Greens garnered 60% of the total cast vote. As a result of that 60% being split among three parties in our first past the post system, the provincial Wildrose supporter (Ms. Crockett) carried the day. The result was predictable in that vote splitting amongst the progressives ensured a conservative victory. It’s math!
While this result was predictable, was it necessary? I’m not too sure. Having followed the race and personally knowing and holding a great deal of respect for the three progressive candidates, it is my view that other than the political banner they ran under, there was little to no difference in their core beliefs. Put Harvey Locke, Chris Turner and Dan Meades in a room together and you’d see the value system that compelled them to run in this by-election is the same: they are fiscally responsible, socially progressive individuals with a deep concern for environmental sustainability. Having attended one of the debates, it appeared to me they were all singing from the same song sheet. Although they represented different political brands, it was a distinction without a difference.
As a provincial politician committed to many of the same progressive principles as the three above-noted candidates, what did I learn from this? Well, I think I’ve learned basic math. The center/center-left in this province will not form government until we are in one big tent party. At this moment in time, and objectively looking at the provincial platforms of the progressive parties, we are for all intents and purposes also a distinction without a difference.
In the last election the NDP, Liberals, Greens and Alberta Party agreed on policy 95% of the time. We should all be together in one big tent; there is less difference between all of our political parties than there is between the different wings of the PC government.
What keeps us apart is rugged tribalism that leads to infighting between us and keeps our guns pointed squarely at each other instead of focusing our fire on the right-wing in this province. We tend to identify with our brands and not necessarily the values that we share. Let me be the first to say, I’m putting down my gun, and am open to all conversations with no preconditions. We need to figure out how we can come together in a big tent party. Otherwise, we are wasting our time. It’s math.
Kent Hehr is the MLA for Calgary-Buffalo, Deputy Leader of Alberta Liberal Caucus and critic for Education and Energy. He was elected to the Legislature in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012. Before entering politics, he practiced law with Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP in Calgary. You can follow him on Twitter at @kenthehr.