the alberta party: what now?

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.

29 thoughts on “the alberta party: what now?

  1. Idealistic Pragmatist

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention the election of Premier Allison Redford as a challenge. It certainly is my observation from afar that a lot of centrist voters who might otherwise have found a natural constituency in the AP are now giving the PCs another look.

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  2. Pat

    The hype of the Alberta Party has faded completely into the background of Alberta politics. Facebook used to be full of discussion and information on the party but that has dried up completely. I don’t hold out much hope for any of the Alberta Party candidates to get elected whether they are stellar MLA material or not. I doubt if Taylor will get even close in West Yellowhead.

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  3. jerrymacgp

    I think the Alberta Party is a waste of energy. It dissipates the progressive (or at least non-conservative) side of the political spectrum. The people who joined this once-ultra-conservatie party & totally changed its focus should fold up their tents and join one of the more established non-conservative parties, and bring their energies & enthusiasm for change with them. AS to which party, the best solutions is for Liberal members & supporters to quietly hold their noses & vote NDP, at least until we can toss the Tories out & put in a government committed to electoral reform. Once the outcome of elections truly reflects the will of the people, they can rejoin the Liberals if they want.

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  4. John Moore

    Nothing’s more of a waste of energy than the Wildrose. At least three of their MLA’s are in serious trouble in their own ridings for one.

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  5. Jason

    Well said, Dave. I think part of the problem is that by choosing to define itself as moderate, that is defining itself in relation to the other parties, the Alberta Party has failed to gain any natural constituency.

    Take the Green Party. If you are a person for whom environment and sustainability are very important, you are in their natural constituency. The Green Party believes in environmentalism. If you do, too, you might vote for them on that basis.

    There is no natural constituency for moderateness for the same reason that there is no movement of evangelical agnostics. In a proportional or consensus-style election system, moderation can win. In a first-past-the-post system, it can’t.

    And when the novelty of being a new party wore off, the party was going to NEED a natural constituency to sustain the long-term growth that it needs to get where it wants to be.

    One of the biggest proponents of moderation in the party over the last couple of years has been Chima. So while I agree he would have been a more interesting and visible leader than Taylor has turned out to be, I’m not sure it would have been enough.

    What I would have preferred to see is the party stake out a position on something that a significant number of people care about more than they care about the relative size of government, which has become the primary axis on which left-right is understood.

    As it is, the party doesn’t really stand for anything, which is why many people in it are not so much standing behind it, as standing up to the other parties.

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  6. Neal

    I tossed out my membership card when Taylor won the leadership. It was very clear that he was “all hat and no cattle”, to use the same kind of cheesy cliche which Glenn used so often during his campaign.

    Right after he won it became doubly clear that he had no intention of stepping down as Mayor, so he’s busy with that and the party has a leader-in-absentia.

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  7. Brandon

    I agree Dave that the party has never really been in the limelight. Given that ‘the limelight’ seems to be synonymous for ‘media coverage’, I’d say that we had ONE day in the limelight, and that day was when Dave Taylor joined the party. When Stelmach announced the very next day that he was stepping down, the media had other stories to cover, but we kept working on the ground, and we still are–that hasn’t changed. (Though I suppose we did get another brief mention when Glenn Taylor was elected as leader)

    I find it very strange that you say one of the main reasons the party hasn’t succeeded is that Nkemdirim didn’t run for and win the leadership; I don’t think his running was ever really very likely and it’s a mistake to think that a leader can make that much difference, as important as a leader is. Building things on the ground and from the ground up is more important for initial success. Certainly the fact that he’s been busy working in Nenshi’s office has meant he has less time for the Alberta Party, but I know he still devotes a lot of his time to the party and he is integral to our election readiness and strategy.

    You say that Glenn Taylor hasn’t been as visible “as the party needed him to be”, but without a seat in the legislature, and without the bundles of cash that people like Smith and the Wildrose have, it just is not possible, and it makes more sense for him to concentrate on building his campaign in West Yellowhead, and focusing on province-wide matters once the writ drops.

