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A member of the legislature who has been sitting as an Independent since leaving the United Conservatives says he is joining the Alberta Party and is running to be its leader.

"It's time for me to put up or shut up," Rick Fraser told a news conference in Calgary on Tuesday with his family beside him.

"Albertans deserve to have a common-sense alternative. I've had a front-row seat for the increasing polarization of politics in the Alberta legislature," he said.

"It's clear that the government and the official Opposition only want two choices for Albertans, but we know from speaking to Albertans that many don't feel at home in either party."

Fraser joins Calgary lawyer Kara Levis in the leadership race for the party, which contested fewer than half the constituencies in the 2015 provincial election, captured 2.2 per cent of the popular vote and delivered one MLA – its leader Greg Clark – to the house.

Clark stepped down in the fall.

The addition of Fraser means the Alberta Party now has three sitting MLAs. NDP backbencher Karen McPherson crossed the floor last fall to join Clark.

Former Edmonton mayor and Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Stephen Mandel is expected to announce Wednesday that he, too, is entering the race.

The winner is to be announced Feb. 27 after two days of online voting.

Fraser, 45, is a born and raised Calgarian twice elected in the constituency of Calgary South East. He was first elected in 2012, then re-elected in 2015 as a member of the Progressive Conservative party.

Last year, the PCs voted to join with the Wildrose to create the new right-of-centre United Conservative Party under leader Jason Kenney.

Fraser quit during the UCP leadership race last fall to sit as an Independent. He says the UCP and the governing NDP both present ideologically charged extreme positions that don't serve Albertans well.

He has said the United Conservatives focus too much on hard-line fiscal austerity and Premier Rachel Notley's NDP is mismanaging the economy.

In an interview, Fraser said Alberta's carbon tax underlines the divide. The tax levies a fee on home heating and gasoline to pay for a range of green alternatives from solar panels to large transit projects.

Fraser said he doesn't agree with the tax, but suggested the United Conservatives have to do more than just stick to their promise to repeal it.

"I don't agree with the NDP carbon tax in its current form, but we definitely need a plan."

In Edmonton, Clark dismissed suggestions that having Fraser and Mandel in the race suggests the Alberta Party is becoming a de facto home for disaffected former Progressive Conservatives.

Clark noted that McPherson is from the NDP and Levis has worked for the federal Liberals.

"The Alberta party strongly represents the centrist view, and so people who would consider themselves progressive PCs are going to be attracted to the Alberta Party. That's the whole point," said Clark.

The first leadership debate is set for Jan. 24 in Edmonton.

Fraser was a paramedic before he entered politics and before that played in the lower rungs of minor pro hockey.

Former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney says winning a provincial by-election sends a 'clear message' to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. The United Conservative Party leader won 71 per cent of the vote in the Calgary Lougheed riding.

The Canadian Press

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