Uniting Progressives: Liberal MLA Kent Hehr Calls For Liberals, NDP, Greens To Merge

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Prominent MLA Kent Hehr is calling for progressive parties to put aside their differences and work in earnest towards unification.

In a post on daveberta.ca, Hehr, a Calgary lawyer and popular Liberal MLA, said that bringing the Liberals, Greens and NDP together under one umbrella will give the coalition enough thrust to defeat the uninterrupted Tory dynasty that’s been at the helm of the province for the last 41 years.

And the idea of uniting the three parties isn’t that much of a stretch when one looks at the core values of each of the parties and realizes that the differences keeping them apart aren’t that profound, he states.

Commenting on what he learned from the Calgary Centre byelection, Hehr says the three candidates, like him, branded themselves as fiscally responsible, socially progressive and with a deep concern for the environment.

“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,” he says on his daveberta.ca post.

“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.”

Huffington Post political blogger Alex McBrien says the benefits of uniting the three parties are obvious and points out how progressive voters greatly outnumbered the Conservatives in the Calgary Centre contest. Tory contender Joan Crockatt received only 37 percent of the vote.

“Such results are symptomatic of the Canada's first-past-the-post system, which tends to reward the party or candidate who is able to put together a voter coalition capable of obtaining a plurality, not a majority, of the votes,” he said.

“When the progressive vote is split between three candidates, as it was in Calgary Centre, the Conservatives win.

“Anyone looking for further proof of this argument can look at the overall federal electoral results of the past 6 years.”

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The idea of merging the centre and left has gathered momentum in the last year, as many see a progressive wave slowly overtaking the Conservative bastion that is Alberta.

The election of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi – who was seen as one of the more progressive candidates on the ballot, and Premier Alison Redford, who is widely believed to have won her majority thanks to votes from progressives fearing a Wildrose Party majority, are seen as clues that a political shift is afoot and that centrist parties can capitalize on the shift.

But the idea of a merger is far from being just that, an idea, says McBrien, citing that federally, the NDP are the closest to snatching government from the Tories and have no need for such coalition - being so close to the price - and won’t want to share the piece of the pie with the Liberals and Greens if they do win the next election.

“Much of this is wishful thinking. Both parties (Liberals and Green) are a long way off from any type of formal cooperation.. a lack of respect from both sides towards the differences in policy, brand, ideas, and political culture that the other embodies may ensure that a merger option stays off the table as talks progress on what needs to change,” he says, adding much of that bleeds into the provincial arena.

This is not the first time the idea of a union has been brandied about in Alberta, however.

During the run up to the Calgary Centre byelection, 1calgarycentre.com attempted, through discussions, debates and forums, to convince voters to put their support behind one progressive candidate but the initiative failed to achieve that aim and the vote was split.

It could be argued that the one time the Progressive voters were successful in recent months was during the last provincial election, when initiatives such as the YouTube video - I Never Thought I'd Vote PC - which asked voters to prevent a Wildrose majority by voting PC, despite of political stripes, may have swayed the popular vote. The majority predicted for the Wildrose, until mere days before the election, disappeared and the WRP came in a distant second. Voters gave Redford the majority that not a single poll had predicted.

In an interview with the Calgary Herald, NDP Leader Brian Mason said despite Hehr’s best intentions, the concept just won’t get the traction it needs from the membership of the parties.

“The memberships of both the Liberal party and the NDP have been quite clear that that’s not a direction they want to go,” Mason said.

I sympathize with (Hehr’s) intent. But having been around for awhile, I know what the political reality is.”

Former Alberta Liberal leader and current MLA David Swann also told the Herald the idea’s been tried before but it didn’t go anywhere.

We worked at that for a couple of years. And I certainly took a lot of hits over it,” Swann said.

“But there’s no question in my mind that the New Democrats are fully entrenched in their particular point of view and they’re not about to change.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated incorrectly that MLA Kent Hehr was a former Alberta Liberal leadership hopeful. Hehr did not run for the Liberal leadership.

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