Alberta Party decides to remain an Alberta party. Could a Liberal merger be next?

Alberta Party Logo

The Alberta Party

Members of Alberta’s eternally optimistic political party, the Alberta Party, met in Calgary for their annual general meeting this past weekend.

Dave Taylor MLA

Dave Taylor

At the meeting, members debated and decided to remain a political party. After the party’s less than stellar debut in the May 2012 provincial election, the party’s only ever MLA, Dave Taylor, penned a blog post suggesting the party fold or become a think-tank. In the spring election, with 38 candidates province-wide, the party earned 1.3% of the vote.

Having elected no MLAs in the last election and being leaderless since the resignation of Glenn Taylor this summer, the Alberta Party could have easily folded and moved on into the sunset.

On May 25, 2012, in response to Dave Taylor’s comments, I wrote:

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.

This year was a bad time for moderate or progressive opposition parties in Alberta. With the Tories selecting a moderate leader in Alison Redford, many traditional Liberal voters and potential Alberta Party voters flocked to or remained with the PC Party.

Raj Sherman Liberal Party leader Election 2012

Raj Sherman

More than a few people have suggested that the Alberta Party merge with the Liberal Party, which dropped from eight to five MLAs in the spring election. With provincial New Democrats celebrating their 50th anniversary at their convention in Edmonton this weekend and reaffirmed its opposition to merging with other opposition parties, most mainstream political pundits did not pay much attention to the Alberta Party meeting, but attendees Tweeted that Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman and Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr popped in to say “hi,” as did Evergreen Party leader Larry Ashmore.

If I were the leader of a political party which has failed to form government for more than 80 years, I would be eyeing the Alberta Party’s biggest asset, its name. In a land where the Liberal brand is dirt, most diehard Liberals would still likely oppose any merger that included a name-change.

The Alberta Party faces an incredible challenge if it seriously wants to build a functional political organization before the next election, and just having a great name will not be enough.

19 thoughts on “Alberta Party decides to remain an Alberta party. Could a Liberal merger be next?

  1. William Munsey

    Absolutely correct, Dave. The best name in Alberta politics (and don’t forget a great logo) does not make a credible political presence.

    Although all of us in that room on Saturday feel this remains the best idea in Alberta politics, we also recognise our challenges. We did not close the door on any ideas that would create, viable, competitive democracy in Alberta.

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  2. J Moore

    Utter nonsense about the name. The Conservatives win because they have more money and they present better polices not because the opposition has the wrong name. Alberta Liberals under Lawrence Decore are the only party that has come close to defeating the PCs. They lost by about 5% in 1997 and their name did not cost them the 5%? This is closer than Wildrose has achieved, much closer than the ND’s have come and a world closer than the Alberta Party. The Alberta Separatist part may have got more votes but neither party matters.
    When Albertans are ready to change and the PCs have done a bad enough job, the party with a strong leader, a small business orientation and a heart can win. The name won’t matter. The leader will matter. Their policies will matter.

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  3. Jonathan

    Having recently decided not to continue being involved with the ALP, I have to say that this idea appeals to me:

    If I were the leader of a political party which has failed to form government for more than 80 years, I would be eyeing the Alberta Party’s biggest asset, its name.

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  4. Martin Levenson

    I would say that the Alberta Party’s biggest asset is the commitment of their membership, although that appears to be waning with the lack of electoral success.

    Seriously. You’ve got a bunch of people who WANT to do politics differently, which I think is important and positive. Too many people, myself included, are alienated from the political process, which has the affect of assuring the continuance of the status quo.

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  5. Jason

    What a surprise. A poll taken of all the people who thought it was worth getting together to talk about the future of the Alberta Party determined that the thing they wanted to talk about should also exist.

    Mr. Munsey has a difficult task on his hands. I agree with the people who say that the flaw in this organization is that it lacks anything greater than itself that it serves. Forget policies: it has no purpose but to replace the government. And evidence strongly suggests that won’t get you anywhere in this province.

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  6. Tim Osborne

    As mentioned by Martin, I also agree that the engaged members are the Alberta Party’s greatest strength. The name is great, but it’s pretty clear that the name alone isn’t going to be enough!

