is there any life left in the [alberta] party?

Sue Huff Dave Taylor Alberta Party

The Alberta Party's former Acting-Leader Sue Huff and MLA Dave Taylor on January 2011.

The only person to sit as an Alberta Party MLA in the Legislative Assembly, former Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor, published some thoughts on his website about the future of that party. Having decided to retire at the last election after two terms as a Liberal, Independent, and finally an Alberta Party MLA, Mr. Taylor is now suggesting his most recent party may want to rethink its existence as a partisan organization.

Mr. Taylor’s decision to criticize the Alberta Party as he leaves the political arena is not uncharacteristic and perhaps should have been expected. Not long after losing the Liberal Party leadership to MLA David Swann in 2008, Mr. Taylor burned many bridges by offering a brutal public critique of his opponent before leaving to sit as an Independent MLA.

Only two years after its reorganization as a new party, the Alberta Party did not do as well as many of its supporters and candidates had hoped it would in the recent election. This election gave that party its first opportunity to develop an electoral base of support, and though it resulted in a small base in a handful of constituencies, it is a critical long-term strategy for any political organization. Unlike the other parties, the stakes were low for the Alberta Party in 2012 because it had almost nothing to lose.

As a member of the Alberta Party and speaker at its founding policy convention, I feel the need to offer some thoughts on this topic.

I do not disagree with all of Mr. Taylor’s comments. Six months ago I expressed mixed-feelings about the direction that party was taking and reflected on some of its missed opportunities. In hindsight, it may be unlikely that party would have been able to take advantage of the opportunities for political gains that were presented.

The focus on the “Big Listen” process gave that party an opportunity to demonstrate what it was doing differently than the other parties, but it did not successfully articulate to the general public why this made them an alternative to the long-governing Tories. By simply defining itself as a moderate party, the Alberta Party deprived itself of any natural electoral base and positioned itself in an already highly competitive area on the political spectrum. Their message became even more difficult to articulate once the media narrative dominated by the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose Party was solidified.

I question Mr. Taylor’s suggestion that the PCs now embody what the Alberta Party stands for. Premier Alison Redford has certainly brought a new positive tone to her party’s leadership, but it is yet to be seen whether this “change from within” can be sustained for any substantial period of time within Alberta’s 41-year old institutional governing party.

With the PCs once again dominating the political centre, and the now former official opposition Liberals nearly decimated, should the Alberta Party, as Mr. Taylor suggests, take on a new role of a think-tank? Should it merge with another political party, like the Liberals? Or should it spend the next four years trying to position itself as an alternative for pragmatic centrists?

22 thoughts on “is there any life left in the [alberta] party?

  1. Anonymous Liberal Insider

    Liberals weren’t decimated. They re-elected all their incumbents.

    If you were expecting the Liberals to form government you probably were not paying attention this election. Probably.

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  2. daveberta Post author

    Anonymous Liberal Insider: The Liberals dropped from 8 MLAs to 5, from official opposition to third party status for the first time in 19 years, and from 26% of the vote to 9% of the vote. Their strength was drastically reduced. There is little question that they were decimated in the election held on April 23, 2012.

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  3. The Invisible Hand

    Originally, “decimated” meant to kill 10% of a population or group. By that definition, the Liberals were worse than decimated.

    (If Roman soldiers rebelled, they were divided into groups of ten, one man in each group was selected at random, and the other nine were forced to kill him. Which is a bit like some modern party leadership races, now that I think about it… 🙂

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  4. Neal

    Alberta Party members should work towards forming a new centre-left alternative party which is a merger between themselves, the Liberals and the NDP. We now have the far right in the Wild Rose party, the centre-right in Redford’s PCs, and the usual fragmentation amongst true progressives.

    A single, strong, and united progressive party would form a legitimate threat to win government, even here in Alberta. Just look at the combined #s. Heck, even if you hack off 5 or 10%, the combined numbers still lead to far more seats.

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  5. CalgaryGrit

    Taylor’s basic premise is correct – there’s no raison d’etre for a party unless it can differentiate itself from the field.

    With Redford’s (perceived) shift left, there’s not a lot of real estate left where the Liberals, ABP, and NDP sit. Something’s gotta give or all three parties will grow more and more irrelevant.