    As for the election leaders’ debate, we have one MLA, and tradition dictates that all parties with sitting MLAs get a spot. I would hope that tradition would continue.

    The story with Laurie Blakeman has been talked about and talked about again (she seems to enjoy bringing it up), but I am told that she wasn’t willing to comply by our floor-crossing procedure, which involves consultation and involvement of the constituency associations of both the MLA’s current party and the Alberta Party. I don’t know what else went on, but given that Dave Taylor successfully joined us, and we were actively looking for floor-crossers who embodied our party’s values, if she had really wanted to join us, and had agreed to our process, she would be an Alberta Party MLA right now.

    Idealistic Pragmatist is right to say that one of the real issues is Alison Redford. Being the centrist that she is, and having co-opted quite a bit of our messaging, her leadership is proving a challenge to us. But it is one we think can be overcome, as whatever her good points, she is nonetheless a leader of a 40-year old entitled government who can hardly claim to be agents of change. I think her record so far as premier shows that not much has changed, however different the packaging may be.

    Finally, Jason: I’d say the party DOES stand for something, and that’s listening to Albertans instead of telling them what’s good for them. I think that despite being vital to our party’s DNA that’s a message that can sometimes get lost. I agree that saying we are ‘moderate’ or ‘centrist’ is not what we should be doing; those words really don’t carry much weight, and as you say are defined in opposition to something. I’d much rather say that we are pragmatic, or solution-oriented; focus on the idea that we want to transcend left-right squabbles and focus on what’s best for Alberta by taking our direction from Albertan’s values and desires.

    What now for the Alberta Party? We will keep building our organisation on the ground (which continues to grow), keep recruiting candidates, and give it all we’ve got when the writ drops. We have a very good shot in several ridings in the province, including the two Dave mentioned. I think people will be surprised on Election day.

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  8. Democratic spring

    Dave c , the DNA of this party, that being the people represent something of a force of democratic renewal. Its too bad the AP lacks wisdom. Their lackluster appeal did not grow the party, but only serves to split votes and favor the tories. There is superior wisdom in realizing that the ALP has a new leader, president and more new faces. Another election is looming and AP insiders can squander another election vote splitting to help the tories or actually lance up get truly battle ready, join with the liberals and form a strong centrist block to take on the tories. There is a place for growth, compromise, new ideas and new energy. Democracy is a consensus of ideas and right now the best place for democratic renewal before the election is a strong Liberal Party. Dave the thought has crossed your mind many times. The time for political neutrality has ended it is time for you and like minded ones to return to the new ALP and fold the AP tent experiment. Democracy asks you to seriously consider it. There is 4 mos left.

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  9. Mark Horejsi

    After attending the Alberta Party leadership convention, I was impressed by enthusiasm and talent that a lot of the people there displayed. I have been disappointed by some of the decisions that had been made since then, but I remain impressed by some of the candidates the party has attracted, especially Sue Huff. I think the most important thing the party can do is continue to build the constituency associations and try and get a few candidates elected. I hope to be surprised on election day, but I don’t know if that will happen.

    Ultimately I don’t believe, and never believed, that the Alberta Party was a short-term project. I think the traditional opposition parties have exhausted their energy and have had their chances, and that at least one will fade. I do not know the fate of Wildrose, but should they fail to unseat the Conservatives in the next election, I wonder if some of the people who support them for the reason of changing government could start to look elsewhere. I continue to think there is room for the Alberta Party approach and message in Alberta.

    Premier Redford has done an excellent job of convincing some that she stands for change, while leading a party that exists for no reason other than to exercise power. After her election, I can’t help but suspect that we will have another 4-8 years of PC government. My hope is that the Alberta Party can organize and grow, and that a certain popular Mayor will let himself be drafted into provincial politics at a time when Albertans start thinking about what kind of change the province really needs.