    I believe that there is a need for the Liberals, NDP and Evergreens to look at cooperating. What that means remains to be determined, but I think we all have more in common than we have differences. Until Alberta moves to a system of Proportional Representation, which is clearly nowhere on the horizon, working together is the most pragmatic choice.

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  7. Rene

    Good morning,

    Agree with the first two posts; with William on not closing the door on any ideas which stifle democracy and with J Moore that name doesn’t matter-it’s about money – oil money that was acquired by the oil industry not paying their fare share of taxes.

    This oil money in turn buys voters and ridings providing disportionate funding to rural Alberta in exchange for votes and media which spreads the message. NDP have union funding and Liberals have a traditionally strong individual support base. Those without the money get left behind: the Evergreen Party and the Alberta Party both have good policies and good people–it’s only about the money.

    And for those who want democracy in Alberta, we need to colaborate or we will not see another party lead this province and the entitlement and ill democracy continues way past all our lifetimes.

    @Johnathon-sour grapes attacking the ALP for not forming government. ALP worked their damnest and deserve accolades from Albertans as individuals standing up against a large money political machine. New party names don’t matter only old political party names that attract voters to the party that represents their values.

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  8. Sue Huff

    FYI- The survey indicated that most members were NOT in favour of a merger, although many were open to some sort of collaboration or cooperation.
    A few other tidbits: we had, for the first time, more people put their name forward to serve on the provincial board than we had spots. This speaks to the commitment and dedication. Perhaps our hopes were too high and given the considerable uphill battle we faced, I think it wasn’t as you state “a less than stellar debut”. I think it was an “admirable first attempt”, which we will build upon. Any party would have been blessed to have had the calibre and resourcefulness of our candidates. It was said at the AGM: “Truly, no other candidates did as much with so very little.” I think we were thrown into a race before we were old enough to compete, but that doesn’t mean we were less than stellar. Of course, I’m biased!!

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  9. Brian Thiessen

    Dave,

    The NDP are trying to spin that they have demonstrate massive growth over the last election, aided ably by some fine bar charts by yours truly. However, the truth is that the NDP are still the 4th party in the Legislature and are confined completely to the Edmonton region for any real hope of election. That combined with the Federal Party’s decision under Mulclair to pursue the old Federal Liberal strategy of alienating Albertans in order to build the B.C., Ontario and Quebec coalition and win federal government, means they have little to no chance of even forming the official opposition in Alberta in the forseeable future. I doorknocked under Chretien and I can tell you Albertans dislike Mulclair more (and that is one very low bar my friend).

    I say this not to disparage the fine members of the NDP, but to make the point I make to all progressives. This silly and petty tribalism needs to stop. The Evergreens, ALP, NDP and Alberta Party have way more in common than that which differentiates them. And they need to figure out a way to come together.

    If the Alberta Party brand and name is attractive to the Liberals who have not formed government in 80 years, then isn’t it just as attractive to the NDP who have not formed government in 50 years and show no signs that they ever will?

    If the progressives in Alberta can possibly form government by coming together. And if the Alberta Party name, logo and brand are the best and most baggage free of all the parties, then isn’t the solution fairly self evident?

    The details are important, but they are just details. The members need to tell their parties to wake up and get together.

    But that’s just my own opinion.

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  10. TomG

    Brian T- absolutely right in your words on NDP. Mason just keeps getting his picture taken with Mulcair, driving provincial NDP further and further from the hearts and minds of Albertans. Mulcair isn’t just disliked here; it’s becoming outright hatred.
    But to the topic of the article- Alberta Party is a snappy name brand. Shame there’s no product to sell.

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  11. Jonathan

    @ Rene

    Can’t find where I attacked ALP. I actually managed a successful ALP MLA’s campaign in April – the only one in Edmonton that the winner was not the top spender. Since 2004, the total of MLAs has halved and nearly haved again. The vote was reduced by 100,000 in 2012 election compared to 2008. Stellar candidates (Goldbar, Riverview) didn’t have a chance, so how did the brand help them? Only incumbent ALP candidates won.