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  6. Martin Levenson

    “… but it is yet to be seen whether this “change from within” can be sustained for any substantial period of time within Alberta’s 41-year old institutional governing party.”

    Uh, Dave?…”change from within” is exactly why the PC’s have BECOME an “institutional governing party”: when change was really needed, they changed. That’s why Klein came in.

    Whether THIS change will be sustained remains to be seen, as you suggest. However, my BIGGEST beef with the PC’s over the past 10 years or so (including the Klein years) is that they demonstrated very little commitment to competance and communication; bad decisions were tolerated (if not actually laughed off!) and what communication there was seemed to be very polarizing.

    I think, so far, Alison Redford has demonstrated a commitment to competance, and seems to be committed to communicating coherently and (relatively) openly.
    I doubt if I will EVER vote for the PC’s, unless the other parties put up constituency candidates that are too awful to contemplate, but I DO feel a bit more secure with her at the helm and the “good ol’ boys” sputtering with indignation on the backbenches and in the WRA.

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  7. Sue Huff

    Hey, since I’m in the photo, I thought I’d respond!

    From the tone of your opening paragraphs, it sounds like you are disappointed that Dave chose to articulate his views. I see it a little differently: Dave is being intentionally provocative, because the party needs to answer these tough questions. I don’t see it as disloyalty or sour grapes or bridge burning. I see it as something akin to me telling my 17 year old that he really DOES need to get a job. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Dave says in his blog, but I don’t need to. We are not a party of “one voice speaks for all” and “fall in line and shut up”. We are a party that embraces differences of opinion.

    So what do I think the future holds for the party? I think we need to be thoughtful, honest and brave with ourselves. We need to look at the current political landscape, which IS significantly different than when we were “hatched”. We need to be bold and determine what we can offer that no one else can, what our strengths are, what our weaknesses are and how we intend to use the next four years.

    My initial thoughts on this: we are the only party with the luxury of being able to focus on creating a vision for the future… and that is something this province desperately needs. We are the only party that can try new ways and means of engaging Albertans. We are the only party with the luxury to try new ideas, fail, learn, adapt and grow. We are the only ones who have the time, energy and talent to build capacity for a new approach to governance. We are the party of the future. I still believe that.

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  8. Will Munsey

    Since I know the woman in the photo, I’ll comment, too.

    I’m absolutely ready for that sort of freewheeling discussion Dave Taylor suggests… but I’m also not all that certain that Alison Redford is the progressive saviour many are throwing their hopes behind.

    While the AP needs the conversation Taylor points to, it’s way too early to put all our “progressive eggs into an unproven basket. Only time will tell if Alison Redford can be what she promises to be. If she can, great. If she can’t and the PC party goes back to the entitled party it’s been for so long… the members of the AP will define our role for the next election.

    As for today’s “shindig” (as Taylor calls it), we’re allowed to come together to celebrate being involved in the process and having come through it without ANY bozo moments… regardless of the fact that all of our 38 candidates spoke freely and from the heart.

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  9. jerrymacgp

    To @Neal: there is no chance that any such “centre-left” merger would ever include the NDP. Leaving aside the fact that many card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool “Dippers” do not accept the premise that the Liberals are “centre-left”, the structure of the NDP is a major barrier. Unlike the other parties, there is no fundamental distinction in the NDP between the provincial and federal parties. To join the federal NDP, you join the provincial NDP; your membership crosses over. Members of provincial wings sit on Federal Council and serve on federal party policy committees, and Federal Council reps sit on Provincial Executive. There is a “Chinese wall” related to finances, imposed after the Chretien Liberals changed the federal political financing laws, but that’s it. There is no way in hell that the federal party (and the other provincial/territorial wings) would ever allow the Alberta NDP to merge with anyone.

    The only “merger” New Democrats would ever support is Liberal, AP & disgruntled PC members tearing up their old party cards and signing NDP ones.

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  10. Joe Edmonton

    Sue,

    I think you make a fundamental mistake in believing a non-leader centric party can succeed at all in the age of mass media and telecommunications. It didn’t work for the Progressives in the 1920s and it doesn’t work now.

