Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel recently announced his bid for the leadership of the Alberta Party, a growing force in Alberta politics that bills itself as a centrist party that’s to the left of the United Conservative Party and to the right of the NDP.
Speaking about why he joined the party, Mandel – who served as mayor from 2004 to 2013, followed by a brief stint as a Progressive Conservative cabinet minister – said that it “represents the best of both worlds: fiscally responsible and socially progressive. We believe in entrepreneurship, which I’m passionate about, and want to take a proactive and balanced approach to governance.”
Mandel, who was still very popular when he left municipal politics, grew up in a Jewish household.
“My Grandfather was Orthodox,” he told The CJN, “and my mother was Reform, so we went back and forth between the two shuls.”
He remains a “two-shul” man to this day, hoping to combine conservative and progressive elements in a centrist platform that transcends dogma.
Mandel, who’s currently a member of Beth Ora Reform Synagogue in Edmonton, has also served as the president of the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Centre in Edmonton, and been an active volunteer in the Jewish community.
Asked if Jewish values inform his politics, Mandel said that, “The values of my mother impact my politics. My mother was a broad-thinking woman who taught us the values of equality and the importance of community. I imagine she got her values from her religious father and that they flow from Yiddishkeit (Jewish culture). My mother wasn’t that religious, but she was a staunch Zionist.”
Mandel said that if he is elected leader of the Alberta Party, he will focus on “fiscal responsibility and efficiency within the context of delivering on essential services like education and health care; creating jobs and diversifying the economy. In the past, people have talked about diversification, but never do anything about it. We need to expand into new approaches in agriculture, energy, technology, artificial intelligence, a bunch of things.”
The Alberta Party is billing itself as a “pragmatic,” non-ideological party. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any principles, according to Mandel.
“Equality, diversification and integrated government are important principles. Alberta has become very diverse, with ethnic communities growing exponentially. We need to make sure there is opportunity for all people, a province where everyone can live in harmony, where everyone can come, whatever your views, as long as you respect other people, you can come here to build a better future,” he said.
Mandel’s campaign has also actively been trying to reach out to millennials.
“Our campaign is based on the idea of the Alberta of tomorrow, and I am concerned about how we engage our millennials and encourage them to get involved and bring their ideas to the campaign. It’s not important for me to dictate to them, but to listen to them and see what issues they think are important. They are a passionate generation who really care about the integrity of the political system,” he said.
Mandel has made waves by embracing carbon taxes, though he has taken issue with the way the government has implemented the tax. “We’re very strong supporters of a low-carbon world,” he said. “In my vision of a carbon tax, the money would go into efforts to create low-carbon products and other environmental products, not into government coffers. Its primary function shouldn’t be about redistribution of wealth. It’s about lowering carbon.”
When it comes to issues that concern Alberta’s Jewish community, Mandel said that, “In Alberta, the Jewish community is quite concerned about children, about a diversified and innovative future. By opening up the opportunities for business and developing a more egalitarian community, we can address the concerns of the Jewish community, who care about a robust economy and a society where everyone, Jewish and non-Jewish, is protected.”
In December, anti-Semitic letters were sent to more than a dozen North American synagogues, including the Edmonton shul that Mandel is a member of.
“This is something we need to deal with severely,” he said about the letters. “Anti-Semitism is something that if it is not stopped, can grow exponentially. We have to work with our friends in the Muslim and Christian communities, we have to stand together. We have a great history of equality and inter-communal co-operation the last 50 years in Canada. We’re all in this together.”
On Feb. 27, party members will decide between Stephen Mandel, Calgary lawyer Kara Levis and Calgary MLA Rick Fraser.