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Alberta Tory MLA Sandra Jansen defects to NDP, citing sexism and personal attacks

Sandra Jansen, the one-time candidate for the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership, has crossed the floor to the governing NDP.

Dean Bennett/THE CANADIAN PRESS

As she crossed the floor to join Alberta's governing New Democrats, Sandra Jansen said her former Progressive Conservative colleagues are headed toward a "frightening" place as Jason Kenney looks increasingly likely to win that party's leadership.

Ms. Jansen dropped out of the Tory leadership race last week citing personal attacks and nomination forms vandalized with sexist language at a recent party convention. On Thursday, the two-term MLA from Calgary became the first legislator in Alberta history to defect to the NDP.

"Most Albertans are reasonable, they are moderate and they are pragmatic," Ms. Jansen said as she stood beside Premier Rachel Notley. "I don't believe that there has been anything moderate or pragmatic being offered or even discussed by the people intent on taking over the Progressive Conservative Party."

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While she didn't use Mr. Kenney's name on Thursday, in recent weeks Ms. Jansen has accused the former federal Conservative MP and high-profile cabinet minister of bringing "Trump-style politics" to Alberta with his campaign.

Gary Mason: Not so progressive: Trump-style politics seep into Alberta

Related: Female candidates quitting Alberta PC leadership race a 'step back' for women: Notley

Related: Jason Kenney's unite-the-right pledge causes a stir at Alberta PCs' first leadership forum

She quit the Tory leadership race on Nov. 8 after a weekend PC conference in Red Deer where the party's candidates took the stage together for the first time.

"The dog-whistle politics that I heard at the PC policy conference were chilling to me: eroding public education, taking away women's reproductive rights and trying to out gay kids in schools," she said. "It was frightening to see that element."

Other leadership candidates also cried foul as Mr. Kenney's campaign brought in three buses of youth delegates to that conference. Sporting "Unite Alberta" baseball caps, they helped defeat motions supporting a revenue-neutral carbon tax and a proposed pro-LGBTQ policy for schools.

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After the convention and allegations of bullying, Mr. Kenney said his campaign was operating with a "positive tone" and no member of his team had attacked other candidates. The Tories are investigating the allegations, according to PC Party President Katherine O'Neill.

The only other female leadership candidate, Donna Kennedy-Glans, also dropped out on the same day as Ms. Jansen. She did not cite personal attacks and on Thursday vowed never to join the NDP.

A self-described centrist, Ms. Jansen said that the Tories had abandoned the political centre in Alberta and were no longer a good home for women. Her departure leaves an eight-member Tory caucus that is all male and leans more heavily to the right. Ms. Jansen had been the leading progressive voice in the party on social issues, championing equality and women's rights.

After 31 years as a card-carrying Tory and serving as a one-time family minister, Ms. Jansen praised Ms. Notley on Thursday and said the New Democrat was the heir to former Tory Premier Peter Lougheed's progressive legacy. "To see that legacy being kicked to the curb by extremists who are taking over the PC Party has been heartbreaking to me," she said.

After nearly 44 years in power, the Tories were defeated last May.

Ms. Jansen's move is a sign of increasing polarization in Alberta, according to Duane Bratt, a professor in the department of policy studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary. "It's further evidence that Alberta is moving to a two-party system, not centre-left versus centre-right, but left versus right with nothing in the middle. It's a very stark choice between Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney," he said.

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Mr. Kenney called on Ms. Jansen to resign her seat of Calgary-North West and run in a by-election after she crossed the floor. "Ms. Jansen owes it to her constituents to let them decide whether they should be represented by someone voting for higher taxes as a member of the NDP government," he said in a statement.

Interim PC Leader Ric McIver learned of the floor crossing as he tuned into the news conference where it was announced. He rejected Ms. Jansen's view that the party was moving to the right.

The PC Party's leader will be elected in March at a convention.

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