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  10. Jason

    I don’t think “listening” is a normative stance. To the degree it is, it is populist, which is to say the party wants to do whatever Albertans want, which begs the question “which Albertans?” The answer is either all, or people who believe in X. There is still no X, and “all” still doesn’t get you a natural constituency.

    If the AB party wants to do politics differently, it could have a real democratic reform agenda. It doesn’t. It could also organize itself differently. It doesn’t. But it listens, so that’s something.

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  11. Stella

    Thanks for your very thoughtful post Dave. It is one of the most balanced I have ever seen about our party. You make some excellent points as do some of your commenters.

    The Alberta party did not actively seek the limelight, but we were positioned there for a while, in part thanks to the generous press we received. While the high profile surface momentum may have slacked off, the behind the scenes on-the-ground hard work of building the foundations for a new model of political option continues.

    Chima is already a leader in this province, and he will remain a leader in whatever role he chooses to take. In our province, it is expected that a political party should have a ‘rock-star’ leader. In the Alberta Party, we believe that leaders lead from all levels of their communities . Look at all our candidates for examples of that. Our leaders and volunteers contribute 1000s of hours to our party for no remuneration, and we all know how much money plays a role in the political system in our province.

    As for Ms Blakeman’s version of her interactions with the Alberta Party, all I will say is that the Alberta Party board of directors spent many hours and emails developing the guidelines for what we want and expect for Alberta Party MLAs as well as a process for MLAs who wished to join our party. They have been posted on our website since last December http://www.albertaparty.ca/our-policies-2/mla-guidelines/

    Idealistic Pragmastic – yes, the election of Allison Redford to the leadership of the PC party is a challenge as much of her platform was already in our policy. But it remains to be seen if her promises will be delivered fully or only partially – as in not quite fixed election dates, not very public health care inquiry and no open debate and consultation on new legislation, just closure. I think those who counted on her to bring “change” stand to be pretty disappointed, and that’s too bad. But we will continue to put forward policy that comes from Albertans, and hope to see it fully and openly debated and implemented.

    Jason –“ There is no natural constituency for moderateness …In a proportional or consensus-style election system, moderation can win. In a first-past-the-post system, it can’t.”
    Your comment above I think points out one of the real problems in our governance systems. We are still trying to operate under a confrontational system that was developed 100s of years ago for wealthy, white, male property owners. The realities of our society have changed, (do you know that women can vote now?) and our political systems haven’t kept up. How ever, this is the system we have to work within, and part of the Alberta Party’s vision is to encourage the moderates to get engaged in collaborative decision making and most of all to get involved. That certainly describes our Alberta party members.

    We do stand for something. We stand for giving Albertans a platform where they can participate in policy development and decision making, for servant leadership where constituents come first, for a renewal of our democratic process and for reinforcing the meaning of words like transparent, accountable, collaboration, and honest.

    And Mark, you are right. This is not a short-term project. The kind of real change that the Alberta Party is working towards will not happen in just 2 years or maybe even in 10 but it will happen, because of exactly what you mention – the fact that the traditional parties and their systems are exhausted and outdated, and unwilling to move into the future.

    Thanks Dave

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  12. Midge

    OMG I just realized that the above post went out from an email address that is used in another capacity. The thoughts are mine, not Stella’s. Thanks

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  13. Let's get serious

    We can pretend that we are going to target six ridings, but with the best polls putting the party at 3% (and even that assumes we run candidates across the province) we are not going to elect anyone.

    My riding has a perfectly good NDP candidate who is working very hard who I will likely support on election day. Given the recent success of the Federal NDP, along with the bump the Alberta NDP have seen in recent polls, they are the most likely to provide some spirited opposition to our tired government.

    I’m not inclined to spend much more time on an organization that’s not going anywhere except to the International Convention of Bath Water Drinkers.

