Categories
Alberta Politics

Goodbye? The future looks bleak for the Alberta Liberals

Raj Sherman (right) accepts the Alberta Liberal Party leadership in 2011. To the left: Leadership chairperson Josipa Petrunic, MLA Laurie Blakeman, MLA Hugh MacDonald and candidate Bruce Payne.
Raj Sherman (right) accepts the Alberta Liberal Party leadership in 2011. To the left: Leadership race chairperson Josipa Petrunic, and leadership candidates Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald and Bruce Payne.

It has been a long time since things have looked good for the Alberta Liberals. The provincial party has been teetering on the verge of the political abyss for years but lately the future looks especially bleak.

Kent Hehr Calgary Centre MLA Liberals
Kent Hehr

Recent announcements that popular Calgary Liberal MLAs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang are moving to greener pastures in federal politics with Justin Trudeau’s Liberals will shrink the provincial Liberal caucus to just three MLAs, leaving the party with its smallest caucus in nearly thirty years. The two departures also mean the party may be forced to play defence in two by-elections before the next general election, a feat not aided by continuously low fundraising returns.

In the 2012 provincial election, Liberal support dropped to its lowest level since the 1980s, with only five candidates incumbent MLAs re-elected and the party losing its hold on formerly reliably Liberal-voting ridings like Edmonton-Gold Bar, Edmonton-Riverview, Calgary-Currie and Calgary-Varsity.

But the biggest blow to the Liberals in that year’s election was losing Official Opposition status to the Wildrose Party, a title the Liberals had held in Alberta since 1993. Since losing its place as the default opposition to the Tories, the party has struggled to define its identity in a new political environment dominated by two conservative parties.

Kevin Taft Liberal Party MLA Alberta
Kevin Taft

With the departure of Mr. Hehr and Mr. Kang, the party will soon have less MLAs than the New Democratic Party, which, in the midst of its own leadership race, is showing signs of positive growth in Edmonton. The NDP, the Liberal Party’s long-time rivals, seem to be paying less attention to that party, focusing instead on the new Progressive Conservative-Wildrose dominance of Alberta’s political environment. And the recent defection of a senior Liberal Party official to the tiny Alberta Party also raised eyebrows.

It would be unfair to assign the blame on one person, especially considering the Liberal Party has been a slow state of decline since 1993 (with the exception of the 2004 election, where the party, led by Kevin Taft, increased its MLAs).

The party’s current leader, Raj Sherman, is the definition of a wildcard. The former PC MLA and junior cabinet minister has been an odd fit in the Liberal benches. Those who work close to him describe him as kind and well-meaning, but his scattered and erratic behaviour make him difficult to anticipate. The Liberals took a risk in choosing an outsider as their leader and, at least today, there does not appear to be a reward in sight.

MLAs like Edmonton-Centre‘s Laurie Blakeman and Calgary-Mountain View‘s David Swann are hard-working representatives, but as a caucus, the Liberals tend to act more like Independent MLAs who share office space.

Despite the bleak view on the horizon, I would never count the Liberals out. They have been constant underdogs and they have a highly committed base of activists who are extremely loyal to their party’s traditional brand.

It is too soon to tell whether the provincial Liberals will benefit from a new wave of Trudeaumania in federal politics. A big question is whether the Liberals will follow the trend of their provincial prairie cousins in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, who have become become non-existent or irrelevant in recent decades.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Johnson, Anglin, Nenshi and Butler. Who said Alberta politics is dull in the summer?

Justin Trudeau Naheed Nenshi Calgary Stampede
The Calgary Stampede begins this week, drawing politicians from across the land and from all stripes. In this photo, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi poses with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and his children (photo from @JustinTrudeau).

Premier Dave Hancock is standing behind Jeff Johnson, even after the Information and Privacy Commissioner ruled that the embattled education minister broke Alberta’s privacy laws by sending a direct message to the personal email addresses of thousands of teachers during their contract negotiations.

Jeff Johnson Alberta Education Minister MLA
Jeff Johnson

In any other job, breaking the law would likely be cause for dismissal, but this does not appear to be the case if you are a cabinet minister in Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government.

NDP leadership candidate MLA David Eggen, himself a teacher, chimed in on Mr. Johnson’s actions, saying “(It) shows a lack of respect for the teachers and a lack of respect for the law.”