    Active engagement and listening is important to find out what opinion leaders (the 15-20% that are tuned in directly) want and to recruit them as volunteers, but you also need simpliscity and uniformity of message to break out of that core. Usually the mass population breaks in the same percentage as these leaders, so you could take the ABP base and multiply by 5 to 10 and you have a pretty nice voter base.

    Growing out of engaged group is the hardest part of any movement – you can see this in the utter disconnect between the bubble people (organizers from all parties and the media who were surprised at the dismal showing of the Alberta Party) and the people.

    The Alberta Party has some good volunteers, but the lack of a leader who has a mandate to make tough choices leads to a party that embodies the milquetoast.

    Heck, the Alberta Party couldn’t even stick to the same colour of signs in different ridings! With the branding ABP took one step forward and two steps back with allowing diversity in signage.

    If the Alberta Party wants to prosper, it has to come to the realizations that it does not operate in an optimized political environment where its idealized structure functions well for outreach and people have the time to absorb 20 different messages to distil the soul of the ABP.

    The Alberta Party needs a leader not a spokesperson. That person needs to be able to respond on issues in definite statements, not just repeating bland compromises of the big listen. Candidates need to learn that the central message is their message – a rising tide lifts all votes. The media can barely sustain the messages of all the different mainline parties, let alone trying to read the Alberta Party entrails to figure out positions.

    It comes down to this for most voters: a value proposition. The Alberta Party has little definite policy for even the engaged to latch onto – how are regular people going to know what the ABP is going to do if they form government? What values will inform decisions outside of the scope of existing policy? And BS on listening as answers doesn’t cut it, people want leadership, they crave it. They will follow people that offer bad ideas ahead of following no one.

    Without presenting the elements in public that the public use to make electoral choices (policies which in turn inform values) it is no wonder the Alberta Party failed to connect. Heck, the policy is so vague it had to be left off of the ‘vote compass’!

    Finally, the attitude of “We are the only”. No you are not. The sooner the party comes to the collective realization that it is a political party and the objective is to win, and to win you have to win within the structures that define winning (recruiting/electing MLAs, media coverage), you have lost.

    Until the ABP realizes that rejecting Laurie Blakeman from crossing the floor was stupid, not at all strategic, there is little hope. Why was she rejected? She needed to somehow openly tell her board of Liberals that she was crossing and she needed their blessing.

    That requirement showed a total disconnect from political realities that seems to possess the Alberta Party Soul.

    And that needs to be exorcised.

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  11. stratyos

    I often thought that the Alberta Party was more of a formalized collection of “independent” candidates than an actual party. The idea of every candidate not being restricted to the party line, and not being required to follow what the leader says, is a worthy and well-intentioned concept to have for a representative democracy like ours.

    However, what I think the recent Alberta election shows is that most voters vote, essentially, based on the “party line”, i.e. what the party leaders and party platforms say. (Despite what the media & pundit opinion might say otherwise.) Voters may still look at the individual candidates in their ridings, but I think for many voters that comes after looking at the “party lines”.

    So really, maybe it’s time to seriously consider adding some proportional representation to our electoral system? I think the Alberta Party, unless voters are willing to spend time and effort closely examining them, will be perceived by many voters as a party rather than a collection of free “independent” candidates. And thus, it might be difficult for an Alberta Party that avoids the party line (which I still think is a needed and worthwhile intention) to gain enough voter support to win on a riding-by-riding basis.

    Anyway, I know I’m ranting, so that’s all… 😉

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  12. Mustafa Hirji

    I have to mostly agree with Joe Edmonton.

    With several friends heavily involved in the Party and knowing some of the members of the executive, I went out of my way to listen to and read Glenn Taylor interviews, and pay attention to them during the election. To this day, I have no idea what they really stand for beyond listening to the voters who are actively engaged enough to be heard. What they would do on health care, education, government spending, the oil sands, the environment, etc. is all a mystery to me.

    I think the party needs to adopt positions and a platform and sell those. Obviously a key part of the platform can be democratic reform, free votes, etc. But standing for nothing is not going to win votes.

