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Dave Taylor David Swann Ed Stelmach Hugh MacDonald Kevin Taft

david swann meets ed stelmach, and faces challenges from inside the liberal caucus.

Liberal Opposition leader David Swann and PC Premier Ed Stelmach met yesterday to discuss niceties and the upcoming provincial budget. This is a positive step for both party leaders, and I hope that for Albertans sake, some semblance of civility can be preserved between the two men.

Swann’s challenge will be to balance the ‘spirit of cooperation’ while actually providing an effective opposition to the governing PCs in the Legislature (and this is probably as difficult as it sounds). It remains to be seen if the toxically partisan environment in the Legislative Assembly will allow any civility between the two party leaders to survive when the Legislature begins sitting in February. Up until the Fall 2008 Session of the Legislature, the tension between Stelmach and former Liberal leader Kevin Taft had gotten so heated that Stelmach would frequently accuse Taft of being a Red Menace.

He must also be weary of not taking a route too close to the one taken by former Liberal leader Ken Nicol. When replacing defeated leader Nancy MacBeth in 2001, then-Lethbridge-East MLA Nicol’s quiet and polite tone made it easy for the Klein PCs to railroad over the Legislative opposition and the Raj Pannu-led NDP to garner much of the media attention, leaving the newly reduced Liberal caucus (7 MLAs elected in 2001, down from 18 in 1997) in their weakest position in over a decade.

While striking a conciliatory tone with Premier Stelmach may be a productive start, Swann is likely aware of the challenges he faces within his caucus.

Managing Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald and Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor are likely going to be key challenges in keeping the rag-tag caucus together. MacDonald, who appears to have become almost obsessed with unearthing PC scandals, has fine-tuned the exercise of crying wolf, diluting the opposition Liberals’ position on many issues. As Swann’s former leadership challenger, Taylor holds some forceful opinions on the direction of the opposition and the Liberal Party which clash with some of Swann’s ideas (not that I believe a different name will solve the Liberal Party’s organizational and psychological problems, but more on that later).

If Swann is to lead an effective opposition in the Legislature, his caucus will need to reign in wild card Hugh MacDonald, while managing Dave Taylor’s recently bruised ego.

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