Around 100 progressive activists from across Alberta gathered in Edmonton this weekend for the Reboot Alberta 3.0 conference. This is the third Reboot Alberta conference that has been held since fall 2009. I attended the first Reboot Alberta conference in Red Deer, but missed this weekend’s gathering in favour of enjoying a weekend in the mountains. Along with networking and idea sharing opportunities, I am told that representatives of the Liberal Party, the new Alberta Party, and the Democratic Renewal Project were given an opportunity to present their vision for a more progressive Alberta.
Liberal leader David Swann asked for the support of Reboot participants and provided his party’s letter to other parties as evidence of his desire for cross-partisan cooperation. Although I believe that Dr. Swann’s plea was sincere, his party is not completely in step with their leader.
After the letter ad was published in the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald, Liberal Party President Tony Sansotta resigned. On cooperation with Reboot, only a short eight months ago, Edmonton-Gold Bar Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald criticized the group as being “elitist” and dismissed the group by quipping that “It’s renew, Reboot and then recycle.”
There are some interesting growth prospects for the new Alberta Party. As a coalition of former Progressive Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats, Greens, and Independents from rural, urban, and suburban Alberta, it has a diverse core of politically engaged supporters to grow from. This party is also lucky to be starting with a blank slate, which will start to be filled at their policy convention this weekend in Red Deer. The Alberta Party will also choose an interim leader this weekend and begin a leadership contest process soon after that.
Critics have been quick to jump all over the Alberta Party for its focus on policy construction and organization building through the Big Listens, but unlike the already established parties, the tone and process are critically important in the early stages of political organizing. Its growth over the next six to twelve months will likely determine whether this party has the potential to reach to survive into the next election.
Blogger’s Update: I have been informed that the very talented Troy Wason also attended Reboot 3.0 and spoke to the participants as an active rank and file member of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta. I was glad to learn that he was there representing his party. I could not think of a better ambassador to this kind of event than Mr. Wason.
I know a lot of people who get frustrated at the idea of vote splitting and the idea that there needs to be less political parties competing in this province. The challenge for opposition parties is not the number of them, but their effectiveness. As Peter Lougheed proved in the 1967 and 1971 elections, a crowded field of opposition parties can clear out pretty quickly when you work hard to provide Albertans with a competent choice on their ballots.
Where are the NDP?
In Red Deer this weekend, members of Alberta’s New Democratic Party gathered for their annual convention, branded as “Seize the Day.” The convention delegates heard from leader Brian Mason about his hope to take advantage of vote-splitting between the PCs and the Wildrose Alliance in the next election. A conservative vote split could help the NDP in a handful of constituencies in central Edmonton, but without a significant voter-base elsewhere, significant gains will be harder to achieve.
I have to admit it, while they constantly provide some of the most vocal opposition to the PCs on the Assembly floor, I have never fully understood the Alberta NDP as a party.
The “seize the day” theme reminded me of when I covered the 2009 NDP convention for SEE Magazine. While there I asked a number of delegates why they were in Edmonton and not in Calgary helping their candidate in the final weekend of the by-election in Calgary-Glenmore. The response I heard most went along the lines of “I’m sure that there are some people helping out. Maybe we’ll get a win this time.”
The by-election was won by Wildrose candidate Paul Hinman in a close race with Liberal candidate Avalon Roberts. At the end of the night, Mr. Hinman was elected by 278 votes over Dr. Roberts. NDP candidate Eric Carpendale barely registered on the electoral radar with 1.3% of the vote. The results of this by-election (and the selection of Danielle Smith as their leader soon afterward) helped rocket the Wildrose Alliance from the conservative fringe to Official Opposition-in-waiting.
No one expected the NDP to win or even be a contender in that by-election, but to this day I still cannot understand what a party that has not elected an MLA outside of Edmonton since 1989 felt it had to lose by taking an opportunity to try and grow its support in Calgary. Instead of being passive observers, those three hundred conference delegates in Edmonton could have made a big difference for their candidate in that last weekend. Given how close the results were, if they had put in an effort maybe the NDP could have helped shape a different result for that by-election.
Just think how different Alberta politics could be today.