Mr. Johnson, who appears to be intent on dragging the professional credibility of Alberta educators through the mud, also turned his attention to school board administrators this week by demanding they hand over all complaints against teachers from the past ten years. Tory MLAs are expected to discuss Mr. Johnson’s reign of terror at this week’s annual “Stampede Caucus Meeting” in Calgary.

Joe Anglin unleashed
Rabble-rouser MLA Joe Anglin was defeated in his bid to be a Wildrose candidate in the next election. The first-term MLA was defeated by local constituency president Jason Nixon in a controversy-ridden party nomination contest in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. Mr. Nixon’s brother, Jeremy Nixon, is the nominated Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Klein.

Mr. Anglin now has some decisions to make before the next election. He could quietly complete his term as a Wildrose MLA and retire at the next election, or he could run for another party or as an Independent candidate (given his style, this may be the likely option). A property rights activist and former leader of the Alberta Greens, Mr. Anglin sparked a political wildfire in central Alberta before the 2012 election over widespread opposition to electrical transmission line construction.

Mike Butler Alberta LIberal Party
Mike Butler

Nenshi calls out paid political agitator
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi called out the untransparent Canadian Taxpayers Federation after its spokesperson was invited to speak at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association conference. Mr. Nenshi has been in a prolonged public feud with the special interest group’s paid political agitator, Derek Fildebrandt. While the Taxpayers Federation preaches transparency for government, it refuses to make public a list of its own financial backers.

Liberal VP jumps to the Alberta Party
Mike Butler
, the vice-president communications of the Alberta Liberal Party, announced on his Facebook page this week that he has quit Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals and joined the Alberta Party. In his open-letter, Mr. Butler said that “…I am no longer surrounded by those who stand for democracy and fair debate.

This is at least the second time Mr. Butler has switched parties in recent years. Before joining the Liberals, he ran as an NDP candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford in the 2008 provincial election and in Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont in the 2008 federal election. He was the Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont in the 2011 federal election and in Edmonton-Mill Creek in the 2012 provincial election.

Categories
Alberta NDP leadership race Alberta Politics

Who wants to be leader of the Alberta NDP?

NDP-Edmonton-Folk-Fest-Ad
The Alberta NDP will hold a leadership vote in October 2014. Photo from the NDP ad in the 2012 Edmonton Folk Music Festival program.

While most political chatter in Alberta is focused on how big Jim Prentice’s victory will be on the first ballot of the Progressive Conservative leadership vote on September 6, there is another race about to begin – the race to become the leader of the Alberta NDP.

Brian Mason
Brian Mason

At his press conference announcing departure, outgoing NDP leader Brian Mason told the media he has asked the NDP provincial executive to hold a leadership vote on or near the weekend of October 19. The party is expected to announce official rules or timelines for the leadership vote in the coming months.

No candidates have declared their plans to enter the race, but if more than one does, it would be the Alberta NDP’s first contested leadership race since 1996, when the feisty Pam Barrett was selected to replace former Member of Parliament Ross Harvey. A contested race would help generate interest and boost their membership numbers across the province.

While there is an opportunity for the NDP to make modest gains in the next election, their next leader will face some serious challenges. One will be to expand their party outside of its traditional base in Edmonton. This will require good candidates, good organization, and, of course, money.

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP
Rachel Notley

The NDP have not won a seat outside of Edmonton since the 1989 election. Some NDP supporters hope the division of conservative voters and the final demise of the drifting Liberal Party led by Raj Sherman could help bolster their chances of expansion.

Perhaps the most thankless part of the job will be to try and convince Albertans that the NDP is not opposed to the province’s energy industry. While federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair‘s ‘Dutch Disease‘ comments were not helpful, observers of Alberta politics will have noticed the NDP softening their language around Alberta’s chief industry in recent years, replacing ‘tarsands’ with ‘oilsands’ and focusing on other big polluters, like the province’s dirty coal industry.

David Eggen
David Eggen

While there are rumours of potential outside candidates, there is a possibility that the party’s three remaining MLAs could throw their hats into the ring.

