Progressive Conservative Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen took to the podium with Premier Rachel Notley this afternoon to announce that she is crossing the floor to join the governing New Democratic Party Caucus.
It would have been hard to imagine only one year ago that we would witness a PC MLA join the NDP but nothing should surprise us in Alberta politics anymore. Ms. Jansen has spent the past 18 months as an unwelcome moderate in a largely conservative caucus of 9 PC MLAs and it is hard to see what other options she may have had.
“Most Albertans are reasonable, moderate, pragmatic people,” Ms. Jansen was quoted as saying in an NDP caucus press release. “And most Albertans want a reasonable, moderate, pragmatic government. I believe we are getting that kind of government from Premier Notley.”
“I also believe that is absolutely not what would be on offer from those who are taking over the Progressive Conservative Party,” Ms. Jansen said. “The best traditions of the Peter Lougheed legacy in Alberta politics are being pursued by Premier Notley. And that legacy is being kicked to the curb by the extremists who are taking over my former party.”
There could not be a more direct shot at her conservative opponents in the PC and Wildrose parties but mostly PC leadership front-runner Jason Kenney.
In the opposition benches, Ms. Jansen has been a voice for moderate conservatism in the Legislative Assembly, clashing with her conservative MLA colleagues, including interim party leader Ric McIver, on numerous occasions. She also faced a backlash from conservative activists when she decided to publicly endorse Liberal candidates Kent Hehr and Nirmala Naidoo during last year’s federal election.
Last month Ms. Jansen announced plans to run for the PC Party leadership, building a campaign team that included Ms. Naidoo and strategist Stephen Carter. But she dropped out of the race last week, claiming that Mr. Kenney’s social conservative supporters had bullied her at the party’s annual convention over her progressive views on abortion and gay rights. She has also been the target of fierce sexist harassment on social media.
With Mr. Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party in full-swing, it has become increasingly clear that there is less room for the moderates and liberals who played a key role in the party’s broad governing coalition from 1971 until 2015. Ms. Jansen was the voice of the “progressive wing” in the PC Caucus and she will certainly sit in the “conservative wing” of the NDP, which is a fascinating development in the evolution of the Alberta NDP’s centre-ish political coalition two years ahead of the next election.
While I expect Ms. Jansen had an opportunity to consider joining MLA Greg Clark in the Alberta Party or run for the leadership of the Liberal Party, returning to a position where she can influence government policy would have certainly been more appealing than joining or leading a smaller opposition caucus.
Although she is a moderate, Ms. Jansen has clashed with the NDP on a few occasions. In November 2015, Ms. Jansen accused then-Status of Women Minister Shannon Phillips of having “lost the authority to govern” after a heated debate over budget estimates and the old PC government’s record.
Her strong connections to former premier Alison Redford’s government are also notable.
A broadcaster by trade, she traded in her journalist’s hat for a job working in Ms. Redford’s southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in 2011. Shortly after that she was elected as a PC MLA and served as associate minister of families and community safety from 2013 until after Ms. Redford’s departure in 2014.
With this floor crossing, the NDP Government Caucus is one MLA short of having an an equal number of women and men, what I expect is a first in Canadian history. As far as I can tell, she is the first MLA, from any party, to cross the floor to join the NDP in Alberta’s history.
Ms. Jansen will sit as a backbench government MLA but we should expect she will soon make her way into cabinet in the new year.