EDMONTON — Another member of Alberta’s new United Conservative Party has quit caucus to sit as an Independent.
Rick Fraser, the legislature member for Calgary South East, said the current party leadership race makes it clear Alberta will continue down the unproductive road of angry, reactionary, polarized politics.
“I have much respect for many of those in the United Conservative caucus. It’s not a judgment on them and they mean well,” said Fraser in an interview Thursday.
“But as they figure out what the United Conservatives will be as a party and what policies they’re going to foster, I don’t believe we’re talking about what Alberta needs today.
“It’s just another stopgap to the next election.”
He said Albertans are being whipsawed into choosing between political extremes from the two major parties on crucial issues like the economy and the environment as the province rebounds from years of sluggish oil prices.
He said Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government is pursuing an unsustainable policy of heavy debt just to keep day-to-day operations going. But he said the United Conservative leadership candidates are promising big cuts and austerity without explaining how that could affect a fragile economy.
On the environment, he said the party’s leadership candidates are castigating and promising to scrap Alberta’s carbon tax but aren’t spelling out what they will do instead to fight climate change.
The solutions likely lie somewhere in the middle, but he said that can’t take root when all issues are framed as us-versus-them.
“My constituents deserve somebody that can talk about policies unfettered by party lines,” he said.
Fraser said he hasn’t decided whether he will join another party or if he will run in the 2019 election.
“At this point I’m keeping all my options open,” he said. “It’s not my job to get re-elected.
“It’s my job to represent my constituents and put forward the issues that they’re facing.”
The United Conservative Party was created in July when members of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties voted overwhelmingly to merge.
Fraser is a two-term MLA formerly representing the Progressive Conservatives.
He is the third member of the United Conservative caucus to leave since the merger. Richard Starke refused to join the new party and remains a Progressive Conservative in the house.
United Conservative finance critic Derek Fildebrandt, formerly of the Wildrose, resigned last month after it came out he rented out his taxpayer-subsidized apartment and questions arose about his expenses.
Fildebrandt is also accused of hitting a van in a parking lot and leaving the scene. A decision in that case will be delivered Dec. 18 in traffic court in Edmonton.
United Conservative interim leader Nathan Cooper said in a statement he was “disappointed to learn that Rick has chosen to leave caucus but respect his decision and wish him the best.”
The party picks a new leader Oct. 28 and the four candidates include former Wildrose leader Brian Jean and former PC leader Jason Kenney.
On Twitter, Jean echoed Cooper’s comments.
“Sad to see Rick Fraser leaving caucus,” he wrote. “Conservatives are stronger united and his voice will be missed at the table.”
Kenney said he was disappointed in Fraser’s decision.
“PC members in his riding voted 662 to 13 (98%) in favour of creating the UCP,” he posted on Twitter. “I respect their decision, and look forward to electing a Conservative MLA there in 2019.”