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opinion

Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel, speaks to the crowd in Edmonton, Alta. on Feb. 27, 2018.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

You don’t often find political leaders answering questions with unflinching, unfiltered honesty. Today they have been trained to say as little as possible, as mundanely as possible.

But once in a while, someone comes along who defies convention. Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel did just that this past weekend when he was asked by reporters to give his appraisal of the province’s economic future without the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

“We’re screwed,” he said.

While I’m not sure the situation is quite that dire, Mr. Mandel’s no-frills bluntness will be applauded in a province that appreciates straight talk. Making those types of provocative statements is easier when you’re the leader of a three-seat political party, and not Premier. But right now, the only thing Mr. Mandel should be worried about is building his political brand and establishing a persona that is unique and inviting.

Truthsayer wouldn’t be a bad one.

The Alberta Party has been around for a few decades now, and survived various incarnations. It’s currently trying to forge an identity as a home for centrists, people who are fiscally pragmatic (even conservative) and socially progressive. Mr. Mandel became leader earlier this year after previous stints as a cabinet minister in the Progressive Conservative government of Jim Prentice, and before that as a very popular mayor in Edmonton.

Mr. Mandel and his party held a convention last weekend, in which they debated a number of resolutions centered around health care, education and fiscal stewardship, among other areas. The leader says the party is working on its election platform, one he promised would provide a distinctive choice between the New Democrats on the left and the United Conservative Party (UCP) on the right.

He’s promised to keep the carbon tax, but remove it from heating bills for homes and businesses. The idea of getting rid of the tax – as the UCP has promised – when the province is drowning in debt makes no sense, Mr. Mandel said. That money is used to help fund programs and green energy initiatives which he believes should continue to be supported.

If you are a devotee of polls, then the next election is already over, and Premier Rachel Notley and her troops are heading toward annihilation. Such is the anger that has been apparently stirred by the lack of a new pipeline (despite the Premier’s best efforts) and a carbon tax that has been a lightning rod for dissent in the province generally. (And mercilessly exploited by UCP leader Jason Kenney).

But the UCP has recently experienced some bumpy weeks, with a few prospective party candidates having to step aside over public associations with extremist organizations such as the Soldiers of Odin. Mr. Kenney was quick to part ways with these would-be candidates, but the publicity the incidents generated has not been good. It has brought to mind the bozo-eruptions that quickly sank Wildrose’s election hopes in 2012.

The Alberta Party is hoping that voters angry at the NDP, but also concerned about extremist elements infiltrating the UCP, might find it an attractive alternative. The fact is, the Alberta Party is inhabited by people who once supported the now-defunct Progressive Conservative party, but found the UCP (born of a merger between the PCs and Wildrose) a little too right-wing for their tastes.

We’re still seven months away from an election in Alberta. A lot could happen between now and then. If the UCP continues to experience bozo-eruptions of its own, who knows. You could get a repeat of 2012, when people hated the Tory government of Alison Redford, but in the end held their noses and voted for it anyway because of concerns about the moral character of those running for Wildrose.

Mr. Mandel has had difficulty being heard amid the din of recriminations and counter-recriminations lobbed daily between the UCP and the NDP. (He’s also without a seat in the legislature, which isn’t great). During the election campaign, the enmity between the two parties will be taken to another level.

Perhaps someone who is prepared to speak to Albertans honestly about the situation in which they find themselves will discover a receptive audience. That includes a real conversation about what needs to be done to allow the province to dig itself out of the massive financial hole the oil crash has created.

Saying the province is “screwed” may be refreshingly honest, but a blueprint for recovery it is not.