What Alberta’s third parties are offering in election 2023
With Alberta’s provincial election kicking off Monday, the UCP and NDP are the political parties on most voters’ minds.
Both are running a full slate of candidates and vying to form Alberta’s next government.
But there are 10 officially registered alternatives to the two main parties — on the left, right and centre — hoping to put their own stamp on politics both in the short and long term.
While the two-party system is likely to continue into the 31st legislature, Alberta has a history of majority governments springing from new parties.
Hoping to get their foot in the door
Leaders of three of Alberta’s smaller political parties expressed dismay at how polarization has created a toxic atmosphere in politics. While they won’t be running full candidate slates, the parties all hope to get an MLA (or two) in the legislature to bring back a more collaborative environment and third-party status.
Alberta Party Leader Barry Morishita was blunt about the state of his party, but expressed hope about a return to the legislature when speaking to Alberta Today.
“I’m not going to become the premier in this election,” Morishita said. “I may never become the premier in any election. But there is a problem in Alberta politics right now, between the polarized left and right.”
The Alberta Party ran a full slate of candidates in the last general election and earned nine per cent of the vote, but lost the three seats it held going into the race.
Morishita will be facing off against Premier Danielle Smith in Brooks—Medicine Hat — a rematch of the 2022 byelection where he finished third behind NDP candidate Gwendoline Dirk.
He considered making a bid in a more winnable riding, but said it’s hard to remain a principled politician if you’re always compromising for the sake of victory.
Morishita wants to see Alberta reduce its reliance on resource revenue, and fix health care and education.
“The best opportunity is to end up with a minority government with a middle-ground pragmatic party like us holding the balance of power,” Morishita said.
Alberta Liberal Party Leader John Roggeveen acknowledged his party is also in a low period.
“We’ve had better times and we’ve had worse times — and I think we’ve probably had even worse times than we’ve had lately,” he told Alberta Today. “But we’ve definitely been on a low ebb and we need to do some remodeling, renovating, and get the party back up and running.”
He said the most recent decline began in 2015 when the Liberal Party was caught “flat-footed” by former premier Jim Prentice’s early election call, months after the resignation of leader Raj Sherman. In the 2015 election, the party was reduced to one seat, down from five. It was shut out in the 2019 election.
Roggeveen — who was recently appointed Liberal Party leader when no one else ran for the job — agreed with Morishita that the current two-party dominated system has led to “caustic” and “confrontational” politics.
“They both want the other to be perceived as the ogre and so they’re slinging mud at each other all the time,” Roggeveen said. “And that’s not conducive to working out solutions that work for Albertans.”
Green Party of Alberta Leader Jordan Wilkie’s ideal scenario is to have a hung parliament — something not yet achieved in Alberta’s history. He said his party hopes to run candidates in at least 44 ridings on May 29. Thirty-one Green candidates were nominated as of April 30.
Wilkie’s priority is democratic reform. He wants to bring in proportional representation in Alberta.
“That could be the biggest game changer — it would trigger a minority government, and it would trigger the ability to really redevelop our entire political culture, our entire political landscape, and take out the toxicity, hopefully, bring you more accountability, and then speak to the issues that really matter, for Albertans,” Wilkie said.
An Edmonton firefighter for 15 years with a masters in disaster management, Wilkie was drawn to the NDP’s policies on democratic reform, as well as the Leap Manifesto, but became disenchanted after those promises evaporated.
“I kind of gave up because I was really upset,” Wilkie said. “But then I had a son.”
The party — which has no formal affiliation with the federal Greens — believes in the six principles of the green movement: ecological wisdom, non-violence, participatory democracy, respect for diversity, social justice, and sustainability.
The Green platform includes ensuring safe and secure communities, strong public services, sustainable jobs and economy, and savings for the future.
“This two-party system is offering us incrementalism, is offering scraps, and it’s fighting over who gets the scraps,” Wilkie said. “We have to demand more. That is what our platform is all about is demanding more from our government.”
Wilkie said his party has already been influential in the political conversation by bringing awareness to the controversial RStar program — which would subsidize oil and gas companies for well cleanup they are obligated to undertake anyways. Under Premier Smith, the UCP has since rebranded it the Liabilities Management Incentive Program and is considering enacting it.
Like the Greens, the Alberta Liberal Party has no official affiliation with its federal cousins, although there is overlap in their philosophies.
Roggeveen said most Albertans are more liberal than they realize, using the example of a friend who is a life-long conservative voter. When he asked about his friend’s values on issues like equal rights, improving health care, and strengthening the economy, “This self-described redneck conservative Albertan decided, yeah, maybe I am a liberal after all,” Roggeveen said.