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  12. Susan Stratton

    What’s in a name? For the EverGreens (probably soon to become Greens again), it’s what links us to the network of Global Greens, with a well-established set of principles we base our policies and practices on. It’s that defining core that the Alberta Party lacks (and arguably the Liberals too). We’re not likely to give up our name or long-term goals, but it does seem that cooperation with the ultimate goal of proportional representation in Alberta is the only sane way forward for the centre-left.

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  13. Alvin Finkel

    Tim, Brian, and Susan have all mentioned the need for inter-party cooperation. They are right. Individually, all of the progressive parties in Alberta are a joke and the electorate keeps demonstrating that they know that. But the intransigence of the NDP leadership and now of Raj Sherman (though how much support he has in his party is always unclear) with regards to cooperation suggests that change is not on the horizon. Big fish in small ponds can’t even imagine swimming in the river.

    The one group that could break this deadlock, if they were not so divided among themselves about everything imaginable, is the trade union movement. The small group of trade unions that fund the NDP without question and keep it alive in Alberta need to consider what life for them will be like when, not if, the Wildrose becomes the government. If the unions wait that long, they’ll find that it’s too late to reconsider a one-party political policy that has never worked and won’t work in the future (mind you, the complete non-partisanship of most of the unions is an even stupider policy that only starves progressive parties of funds and threatens these non-partisan unions in the long run).

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  14. Michael Dawe

    I am one of the people who ran for the A.L.P. in the election.
    I experienced first hand the reactions of people at the door (best set of polling I know).
    There was a great shift over the final weekend – many people were genuinely afraid of the Wildrose and shifted their votes at the last minute to support the P.C.s since pollsters and pundits told them that was the best way to stop the Wildrose.

    I don’t resent in any way that there were candidates from the Alberta Party, the N.D.P.or any other party for that matter.
    Campaigns are competitions of ideas. Candidates have to do their best to convince people that their ideas are the best ones.
    Sometimes we get hit with unexpected curveballs.

    I do hope that the Alberta Party and the Liberals can work out some sort of cooperation or maybe even formal merger.
    I didn’t find that big a difference between the policies their candidates supported and what I as a Liberal candidate supported.
    The N.D.P. is so adament against cooperation that this is no longer an proposal worth pursuing.

    Glad to see this discussion taking place. We need to look at realities and look for the best solutions. Ranting, pointing fingers, falling back onto platitudes etc will accomplish nothing if we want genuine change.

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  15. jerrymacgp

    A few points: yes, money talks in politics. successful fund-raising gets a party and its candidates the resources it needs to run the kind of profession, credible campaign needed to demonstrate to the voters that they are ready & able to govern. A shoestring campaign leads to the perception that a party is on the fringe and would not be able to govern competently.

    As for so-called “progressive” parties merging, co-operating, or “non-competing”, one key obstacle to such an arrangement is the view of most card-carrying New Democrats that the Liberals are not “progressive”. To us “Dippers”, Liberals are simply a different colour of cat than the Tories, with very similar corporatist policies whenever in government; indeed, the Alberta Liberals’ strongest electoral showing in recent memory was under the late Laurence Decore, when they were advocating “massive cuts” (to spending on public services) in “contrast” to the Conservatives’ “brutal cuts”. The Liberals are also just as dependent on big business for their revenues as are the Conservatives. These reasons are largely why this month’s NDP Convention again rejected any non-compete arrangements with the Liberals or anyone else. The only “merger” we will countenance is for Liberals and the others to tear up their current party cards & sign NDP memberships.

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  16. Martin Levenson

    You know, rather than “non-compete”, “merger”, or “co-operation” between parties, which are all “Top-down” solutions to problems that originated at the “top” in any case, why not try something radical?

    If people are no longer happy with the leadership and policies of (Liberal, Evergreen, AP, or NDP…pick one), then…JOIN ANOTHER PARTY! That would lead to a true competition of ideas, wouldn’t it?

    I’m not hearing a lot of people at the “grassroots” clamouring for mergers, etc. I suspect that most of them are just working away(as volunteers, no less!) for policies and people they believe in, and their motivations for doing so are as individual as they are themselves.

    It’s the pundits and professional politicos who are driving the perceived need for organizational changes, all motivated by a competition of people, not ideas.