    Even that might not be enough. We’ve seen the evolution of the Reform Party to the Harper Conservatives becoming increasingly top-down and heavy-handed on backbenchers. The sad reality may be that openness is not a winning formula in politics.

    But at the very least a clear platform on the major issues is a necessary ingredient to winning.

    – Mustafa Hirji

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  13. Concerned Albertan

    Jerry MacGP,

    Your comments pinpoint one of, if not the essential problem of Alberta politics: a divided centre-left.

    I would hope that believing strongly in NDP values and platform never means those who do shouldn’t work with other parties who are closer to them on the spectrum than right wing parties. How incredibly myopic for any of us, NDPers or not, to believe that the NDP is the “be-all, end- all and nothing but” party, when Canadians are multi-cultural and pluralistic in ALL of their ideas — including political ones. Can’t we get along, or must we continue these Balkanized political divisions ad nauseum, putting our entire future at risk?

    I’d be interested to know how many years more you personally can stand having more of the same 44 year rule — holding more centre-left progressives hostage to your futile “my party is the only one” view, knowing full well the destruction being delivered at our doorsteps by the Tories, thanks to a weak and fractured centre-left.

    But perhaps the NDP party is being paid by conservatives to keep that scenario in play. Have you ever considered that, Jerry? I have, and I’m sure others have, too.

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  14. Mason Sisson

    Uniting the centre left is the only that the Alberta Party, Alberta Liberal Party, and The Alberta wing of the NDP to stay relevant. Yes, The Liberals and the NDP all have their core vote, but as we all saw with the Liberals, that core can and will change votes when a bigger threat rises. As long as the Wild Rose stays in the media as a viable opposition to the PC that threat will still be there, in addition the simple fact that the WR are more right wing than the PC, the PC will always be “centre” in comparison.

    But the NDP and the Alberta Liberal Party has a little growing up to do. The NDP vote in 2008 on this very subject was overwhelmingly not to cooperate. We need to get over this brand loyalty, if we have to change the name of the party, then so be it. They are just names. Not only that names that carry a lot of weight in them, and like it or not, it is a political reality that in this province the label Liberal or New Democrat is is not generally a positive one. This is a cold hard truth in Alberta, and with the federal conservatives Liberal witch hunt they the names are not getting better.

    Politics is the art of compromise, so if these three parties cannot compromise here how the hell are they going to to proper politics in Edmonton.

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  15. bartinsky

    Dave Taylor was such an embarrassment when he Torontoized the Alberta airwaves on QR, this leftie twit couldn’t predict sex at the Mustang ranch, his Ontario, lets have a discussion bull, is so over, get to work and produce something tangible Dave instead of more of your “screaming audio” like your days on QR. Liberals and NDPEE will never get any more than the looney Clooney types here in Alberta, we work here, always have, we have no time for navel gazing and meddlesome Turdopians trying to “easternly bastardize” our great province, go back to your own 320 billion in debt Ontario leftie playpen Dave, have your discussion, and make a plan, in your little tent. Albertas PC’s will start to swing to the right again, making the WR Kesslers and the other assorted fruits and nuts in the LibNdpees crawl back in their caves with their wind power and bicycles.

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  16. Susan Wright

    I agree with Dave Taylor’s premise that the AP needs to reflect on its raison d’etre but flat out disagree with his reasons why.

    Redford’s PCs have not taken over the AP sliver of the political spectrum, nor do they want to, because their biggest threat is not from the progressive left but from the WR. Redford’s focus will be to win back the conservatives who went to the WR (or at least stop the defections) while keeping a tight hold on the “progressive” conservatives she’s still got in her camp.

    Read the Throne Speech. It starts out on a promising note. Redford says her gov’t will “strike the right balance between progressive and conservative thinking” and develop policies “in harmony with Albertans’ socially progressive values and fiscally conservative beliefs”.

    But it’s all talk. Look at the specifics of her plan. No new taxes, no sales tax (this shows that the PCs are as “fiscally responsible” as the WR), push the oil sands hard through the Canadian energy strategy and the office in Ottawa, ease up on regulation and “get out of the way” of business, and work closely with Harper on the joint environmental monitoring plan (what plan?). It’s the same old PC formula that relies on fossil fuel revenues to fund public services. None of the “progressive” parties (including the AP) endorsed this strategy.

