what’s next for raj sherman and the alberta liberals?

MLA Raj Sherman's victory speech at Alberta Liberal leadership event September 10, 2011.

Newly elected Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman gives his victory speech with his wife Sharon standing to the right. Leadership co-chair Josipa Petrunic and candidates Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald, and Bruce Payne stand to the left (Bill Harvey did not join the other candidates on stage).

What kind of leader will Raj Sherman be?
This is a tough question to answer. As Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson somewhat dramatically described yesterday:

Sherman – energetic, intelligent, charismatic – could prove to be a political white knight riding to the Liberals’ rescue. Or Sherman – inexperienced, mercurial, impetuous – could yet prove to be one of the horsemen of the apocalypse.

Simply put, Dr. Sherman is a mixed-bag. (Don Braid, David Climenhaga, and Maurice Tougas have all penned opinions on what Dr. Sherman’s acendency to the leadership might mean for Alberta’s Official Opposition party).

The Caucus
Former Tory MLA Dr. Sherman will walk into his new office as the Leader of the Official Opposition this week surrounded by an eight MLA Liberal caucus, which has had a tense relationship with its leaders since the 2008 general election. The caucus includes two of his leadership competitors (Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman and Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald) and two of the party’s former leaders (Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann and Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft). Of the group of eight, two (Dr. Taft and Calgary-Varsity MLA Harry Chase) are planning to retire at the next election.

The Big Four
It is my experience that the Chief of Staff, Caucus Communications Director, Party President, and Party Executive Director are four key positions that a Liberal party leader needs support from in order to successfully command the leadership of the party. Two of these positions are about to be vacated.

As noted in a recently Globe & Mail article, Erick Ambtman has resigned as President. Corey Hogan, executive director since 2009, has announced his plans to move on to future challenges. Chief of Staff Rick Miller, a former MLA and nominated candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford, may want to focus his energies on his election campaign. In his short time in the job, Communications Director Brian Leadbetter has proven to be an effective communication manager in a position that has turned into a rotating door over the past few years.

The Liberals need a ground game
While only around a paltry 8,600 out of almost 27,000 eligible voters actually participated in the leadership vote, the party is still left with a vast list of almost 30,000 potential volunteers, sign locations, and voters to help them in the next provincial election. One of the areas that Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Payne stressed during the leadership campaign was the need for the Liberals to build their strength on the ground.

Currently, the Liberals do not have functional organizations in most constituencies across the province, including in constituencies that they held up until the 2008 election. The lack of local organization and funds will pose a challenge in finding credible candidates to run in an expected fall 2011 or spring 2012 general election.

Mending fences
A significant number of the party’s staunch loyalists supported Mr. MacDonald’s candidacy and his criticisms of the open voting leadership process. Many of these Liberals were furious at former leader Dr. Swann’s attempts to cooperate with other opposition parties in response to his party’s shrinking political fortunes. Dr. Sherman will need to mend fences with this sometimes unreasonable group of stalwarts while cementing his own activists into the party ranks.

It will also be interesting to see if right-wing leadership candidate Bill Harvey remains in the Liberal Party (it is suspected that he may join the Wildrose Party). The two-time candidate, who was supported by right-wing agitator Craig Chandler, earned 7% of the vote in this contest.

Of interesting note, party Vice-President (Policy) Debbie Cavaliere challenged Dr. Sherman for the PC nomination in 2007 and later ran as the Liberal candidate against him in the 2008 general election.

Other Parties
The Progressive Conservatives will be voting for the first ballot in their leadership contest on September 17. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, then a second ballot with the top three candidates will be held on October 1. The victor of that leadership contest will determine the tone and calendar of the next provincial election, which many political watchers are expecting to be held later this fall or early next spring.

Since 2010, the Wildrose Party led by Danielle Smith have moved into second place in the polls, with the NDP led by Brian Mason are competing with the Liberals for third place. The question is whether Dr. Sherman’s star power can write the Liberals back into the political narrative they have been largely absent from over the past two years.

There is also the question of what effect Dr. Sherman’s victory will have on the new Alberta Party, which continues to organize, but has dropped to a lower-profile since Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor was chosen as its leader earlier this year.

6 thoughts on “what’s next for raj sherman and the alberta liberals?

  1. Matt Grant

    Just because the topic was raised, I wanted to note that I will be serving as Acting President until such time as an AGM is called and we can fill that role. I’m happy to help, and thrilled to have the opportunity to assist Dr. Sherman in getting election-ready. Erick’s are big shoes to fill, but the spot isn’t vacant. And, incidentally, the Executive is meeting tomorrow to continue moving forward now that we have a new Leader.

    Matt Grant
    Acting President & VP Communications
    Alberta Liberal Party

    Reply
  2. Jason

    On the Alberta Party’s low profile, I noticed that there was a national news story on the CBC last week noting the 40-year reign of the PCs in this province, and commenting on the strange political fortunes of the political parties here.

    The Alberta Party did not rate a single mention.

    Reply
  3. Bob Borreson

    Conventions should be pleasant social occasions that leave a sense of unity and optimism. Email and telephone voting reduces attendance at conventions, however you would think that each Liberal held riding could have turned out 100 members to attend the final result celebration. Vast echoing empty bleachers in a cement hall do not inspire enthusiasm and new blood. Better to use a 500 person hall and cram it full then rent a cavernous cement room and “fill” it with 100 to 150 people,which included media and a few observers. The messages could not be heard properly due to the sound system and there was no enthusiasm, no musical entertainment, no coffee. This was more like a wake than a convention.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Your (provincial) viral update: The (almost) all about Alberta edition | iPolitics

  5. Neal

    The Alberta Party picked the wrong leader. Glenn Taylor is almost the exact opposite of Sue Huff, who had generated a fair amount of buzz for such a small party. Taylor is a blow hard who comes off as incredibly insincere. I have no idea why the party broke so heavily towards such a typical career politician. His buzzword filled campaign made me want to retch and after he won I began to ignore any/all communication from that group. It would seem the media and the public have a similar assessment of the AB Party’s current situation.

    Reply

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