Deron Bilous
A teacher, he first ran for the NDP in Edmonton-Centre in 2008 and was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview in 2012. Before his election, he taught at Edmonton’s Inner City High School. Considered rising star in the NDP, the 38-year old first-term MLA has proven himself to be a well-spoken and hard-working addition to the opposition benches.

David Eggen
A teacher, he first ran for the NDP in Edmonton-Centre in 2001 and was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Calder in 2004, unseating PC MLA Brent Rathgeber. He was defeated in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. From 2008 to 2012, he served as executive director of the Friends of Medicare, an advocacy group promoting public health care in Alberta.

Deron Bilous MLA Edmonton Beverly Clareview NDP
Deron Bilous

Mr. Eggen is well-known as a hard-working MLA who is scrappy critic in the Legislature and rarely takes a break from door-knocking in his constituency between elections. Now as the NDP Health critic, he is an outspoken critic of privatization in Alberta’s health care system.

A phone poll conducted in February 2014, and captured on this blog, suggests that Mr. Eggen or his supporters have been preparing for a leadership campaign for months.

Rachel Notley
First elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona in 2008, Ms. Notley is an outstanding parliamentarian. Her knowledge of Assembly procedure has helped keep the NDP effective at blocking or slowing down PC legislation on more than a few occasions. Educated in law at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall, she worked as a staffer in British Columbia NDP government and was a Labour Relations Officer with the United Nurses of Alberta.

She is also the daughter of Grant Notley, a well-respected NDP leader and northern Alberta MLA from 1971 to 1984. Her supporters have already launched a Ready for Rachel Facebook page, which now has more than 550 Likes.


Aging Long-Shot ‘Blockhead’ candidate knocks off huge Journal Political Team to capture Yeggie Political Category Award

Congratulations to my blogger-in-arms David Climenhaga who walked away with the Best in Political and Current Affairs award at last night’s Yeggies gala in Edmonton. Mr. Climenhaga faced a handful of worthy contenders, including the Edmonton Journal‘s entire political reporting team.

Categories
Alberta Politics Guest Post

guest post: a liberal party perspective on the alberta party.

By: Justin Archer

Dave Cournoyer and I have known each other since 2005, when I got my first real job working in a junior staff position with the Alberta Liberals. Dave started working there shortly after I did, and the two of us became friends. He’s mentioned to me before that I could do a guest post at some point if there is a topic that seems to fit, but I’ve never asked to take him up on that offer until now.

Let me just explain first that I am the kind of person you’d probably expect to be in the Alberta Party. I live in a condo downtown and have a pretty good job in what is thought of as the “creative economy”. I’m politically active. I still like to think I’m young (though I did find my first grey hair the other day, which needless to say was traumatic.) I am a strong supporter of human rights, and a proponent of mostly free markets with some government intervention in the economy to protect the common good. I also know quite a few people involved in the Alberta Party, and I like them and respect them. I agree with them in a broad sense on how this province should be governed, because their values are my values.

I think they might be making a Big Mistake though, and that’s what I want to talk about here.

The first part of my argument is that there are a couple of no-such-things:
1. There is no such thing as a post-partisan political party.
2. There is no such thing as a political party that falls outside of the traditional left/right spectrum.

No-such-thing 1 is essentially self-evident. The word partisan basically means “someone who supports a cause and works to achieve some end associated with that cause” . If an organization is trying to get people elected and maybe even form a government, it’s a partisan group. It’s not even really open to interpretation, that’s just what “partisan” means. It has been suggested to me that perhaps the Alberta Party intends to introduce a less partisan style of politics to the debate. I don’t really understand what this means, but if it means something along the lines of “no talking bad about the other guys”, I would be shocked if that sentiment sticks around the nascent organization for long, if it is even there now. Which it probably isn’t. No-such-thing 2 is also quite simple: When you get down to it, what a government does is take in the money and then figure out how to spend it. If you look at how each government philosophically approaches this job, you can figure out where it sits on the spectrum.

It’s like this: Some people think that the government should take in lots of the money and make sure that everyone gets a nice amount. Those people often think that the government should be involved in lots of things and intervene in many economic transactions. Those people are on the left.

There are other people who think that the government should take in some of the money, and make sure that everyone gets at least a least a little bit. These people also usually think that the government should allow economic activity to take place free of government interference except where there is a real problem that needs fixing. Those people are in the centre.

