EDMONTON — Former Edmonton mayor and one-time Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Stephen Mandel has returned to the political arena, announcing he will run to lead the fledgling Alberta Party.
Mandel says he ran for mayor because Edmonton lacked vision and says the same is happening now in Alberta, with its people poorly served by the competing ideologies of the governing NDP and the United Conservative Opposition.
"I cannot sit by and not do anything," Mandel told more than 150 people who attended his leadership announcement Wednesday at a downtown community centre.
"Between unification of the far right and entrenchment on the left, the diverse progressive nature and fair-minded small-c conservative values have fallen from political view."
Mandel said the Alberta Party provides the best path forward given it embraces the political centrist philosophy of fiscal conservatism and social progressivism.
"The true political centre is a place where people understand that politics, that government, cannot be a zero-sum game," said Mandel.
"It is a place where compromises are worked out, where people can respectfully disagree and where we all stay in the room to find consensus that allows us to move ahead."
Mandel dismissed any questions about returning to politics at 72.
"You might have noticed I'm not a young candidate," he said. "But I'd suggest we're not exactly ready for the sidelines or to be put out to the pasture. We have too much to offer and way too much passion."
Mandel served three terms as mayor in Edmonton, from 2004 to 2013, and is best known for shepherding the deal to build the Edmonton Oilers a new arena as the set piece of a broader downtown revitalization.
In 2014, he jumped to provincial politics, serving briefly as health minister under Progressive Conservative premier Jim Prentice before Mandel and the PCs were turfed from office by the NDP in May 2015.
Mandel didn't refer to the NDP or United Conservatives by name in his speech, but chided both for pursuing policies that he said place ideology above practicality.
He criticized the NDP for its financial plan, which includes multibillion-dollar deficits, and the United Conservatives for failing to embrace the concept that leading people is about more than bottom-line numbers on a ledger.
The public purse "is an instrument not to be abused but to be used effectively and efficiently and not without limits," said Mandel.
"(And) we all want a government that understands that as Albertans we need services for educating our children, taking care of our health, helping those who need support and ensuring that our seniors are being treated with dignity and respect."
Calgary lawyer Kara Levis and former United Conservative MLA Rick Fraser are also running for the party leadership.
The winner is to be announced Feb. 27 after two days of online voting by party members.
Mandel says even if he loses the leadership race, he will run for the Alberta Party in the 2019 election in his home riding of Edmonton-McClung, which is currently held by NDP backbencher Lorne Dach.
The Alberta Party has three members in the 87-seat legislature and picked up just over two per cent of the popular vote in the 2015 provincial election.
It ran candidates in fewer than half the ridings in 2015 and elected just one member — current interim leader Greg Clark.
NDP backbencher Karen McPherson crossed the floor to the Alberta party last fall, and Fraser joined this week.