At 7:15 am on Wednesday morning, the 5th of April, I received a forwarded message inviting me to a get-together on the 6th at Aloft in Calgary where Kerry Cundal was going to make an announcement. For the past week and a half, the upcoming leadership race has received a fair amount of attention since Nolan Crouse, previously running in an uncontested race, suddenly withdrew. On March 29, 17 there were only two days remaining for potential candidates to register and Crouse’s withdrawal, which he stated was for reasons which “would be kept private”, had some of us politically obsessed individuals scratching their heads. Speculation swiftly circulated that two individuals, David Khan and Kerry Cundal, may be putting their names forward in Crouse’s stead.
David Khan made his announcement on March 31, but Kerry, while she admitted to registering, said she had not yet decided if she was going to run. Announcing an announcement, with only three days until the leadership debate, suggested it was an invitation to a campaign launch, but what would I know? I hadn’t started attending events for the PC Leadership Race until the final months so this was my first one. It is also worth noting this race is scheduled for a whirlwind three months rather than six as the new party leader is expected to be announced June 4, 2017.
We were welcomed by a couple of people from Kerry’s team and they directed us to the pool where the event was being held. We weren’t early and there were already around 20 people in the room. Considering it was 7:30 at night, the light in the room made it feel as if it was around mid-day. This wasn’t a problem until afterwards when I had the stark realization that it was nearing 11:00 pm on a work night and still had an hour drive back home.
|Kerry Cundal – Liberal Leadership Candidate|
There were people with cameras and a steady stream of enthusiasts still arriving behind us. We purchased some drinks and claimed a cocktail table while eyeing up the appetizer trays that lined both sides of the room. I may joke that I attend for the food but it’s also completely true.
The first person to stop by and chat was a woman from Calgary via Ontario. She told us it was a very different feeling supporting the liberals in Alberta as opposed to what she was used to. “The party has such a strong following” in Ontario she said. She asked whether we thought the party had a chance provincially (which seemed like a strange question to ask at a Liberal Party event).
One person at our table was from BC and we talked about the difference between political parties in other provinces. She had trouble with the PC party “big tent” idea since in Ontario, a Liberal, apparently, is a Liberal and doesn’t belong to a PC party. In Alberta, as we know, it used to be different.
People began to clap and our attention was drawn to the balcony overlooking the pool. Kerry had arrived and she was talking with reporters upstairs. I have to say I was caught up in the anticipation of the moment. While the event’s existence pointed to her announcing she would run, I wasn’t making any assumptions. What I had heard around the water coolers was that her announcement would be especially worthwhile.
She was introduced and took the microphone at the front end of the pool room. She began with an acknowledgement to our gathering on Treaty 7 land and told us she had only just flown back from Ottawa earlier in the day. She said she was looking forward to the coffee and meetings over the next few months and she was no stranger to hard work. Hard work, she said, was what she was expecting on this campaign. Then she got straight down to business: “We need to bring the centre together for 2019.”
Back in 2015 I remember a twitter account named “Liberals for Greg Clark”. For all I know, it was even their account but I’ve been thinking of it since. Was she talking about the new centre now that the PC Party had abandoned it? Was she talking about a coalition or unification? I wish I could answer those questions but she didn’t elaborate during the rest of the speech.
She’s lived around the province. I couldn’t keep up with all of the places she’d lived but I did catch Grande Prairie, St. Albert, Sylvan Lake and Calgary. “Most of us came from small town Alberta” she told us and I could relate to that. She said she was committed to service and committed to certain principles like “the rule of law for everyone”. “Feminism is not cancer” she declared and offered a firm “no thank you” to the politics of Jason Kenney and Brian Jean.
“The NDP have good policies” she said “but they aren’t getting the job done. They need more fiscal responsibility” and she doesn’t see that happening. “This is not about titles or labels, this is about Alberta: Alberta matters.” She talked about how we were looking at an election with the NDP on one side, the Conservatives on the other and the Liberals should be taking advantage of it; not sitting on the sidelines. She wants to connect with progressives who care about our finances and she hopes David Khan joins in. “The Liberal Party has good principles, good people with smart ideas and good policy” she said “policy that doesn’t belong in a drawer, it belongs in the legislature.”
It sounded like those in the room agreed with her as their applause was frequent and their cheering was loud. We talked with a few more people throughout the rest of the evening and they were bolder in their vision: they are interested in a united centre to take to the polls in 2019. Somehow, Alberta politics just became even more interesting.