Back in the mid-2000s, when I worked for the Alberta Liberals, Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason was a constant source of frustration for my colleagues and I. Each week, I was amazed at how the leader of the tiny perfect NDP could consistently earn so much press and scoop away the media attention deserved by of my party’s Official Opposition MLAs (of course, there were a few other contributing factors at play).
At the time, I had a professional respect for Mr. Mason and, since stepping back from the world of partisan politics and having engaged with him in more informal settings, I now have a personal respect for him (he is also my MLA).
Scrappy and strong willed, Mr. Mason has always punched above his weight with ease, putting even the most confident Progressive Conservative cabinet ministers on edge.
This week, after ten years in the job, Mr. Mason announced his plans to step down as leader of the NDP after his party holds a leadership vote in October 2014. As he departs, it is important to reflect on how far the NDP has come overt he past decade.
Ten years ago, the NDP had two MLAs in Alberta, no sign of life outside of central Edmonton and a dozen Members of Parliament in Ottawa (none from Alberta).
Today, the NDP is now the Official Opposition in Ottawa (with one MP from Alberta), are back up to four MLAs in Alberta, their vote has grown in Edmonton and they now have a beachhead of support in Lethbridge.
While the NDP is a long way from being a competitive alternative to the two Conservative parties in this province, the next two years present the new NDP leader with a unique opportunity to speak with voters searching for an alternative (I will write more on this later).
While it would be unfair to solely credit Mr. Mason for the change over the past decade, in many ways, he will leave the Alberta NDP in a better shape than it was the day he started the job.