    As long as the progressive parties are fragmented the only real threat to the PCs is the WR. As the WR gets stronger (and it will) the PCs will become even more right wing, not less so.

    It’s time for the progressive centre-left to unite (unfortunately I don’t think the NDP can get itself there) so that means the AP and the Liberals had better get their act together.

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  17. Rob H.

    I would commend to the Alberta Party, and to Mr. Taylor, the book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion” by John Haidt.

    Essentially, the Alberta Party has failed to address both the criticism and the hopes that Haidt’s book is aimed at.

    The criticism is that our innate sense of morality causes us to tend towards tribalism and group identity – which right wing parties are fairly adept at – the “us v. them” dichotomy. While we can point to the ills of this reality, through everything from the “Moral Majority” in the U.S., to Al Quadea – the fact is that “team building” works in politics – and there was essentially none of that in the Alberta party.

    Regarding the “hopes” in Haidts book – that politicians will understand that those they oppose are not simply stupid or evil, but have a strong moral sense in their own right and a desire to improve society – again, that was somewhat lacking in the Alberta party who made almost no attempt to speak to the conservative viewpoint in Alberta – which, quite obviously, carries a lot of weight.

    So.

    Until the Alberta party learns to at least understand the conservative mind-set (which isn’t to suggest they adopt it) they are doomed to failure.

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  18. Dave's on crack

    Dave your vitriol and hatred of Liberals is apparent. Incumbent returning mla’s kept their seats and first time rookie lib mla’s did not win, they simply lacked experience in running campaigns. And your PC concocted vote splitting experiment called the AP has now become junk status. Dave its time to merge center moderates and stop te bs. Bloggers in AB, most of them have done f’all for democracy, all yap and no true political action. Where does your Liberal bashing help Alberta? It helps the Toreez. So why dont you just join them?

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  19. Dallas Haywood

    the Alberta Party caught my interest during the election because some of the things they were doing indicated to me that there was a will to be the catalysts for true change in the way “politics” is currently conducted.

    the need to re-educate the mass public about something so new and strange is a huge undertaking that would require a certain amount of time and resources. resources are hard to come by in the current system, but the AP has by far leveraged their resources better than any other party. that alone is a sample of what this group has brought forward. they have attracted large numbers of very bright and caring young people who are demanding change, and many committed themselves to bringing it about, even against the odds. once their recruiting reaches a critical mass, nothing will be the same.

    but there was also, i noticed, a very high level of inclusion that will continue to attract more supporters from every demographic, including seniors who are seeing what their grandchildren are seeing, those two groups combined could easily win the next election.

    there has been discussion that the party had positioned themselves very well as an advocating party, if they can do this without promise of reward, it easily follows they would do the same if elected, and they would have built CREDIBILITY which is what the “party system” fails to offer.

    in the other parties (from what i saw when i carefully examined all of them last election; except the Liberals, more about that later) even if one is inclined toward ground-breaking policies that would benefit every one in Alberta, if there are elements in a party that prevent these from fruition, there is no advance, no “progress.”

    the ideas emanating from a group of so diverse individuals who still manage to find so much common ground have GOT to be refreshing.

    let’s hear more. give it a chance.

    my opinion is that party politics and the “leader system” is on the wane, on a planet of people who are DAILY being inundated with more choices in every other aspect of life, why should we settle for and nurture a system that so severely restricts our choices in styles of government.

    every party has some good ideas, but their current structures often discourage democracy from within. that’s why we have so many people crossing the floor and changing parties, this is a good thing, it points to a realization that one size does not fit all, even a few more sizes will not suffice,

    we need a free flow of ideas. that is a sign of creativity (another element the AP tries to attract to their ranks). creativity is the root of advancement, in the AB it is encouraged and applauded, it is not a perceived as a threat as it is elsewhere.

    the Alberta Party can be a force for change PRECISELY because it has nothing to lose (thks, Sue), and so can afford to speak honestly to issues.

    in this day and age, that is amazingly attractive to this voter.

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