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?