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  14. Casual Observer

    @Let’s get serious

    That would be the same federal NDP that are back to polling in 3rd place and the same provincial NDP that will be lucky to elect a 3rd MLA?

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  15. Peter Oliver

    In response to Dave’s suggestion that the Nenshi campaign was a drain to the Alberta Party, it’s worth pointing out that while there may have been a temporary drain during the muni election, the Nenshi campaign brought swarms of newly engaged Calgarians to the Alberta Party in the aftermath. Most of these volunteers are still with the party today working hard – over a year later.

    The idea posted in the comments above that many of the Alberta Party supporters would shift to the NDP or Liberals – two parties that have a long provincial track record of ineffective opposition and obscurity – is laughable. It would also be naive to assume that Alberta Party supporters are ready to get behind a left wing party.

    I believe the Wild Rose party enjoys a lot of support in part thanks to a perception, real or unreal, that it is the only vehicle for change (of gov) in Alberta. I wonder then what might happen to this support if they fail to do so in the upcoming election. Where might those same voters park their votes next time? The Alberta Party could be it.

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  16. Mark Horejsi

    As for the idea that the traditional opposition parties might actually gain some traction in the next election, here’s what I think.

    “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

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  17. Let's get serious

    @casual observer

    I’m not sure what federal polls have anything to do with the Alberta Party, but the Abacus poll is the most recent and in line with every other recent poll. The poll you quote is a likely outlier.

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  18. Fran Irwin, Medicine Hat

    Fascinating, Dave, and very interesting for political addicts. In SE Alberta the only “interest” shown the Alberta Party were from NDP voters who traditionally work for and vote Liberal, but who do so in the background because of the close ties of the Provincial and Federal NDP. They are mostly the pragmatic NDP – not the die hards that would rather feel self-righteous and “Right” than seek any political power and actually implement policy.
    Dave – what has happened to the old “PC Lougheed” folks tht helped form the party – King and Chapman among others? Are they still pushing the Reform Mantra of “family values” and “grassroot” political activism? How about the handful of ALP folks who rallied to the Alberta Party after they were unsucessful under Kevin Taft’s last election?
    I welcome political discussion, but to assume that the Alberta Party is the ONLY provincial party that is pragmatic and policy driven is simply NOT then reality.
    Part of pragmatism, however, is to realistically judge your options, else you run the risk of sinking into the NDP mind-set of wanting to be right but never attaining any power to implement your righteousness.
    A list of the 40 constituencies where the Alberta Party feels they will be on the ballot would be fascinating.

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  19. Sue Huff

    Hmmm! Interesting! A lot of comments for a party that some feel is irrelevant. I see this election as the “foot-in-the-door” moment. If we can get a seat or two (or more) then the real work begins of “walking the talk” and demonstrating how politics can be done differently. Although, to be fair, I think we’ve already seen one example: Alberta Party MLA Dave Taylor’s private member bill just passed second reading. I’m not sure when THAT last happened, but I think it’s pretty rare. Why was our lone MLA able to get support when other opposition parties have failed? Possibly because he did a good deal of consultation with municipal leaders across the province, gathered input and gained support. He also approached other MLAs with his bill, listened and gathered more support. He wasn’t out to make the PCs look bad, he was aiming to improve the lives of Albertans. I think politics can be done differently and I think the Alberta Party will show the way. Of course, I’m biased!

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  20. The Invisible Hand

    Brandon: As for the election leaders’ debate, we have one MLA, and tradition dictates that all parties with sitting MLAs get a spot. I would hope that tradition would continue.

    Not really. In the 2004 election, the Alberta Alliance had one MLA (like Taylor, a floor-crosser), but they weren’t allowed in the debate.

    My suggested rule for which parties get into federal/provincial debates is as follows:

    1) The party is running candidates in every single riding.
    ** OR **
    2) The party has at least one sitting MLA who was elected as a member of that party (i.e. floor-crossers don’t count).

    Reply
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