Roggeveen told Alberta Today he was “flabbergasted” to hear the UCP and NDP come out against the federal Liberals’ just transition proposals, saying even the energy industry is looking to the future with solar, wind and other technologies.
He also pitched economic diversification in the form of manufacturing semiconductors in Alberta. With China’s saber rattling around Taiwan, where the bulk of chips come from, Roggeveen says Alberta could shift to manufacturing — a push that could also include cars, pharmaceuticals and other industries, he said.
The (working class) struggle is real
Alberta’s longest-serving political leader, Naomi Rankin has run for the Communist Party in every provincial and federal election since 1982, and took over as leader in 1992 — the year after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This time around she is one of three Communist candidates running, although she said the work of the party goes beyond the election cycle. She pointed to medicare as a policy win that took decades of work and remains under threat.
Rankin said Albertans are becoming more open to the ideas in the party’s program, a shift she chalks up to recent economic instability and climate catastrophes.
She also isn’t bothered when people bristle at the word communist.
“The ideas that are in the interests of the exploited class are going to be vilified by the propaganda machine of the ruling class,” she told Alberta Today in an interview.
While people aren’t ready for a mass uprising, some are recognizing there is something fundamentally wrong with capitalism, she added.
“It’s fulfilled its historic function,” Rankin said. “It’s got really nothing more to offer to the world. It can really only go downhill from here.”
For the provincial election, the party has a 13-point platform, which includes nationalizing child care, the energy sector, and utilities. The communists want to boost wages and lower living costs.
Rankin said Alberta has not industrialized beyond the oil and gas sector, and the isolated, transient nature of work in the province has meant it is difficult to organize workers.
The party’s platform includes carbon capture and storage (CCS) — but unlike the NDP and UCP, who also include CCS in their platforms — Rankin’s plan involves nationalizing the oil and gas industry and phasing it out.
“What we have to do is guarantee people’s wages through that period [and ensure] they aren’t just gonna be thrown into some kind of really paltry, starvation wages,” she said.
She said there is a lot of work available that needs to be done, including oil well reclamation, and providing social services like health care.
Rankin also runs federally for the Communist Party, which she said is part of the international movement. The federal party wants to add one million housing units across Canada.
There have been communists elected to school boards and municipal councils, Rankin said, but rather than carrying the party banner, those politicians are known as “a really popular person who really stands up for working people.”
War of the wild roses
Alberta also has several parties to the right of the UCP.
The Pro-Life Alberta Political Association will only run one candidate in this election. It got Elections Alberta approval to take over what was registered as the Social Credit Party, skipping the steps normally required of newly registered parties
The Social Credit Party ruled the province from 1935 before making way for the PC dynasty in 1971. Anti-abortion activists seized control of the party with Jeremy Fraser’s leadership win in 2016 and in 2017, officially renaming the Pro-Life Alberta Political Association.
The group’s aim is less about electing candidates and more about promoting anti-abortion priorities.
Typically, the association runs one candidate in order to maintain party status but is mostly interested in the perks of being allowed to operate like a political party.
Doing so means it can engage in political activity — which registered charities cannot — and issue tax receipts.
Its fundraising efforts have been successful — it is the third best funded party in the province after the UCP and NDP.
Meanwhile, Advantage Party of Alberta Leader Marilyn Burns, who has been active in the Alberta Alliance Party and Wildrose Party, told Alberta Today she was concerned early on about Premier Smith’s ambition, recalling that before Smith became UCP leader she said she would govern for her supporters.
That statement set off alarm bells for Burns, who questioned why Smith would be in it for her supporters and not the party’s grassroots.
Burns, a lawyer, said the Advantage Party wants to hold a referendum on independence, the only achievable path for separatism. While the party ran 27 candidates last election, it only has three this time around.
Burns noted she had reached out to Reform Party Leader Randy Thorsteinson, but he is more interested in leading that party. Thorsteinson has not declared if he will run or in which riding.
The Independence Party of Alberta claims to be the most likely to secede from Confederation. The board recently turfed its leader, Artur Pawlowski, who has registered the Solidarity Party of Alberta. Some of the Independence Party’s candidates have left and will be running as independents.
The party is running without a leader in this race.
The Wildrose Independence Party also booted its leader, Paul Hinman, and interim leader Jeevan Mangat is one of two candidates expected to run for the party.
The Buffalo Party, led by John Molberg, is in the race for the first time, with Andrew Jacobson challenging NDP Leader Rachel Notley in Edmonton—Strathcona.