You might be forgiven if you have not paid much attention to the Alberta Liberal Party leadership contest, which is currently under way. The Liberal contest is not as exciting as the Progressive Conservative’s leadership contest, as flashy as the Wildrose (now minus the Alliance), or intriguing as the new Alberta Party, but it is important enough not to ignore. The Liberal Party is still the Official Opposition and while it has taken a beating in the polls and public image over the past few years, its next leader will play a role in the next provincial election.
Here is a look at the candidates for their leadership:
Elected Experience: MLA for Edmonton-Centre from 1997 to the present.
Background: Laurie Blakeman is known as a vocal and unrelenting critic of the governing Tories. As Deputy Leader under party leaders Kevin Taft and David Swann, she also served as critic for Finance, the Environment, and Culture.
Her strong views as an unapologetic feminist representing Edmonton’s densest urban constituency have made her an enemy to many conservatives, but her skills as Opposition House Leader have gained her respect from some Tory MLAs across the floor. She is also one half of Edmonton’s political power couple, her husband is Ward 8 City Councillor Ben Henderson.
In 1998, Ms. Blakeman supported then-MLA Linda Sloan‘s leadership bid. She declined to run for her party’s leadership in 2004, telling the Globe & Mail that “she doesn’t have the fire in her belly to run” and again in 2008 admitting that fundraising was not her strength. Earlier this year she publicly mused about joining the Alberta Party, but instead decided to seek the Liberal Party leadership.
(Disclaimer: I like Laurie Blakeman have volunteered for her election campaigns in 2004 and 2008).
Slogan: Returning to responsible government
Elected Experience: Liberal candidate in Calgary-East in 2004 and 2008.
Background: Calgary financial advisor Bill Harvey entered the leadership contest this week with a message that Liberals need to return to their past roots to succeed in the future. The main message on his website reminds Liberals of their 1990’s glory days under former leader Laurence Decore and is peppered with fiscal conservative language.
In 2008, he ran a “law and order” and “tough on crime” focused campaign, which earned him an endorsement by Craig Chandler‘s hyper-conservative Progressive Group for Independent Business. His website says that he will be releasing a detailed platform later this month.
Elected experience: MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar from 1997 to present
Background: Since stepping into his role as the opposition labour critic during his first-term and making headlines over the government’s shaky handling of rotting pine shakes roofing and lack of whistle-blower protection, Hugh MacDonald earned a reputation as a dogged critic of the Tories. As Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, his focus on uncovering Tory scandals sometimes makes him appear on the verge of paranoia, but he is relentless and hardworking. It is not uncommon to see Mr. MacDonald buried in books, doing his own research in the Legislature Library.
Mr. MacDonald is a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal partisan. Even if the Liberal Party is wiped off the political map in the next election, Hugh MacDonald will fight to the end (clasping a battle-axe in one hand while caped in blood-soaked battle armour under a Liberal Party flag). Inside the Liberal Party, Mr. MacDonald appeals to the stalwart crowd who believe that it is not the Liberal brand that has damaged their party, but that party members who have not adhered enough loyalty to the Liberal brand are responsible for the party’s 80 years of electoral defeat.
Mr. MacDonald has the endorsements of former party leaders Nick Taylor and Ken Nicol and former MLAs Bill Bonner and Yolande Gagnon.
Slogan: 87 Strong
Elected experience: Nominated as the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Varsity
Background: An unknown outside some Calgary political circles, it is difficult to know whether Bruce Payne is actually a serious candidate in this contest.
A long-time union leader, in 2007 he led the 6,000 southern Alberta carpenters union as it and seven other construction unions threatened Alberta’s first multi-trade strike in almost 30 years. He was later the Spokesperson for the Alberta and Northwest Territories Regional Council of Carpenters and Allied Workers and President of the Building Trades of Alberta Southern Council.
His 87 Strong slogan is in reference to the 87 constituencies that will be created when the next election is called. His campaign also takes a shot at the current Liberal MLAs and their tendency to attack the Tories for every “scandals, faux-pas, screw-ups, miscues and arrogant decisions” without a long-term strategy.
His campaign manager is the former Liberal Caucus communications director Neil Mackie, who departed from his job at the Assembly earlier this year.
Elected experience: MLA Edmonton-Meadowlark from 2008 to present
Background: Former Tory MLA Raj Sherman could be both the wildcard and the front-runner in this contest. Six months ago he wanted nothing to do with the Liberal Party as he sat in the PC caucus as Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Health & Wellness. Since writing the bluntly-worded email that led to hm being kicked out of the PC caucus, Dr. Sherman has attained a folk hero status among many Albertans.
After opening up their leadership vote to any Albertan without having to purchase a membership, I have a difficult time seeing Dr. Sherman as anything but the front-runner in this contest.
Although his opponents will criticize him for switching parties, it is hard to believe that Dr. Sherman has ever actually “belonged” to any political party. On February 13, 2008 PC candidate Dr. Sherman told the Edmonton Journal, “Ideas belong to society, they don’t belong to a party. For me, it wasn’t so much about parties as about getting the idea to the people who make decisions.”
Dr. Sherman has the support of former MLA Bharat Agnihotri, and I have been told that Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr and Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang are lending their support to his campaign.
Not yet entered the contest:
There may be a sixth candidate to enter this contest. Word on the street is that the executive of a medium-sized Calgary-based energy company may announce his candidacy next week.