Alberta party logoThere was an interesting bit of online chatter earlier this week after an article written by provincial affairs reporter Keith Gerein was published in the Edmonton Journal (“Alberta Party drifts out of limelight“).

It is really unfair to say that the Alberta Party ever occupied the limelight. It would probably be more accurate to describe it as having visited the limelight for a few short months.

As a card carrying member of the Alberta Party, I have had mixed feelings about the path the organization has taken over the past year. I joined that party late last year largely because the outstanding group of people it had attracted and the positive energy they beamed with. In November 2010, I delivered the closing remarks to that party’s Policy Meeting and I walked away from the meeting feeling positive about the people involved and the direction that the party was going. Being involved in the Alberta Party did not make me feel bad about politics in our province, which was nice for a change.

I believe that there was real momentum in the Alberta Party a year ago, and that a few factors have helped slow down that momentum.

The election of Naheed Nenshi as Mayor of Calgary was a great move forward for our province’s largest city, but I also suspect that it created an unexpected energy drain on the Alberta Party. Chima Nkemdirim, a driving force behind in Alberta Party, was heavily involved in Mr. Nenshi’s election campaign and soon became the Mayor’s Chief of Staff.

A young, dynamic, well-spoken, and thoughtful individual, Mr. Nkemdirim embodies the future of politics in Alberta. The Alberta Party would have benefited greatly if he had run for the leadership and won, as I suspect he would have. I do not begrudge him for not running. As Mayor Nenshi’s Chief of Staff, he is helping move Calgary forward in a way that he would not be able to as a the leader of a party with only one MLA in the Assembly.

Unfortunately, I believe Mr. Nkemdirim’s choice not to run, and the decision by other leading Alberta Party organizers to sit out the contest, contributed to a vacuum of talent in the leadership contest held in early 2011. All four of the candidates for leader had their own strengths and weaknesses, but none were going to be the next Premier of Alberta. The eventual winner, Town of Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor, entered the role with a hint of opportunity as a well-spoken municipal leader. Since then, he has not been as publicly visible as his party has needed him to be.

Reflecting on another missed opportunity of sorts, I am reminded of a phone conversation I had with Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman in February 2011. A frustrated Ms. Blakeman called me looking for information about how she could join the Alberta Party. I will not disclose any of the details of our conversation that are not already in the public domain (no super secret cabals were involved), but she sounded both fed up with her own party and frustrated with the reception she had recieved when she contacted Alberta Party officials. A few days later she decided to stick with the Liberals, but it was clear that the night she called me she was looking for a political life-boat.

Where does the Alberta Party go from here?

The next provincial election will be a tough slog for the Alberta Party. Expected to run no more than 40 candidates in the next election, it is likely that Mr. Taylor may face a tough fight to convince the television networks to let him join the leaders debate. Whether we like to admit it or not, many Albertans will base their vote on how they perceive the party leaders. Not having a leader in the debates poses an incredible challenge.

I have been told that the party’s board of directors passed a motion last month endorsing a strategy to focus resources on six target constituencies in the next election. I would suggest focusing on 1 to 3 constituencies would be a more reasonable target, but I am not going to argue over this point with a group of optimists.

Michael Walters, Alberta Party candidate Edmonton-Rutherford

Michael Walters, Alberta Party candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford

The Alberta Party does not have ground game province-wide, but areas where they do have ground game is where the party’s candidates have an opportunity to excel. Two ridings that immediately come to mind are Edmonton-Glenora where former school trustee Sue Huff is running, and Edmonton-Rutherford where community organizer Michael Walters has been running for months. Both Ms. Huff and Mr. Walters would be exceptional MLAs and both have the ability to mount strong local campaigns in their constituencies.

Mr. Walters already appears to have a strong ground game in Edmonton-Rutherford after helping community members in the Greenfield neighbourhood organize against the construction of a cell phone tower in a local park. Keeping his community profile in mind, it is not surprising that he attracted more than 100 people to his recent fundraiser.

In the end, the Alberta Party’s biggest advantage may be that expectations for its success are so low that even electing one MLA in next year’s provincial election would be a seen as a major win for the party. With polls suggesting the Tories could be steamrolling towards another huge majority government, lowering expectations might not be a bad strategy for all of Alberta’s opposition parties.