Then there are people who think that the government should take in only a little bit of the money, and it’s up to individuals to get things for themselves. These people also usually think that the government should keep its damn nose out of pretty much everything (unless their rich friends are in trouble, in which case those rules no longer apply). These people are on the right.

I’ve heard it said by people in the Alberta Party that this party is not possible to pin down on the spectrum I’ve described above. It would be fun and exciting to think this, but it would be wrong. I haven’t seen the policy that the Alberta Party passed at its recent convention, but I would very surprised if an analysis of that policy wouldn’t reveal that the party is in the centre. In fact I’d almost guarantee it. I think if you follow Alberta politics closely and you know the people in that party and the sorts of things that those people tend to think, you’d have to agree with me.

So if the Alberta Party is in the centre, and it is partisan, it is basically the Alberta Liberal Party only cooler and better looking. What I mean is that the values are very similar, the policies are likely quite similar, but it’s a newer and more exciting organization. It has an ambitious and fun culture, lots of wonderful and smart people, and a great attitude about how to engage people in the political process. It has also embarked on a great citizen engagement process and done a great job of getting ink for its work. But the actual values, the guts of the party, are not very different from those of the Liberals.

I also think that the Alberta Party will take many votes from the Liberals. I do not buy the argument that the 60% of people who didn’t vote last time will be the deciders in the next election. I think that for the most part, people who didn’t vote last time won’t vote next time. From the inside of a political party it is easy to start to believe that there is something big happening out there, and people are getting turned on. Largely though, political activity in Alberta takes place outside of the notice of the majority of the population and people who don’t follow politics are not getting turned on. In my view the pool of votes might be a little bigger next time, but not much.

Now this is the part where it’s easy to say, “sure, well if the Liberals are so great, why aren’t all these engaged young difference makers joining up with them?” The truth is that the Liberals haven’t done a good job of answering that question. But I actually don’t know that it’s the right question to be asking.

You see, I think that we are on the cusp of one of those generational shifts in Alberta politics where a new government will come to power. If you are reading this blog you don’t need a primer in Alberta politics – we can all agree that historically there has been a one-party culture here, and when a change in government comes, it is fast and total. Many people, and particularly many rural constituencies, want to be on the side of the winning team, so support tends to move quickly to the party who looks like it may form government. I think that because of this, in the next election, small “c” conservative support will begin to drift from the PC Party to the Wildrose Alliance Party. In the election after that, that conservative support will firmly coalesce around the Wildrose Alliance Party, and that party could easily form a government at that time.

There is a strong parallel to federal politics here. Let’s be honest, the Chretien/Martin government years were made possible in large part by the split in the conservative family over much of that time period. Now that the federal conservatives are re-united under one banner, it’s not so easy for those in the centre to form a government, as we’ve continually seen. I think that this is probably one of the only times where we’ll have a similar political situation here provincially, and as moderates in this province it looks like we’re about to waste it by grouping in factions instead of realizing that we all pretty much agree on things. If centrist political organizers and voters are divided during the next five or six years between the Alberta Party, the Progressive Conservative Party and the Alberta Liberal Party, the moderates in this province will probably lose the opportunity to form a government for the next generation.

In summary my argument is this: We’re about to miss an opportunity while the conservative house is divided because of things like process and personality. I believe that process and personality are important in politics, but when you peel it all back, the values underneath are what really matter. And in the absence of a divergence on values, is it not foolish to have competing organizations?

I don’t know how to solve this. I’m not saying the Alberta Party should stop doing what they’re doing. I’m not saying the Liberals should fold up the tent. But I do think this is a real discussion that needs to take place on this side of the coming electoral opportunity, rather than a lament on the other side of it.

Anyway, thanks to Dave for letting me air this here. Please chime in in the comments.

——–

Justin Archer is a young guy in Edmonton who is involved in this and that around town. He grew up in Calgary but moved here about five years ago to take his first big kid job as a Liberal staffer. After a 2008 election night filled with tears and despair (but I thought we were gonna be the governm…….*sob* *sniffle*), he went to work for a Edmonton-based PR firm, where he is now a consultant. He believes that Alberta is a great place and most of the whole redneck thing is exaggerated. Follow him on Twitter @justin_archer.

Read other guest posts to this blog.