The Alberta Liberals have decided to postpone the selection of their next party leader until spring 2017. The party had originally scheduled to hold a leadership vote in April 2016.

David Swann Liberal MLA Calgary-Mountain View

David Swann

The only current Liberal MLA, Calgary’s David Swann, has declined to seek the permanent job. Dr. Swann was first elected as MLA in 2004 and served as leader from 2008 to 2010 before taking over as interim leader after Raj Sherman’s resignation in January 2015.

There is question whether delaying the leadership violates the Alberta Liberal Party’s bylaws, which state:

5.4 In the event the Leadership becomes vacant for any cause the Board of Directors shall either, in its absolute discretion:

a) convene to call a Leadership Convention, or

b) convene to appoint an interim leader of the Party for a period of time not to exceed one (1) year during which period of interim leadership the Board of Directors shall call a Leadership Convention to be held prior to the conclusion of the term of interim leadership.

Liberal Party did amend their bylaws at a meeting held in late 2015 but the list of proposed amendments on their website are unclear whether this section was changed. If the section was not changed, the party would have already broken its bylaws if Dr. Swann’s interim leadership exceeded the one year period (which will take place on January 27, 2016).

It is also unclear if there are any consequences for violating the party’s bylaws.

Regardless of the bylaws, the party’s executive board is reported to have endorsed Dr. Swann’s continued role as interim leader until spring 2017.

Delaying the vote is probably a good idea for the Liberals, as it appears unlikely the party could attract many serious candidates to contest an April 2016 leadership race.

The Liberals formed the official opposition from 1993 until 2012, when a significant percentage of their supporters migrated to Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservatives and later to Rachel Notley’s New Democrats.

Despite recent Alberta breakthroughs in the October 19, 2015 federal election, the provincial party does not appear to have benefited from Justin Trudeau‘s popularity.

New voting system

The Liberals abandoned the ‘open membership system’ that was used to select Dr. Sherman in the 2011 leadership vote. Under the open system, any Albertan who provided the party with their name and contact information could vote for a leadership candidate without having to actually purchase a membership.

Although more than 27,000 members were eligible to vote in the 2011 leadership contest, only 8,640 actually participated in the vote.

Under the new system proposed at the party’s meeting in late 2015:

a. Each electoral district in the province of Alberta is allocated one point for each eligible vote cast, to a maximum as determined by the Board of Directors.

b. Should the number of eligible persons who cast ballots in the leadership vote in an electoral division exceed the number of points allocated, the points allocated to the electoral division are allocated to each leadership candidate on the basis of the 17 ratio the number of the votes received by that leadership candidate to the total number of votes counted.

c. Should the number of eligible persons who cast ballots in the leadership election not exceed the number of points allocated to the electoral division each vote for a leadership candidate shall be one point awarded to the leadership candidate.

d. The total number of points allocated to each leadership candidate from all electoral divisions in Alberta are added to produce a total for the “provincial count”

But changing the voting system and the date of the leadership race still does not solve the Liberal Party’s problem of attracting credible candidates.

I expect the Liberal Party executives are hoping that disillusion with the NDP government in one year could lead to a resurgence in party support, which, given the unexpected twists in Alberta politics over the past year, might be their best strategy.

One prominent former Liberal MLA who ran in the party’s 2011 leadership race appears unlikely to take up her party’s banner again. Laurie Blakeman, who represented Edmonton-Centre as a Liberal MLA from 1997 to 2015 posted her feelings about the Liberal Party officials on Twitter today.