EDMONTON — Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper will be doorknocking for the upcoming Alberta election in the Calgary constituency held by a bitter foe of United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney.
"I live in (NDP cabinet minister) Sandra Jansen's riding," Harper's wife, Laureen, said Tuesday night in a speech at the launch of SheLeads, a non-profit group aimed at encouraging and mentoring women to run for conservative parties.
Harper said she and her husband are not getting involved in the United Conservative candidate nomination race in their Calgary-West constituency but, to cheers and applause, added "My husband said 'I'm doorknocking for the winner. I'm doorknocking.'"
Kenney rival crossed the floor to NDP
SheLeads is mentoring women on everything from campaigning to fundraising to dealing with social media, starting with Kenney's UCP as it prepares for the election in 2019.
Jansen won the Calgary-North West riding in the 2015 election as a Progressive Conservative. She ran against Kenney in a subsequent party leadership vote, but dropped out of the race and from caucus, saying the personal abuse from Kenney's supporters was intolerable.
Kenney went on to win the PC leadership, then merged the party with the Wildrose party to form the UCP.
Jansen, meanwhile, crossed the floor to the NDP and is now minister of infrastructure under Premier Rachel Notley.
SheLeads is led by Laureen Harper and former federal Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose.
In her speech, Harper, a longtime political strategist and organizer, told the women the biggest step is winning the candidate nomination, since candidates have to build their campaigns from scratch.
"Your nomination meeting and your nomination is the hardest thing you'll ever do. If you win, it gets easier. It's still hard but you do have a team," said Harper.
Ambrose: 'Disconnect' between males and females
Ambrose told the crowd the hardest step comes earlier, making the mental leap of self-confidence to run and believe in yourself rather than put up artificial barriers.
Ambrose said too often when she urges women to run they come up with a list of reasons to wait — more education, more experience — telling her "I'm not ready yet."
Ambrose said when she makes the same political pitch to a male he responds "Sign me up."
"We need to get rid of that disconnect," said Ambrose.
One of the things that women bring to public life is a particular and necessary emphasis not just on balancing budgets and economic stats but on a human dimension, on the social dimension.Jason Kenney
Shannon Stubbs, an Alberta Conservative MP, was among those in the crowd.
In an interview, she said candidates need to park any shyness or self-modesty and tap personal contacts at the start — men and women, family, friends and business contacts — to cement the foundation of a political network that will be energized to come out and vote for them on nomination day.
"Engage and sell memberships to those people and then ask them to sell 10 more," said Stubbs.
Kenney also addressed the crowd, saying he doesn't believe in quotas for women candidates but said he asked Ambrose and Harper to work with his team to level the playing field for women when they do decide to enter the political arena.
"One of the things that women bring to public life is a particular and necessary emphasis not just on balancing budgets and economic stats but on a human dimension, on the social dimension," Kenney told the crowd.
"That is a dimension of the heart and the compassion that women in particular bring to the table. We need those voices in our next caucus, in our next cabinet."
65 women running for UCP nominations
The UCP has nominated 19 candidates to date for the 87 constituencies, including four women.
Laila Goodridge has also joined caucus after winning the Fort McMurray-Conklin byelection earlier this month.
Kenney said 65 women are vying for nominations in the remaining races.