EDMONTON – Alberta Progressive Conservative member Sandra Jansen crossed the floor to the governing NDP Thursday, saying the moderate party she called home for 30 years is moving to embrace a far-right ideology.
“I need to be true to the values of my constituents and my own values,” Jansen told reporters at the legislature, standing beside Premier Rachel Notley at a news conference.
“So I’m supporting a party now that believes in those values, too.”
Jansen, a two-term MLA for Calgary North West, has been a longtime champion of equality issues, such as allowing gay-straight alliances in schools.
She quit the PC leadership race earlier this month, saying online and in-person abuse from supporters of another leadership candidate became intolerable.
“The dog-whistle politics that I heard at the PC policy conference (earlier this month) were chilling to me: eroding public education, taking away women’s reproductive rights and trying to out gay kids in schools,” said Jansen.
“That is not my Alberta.”
She said under former PC premier Peter Lougheed, the party championed progressivism.
“To see that legacy being kicked to the curb by extremists who are taking over the PC party has been heartbreaking,” she said.
Notley said Jansen is a good fit.
“We share some very important values and priorities that serve Alberta well in government,” said Notley.
It’s the first time in Alberta history an MLA has crossed the floor to join the NDP.
Jansen has never addressed by name those she believes to be extremist, but has been critical of PC leadership candidate Jason Kenney.
She has suggested he is bringing “Trump-style politics” to Alberta from Ottawa. Earlier this year, she promised to quit the party should he become leader.
Kenney is a former Calgary Conservative MP under former prime minister Stephen Harper. He has said abuse of any public official is intolerable.
He is one of four candidates in the race to become PC party leader. He has stated his plan, should he win, will be to put to the membership a vote to merge the PCs with the socially and fiscally conservative Wildrose party.
In a statement, Kenney wished Jansen well but urged her to let voters ratify her decision, given the policy differences between the PCs and the NDP.
“Ms. Jansen owes it to those constituents to let them decide in a byelection whether they should be represented by someone voting for higher taxes, including the carbon tax, as a member of the NDP government,” said Kenney.
Nick Moskaluk, president of the Tory riding association in Calgary North West, said it is never an easy decision for an MLA to cross the floor.
“I am saddened that Sandra felt as though she did not belong in the PC party,” he said in a statement.
“This decision is not a reflection of the Calgary-NW PC Association and I am prepared to remain as the president of the constituency in order to support the renewal of the Progressive Conservative Party.”
Jansen also disparaged her former PC caucus, saying few reached out to her after she reported the harassment in her leadership bid.
The party’s interim leader, Ric McIver, said he learned of Jansen’s departure in a Tweet from media shortly before the announcement.
“It’s a disappointment, I don’t mind telling you,” said McIver. “We’d be better off with Sandra on our team, but she’s chosen a different path.”
McIver and PC party president Katherine O’Neill dismissed suggestions the party is leaving the political centre.
“We haven’t moved,” said McIver.
The party has been investigating Jansen’s harassment allegations, and O’Neill said that will continue despite her departure.
The party is also investigating complaints made against Kenney’s team after he showed up at a delegate selection meeting in south Edmonton on Wednesday. A candidate cannot be nearby when delegates are picked, but Kenney has said the rules are not clear.
The PCs pick a new leader in a delegated convention March 18.
Jansen was one of two leadership candidates who quit the race this month. The other, former Calgary PC legislature member Donna Kennedy-Glans, has said she, too, is concerned the party is pushing away moderates.
But Kennedy-Glans went on Twitter Thursday to write: “No risk that this fiscal conservative will be joining the Alberta NDP any time soon!!”