    One can examine the entrails of electoral defeat or success all to one’s heart’s desire, but the reality is that IDEAS (even “branded” ones) are what matters, and elections give us the opportunity to examine the pros and cons of ideas. That’s why so-called “fringe” groups run…not with the expectation of winning, but with the expectation that their ideas will be discussed.

    Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen as much as it should, because the media pundits and so-called “experts” focus on the minutae of leadership character and personality to the exclusion of all else. Frankly, it’s boring…and alienates people from the political process.

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  17. Sam Gunsch

    This comment by Martin Levenson identifies a key problem for citizen-based democracy and really merits repeating:

    “… because the media pundits and so-called “experts” focus on the minutae of leadership character and personality to the exclusion of all else. Frankly, it’s boring…and alienates people from the political process”

    As per many media oberservers, the dominant media approach is largely horse-race journalism focused on the leaders because among other reasons, it costs so little.

    Jay Rosen has written frequently about an alternative approach that would actually serve the citizens during elections, an approach developed in the 1990’s but so far rarely taken up the the MSM.
    and… Despite the necessary online journalism/ social media capacity being available for some time.

    Here:

    The Citizens Agenda: A Plan to Make Election Coverage More Useful to People
    http://pressthink.org/2011/12/the-citizens-agenda-a-plan-to-make-election-coverage-more-useful-to-people/

    and here:
    http://voice.unimelb.edu.au/volume-8/number-9/citizens%E2%80%99-agenda
    Mr Baker said Fairfax Media was participating in the project because of its potential to explain how social media can invigorate political reporting and journalists’ engagement.

    “The more engaged we are the better the outcomes for society, community and country,” he says.

    The idea of a “citizens’ agenda” first arose in the United States during the 1990s civic journalism movement.
    New York University Professor Jay Rosen conceived a new role for the media — not just to identify problems, but to assist in the search for solutions. ”

    ======================
    here:

    http://www.upstart.net.au/2010/08/19/citizens-agenda-what-should-the-pollies-be-talking-about/
    The Citizens Agenda: A Plan to Make Election Coverage More Useful to People

    Reply
  18. Julia Necheff

    Regarding the fact the Alberta Party didn’t elect an MLA in our first election, we’re certainly not alone. Some interesting history about the other parties:

    • The Conservatives have been around since Alberta became a province in 1905 but didn’t form a government until 1971.

    The Alberta PC website recounts how the party virtually disappeared from 1935 to 1965. In the late 30s and 40s the Tories formed a coalition with the Liberals to try and oust the Social Credit. In 1940 the Libs and Conservatives ran under one banner and together managed to elect 19 MLAs. According to the Tory website, the Conservative-Liberal coalition eventually came apart and the Tories elected only one MLA during the 50s. The Tories rebranded themselves the Progressive Conservatives in 1959; the PCs and Liberals each only got one seat that year. In the next election the PCs were shut out entirely and their popular vote sat at 12.5 per cent. They elected Peter Lougheed as their new leader in 1965 but had terrible results in two subsequent byelections before they enjoyed a breakthrough in 1967 when Lougheed and five other PCs were elected. Finally, in 1971, the Conservatives won their first election.

    • Dave’s blog of Sept. 22 shows an interesting graph from 1963. The NDs didn’t elect a single MLA for two elections before finally getting a seat in 1971. During the golden years under Grant Notley they won 16 out of 83 seats in 1986 and 1989, but were shut out entirely in the next election in 1993. And for the last 20 years they’ve had only two to four MLAs.

    • When Alberta was created in 1905 the Liberals were in govt until they were replaced by the United Farmers in 1921. The Liberals have elected MLAs but have not succeeded in forming govt for about 90 years.

    So why rehash all this old history? To make the point that the Alberta Party being shut out of its first election – and by that I mean the two-year-old moderate Alberta Party – does not a failure make. History shows it takes time to build a new political movement.

    The vast majority of us who were active in the Alberta Party leading up to and during the election recognize this and have chosen to stay the course. Heck, we’re just getting started. I believe other moderate Albertans who want a govt that spends our money responsibly, acts in the public interest instead of self-interest, and has a strong social conscience will come to know and appreciate the Alberta Party. Other Albertans who genuinely want change and are bold enough to try something new will find a home in the Alberta Party and will be welcome.

    Reply

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