Tag Archives: David King

United Conservative Party of Alberta leader Jason Kenney.

Jason Kenney as the face of Conservatism in Alberta

When the Legislative Assembly resumes for its fall sitting on Monday, there will be a new seating plan.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

A new Official Opposition United Conservative Caucus made up of twenty-two former Wildrose MLAs and six former Progressive Conservative MLAs will make its debut.

Richard Starke of Vermilion-Lloydminster will continue to sit as a lone PC MLA and former UCP MLA Rick Fraser of Calgary-South East will join exiled former Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt as Independent MLAs. Former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson will join Greg Clark in doubling the Alberta Party Caucus. And sitting alongside Premier Rachel Notley in the government front-benches will be newly appointed Minister of Infrastructure Sandra Jansen, who left the PCs to join the NDP last November.

Leading the new United Conservative Party Caucus will be former Member of Parliament Jason Kenney, who won yesterday’s leadership vote with 61 percent, defeating former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, who finished with 31 percent, and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, who finished a distant third with 7 percent.

Kenney does not have a seat in the Assembly and indicated today that Calgary-Lougheed MLA Dave Rodney will resign on November 1, 2017 in order to create a by-election for his party’s new leader. Rodney was first elected in 2004.

David Eggen

As the new leader of the Official Opposition, Kenney will face some immediate issues as the Assembly reconvenes. He will need to reorganize his caucus office staff, reassign his party’s MLAs to new critic roles, and set an opposition agenda for the next 16 months. Kenney will do his best to avoid the bozoeruptions that plagued the former Wildrose MLAs in his UCP caucus and pivot to issues that will solidify his party’s conservative base.

As Kenney enters his new role as the new face of Conservatism in Alberta, the NDP will hope that Albertans forgive their more unpopular policies when reminded of the new UCP leader’s more bizarre social conservative views and rhetoric.

Education Minister David Eggen will introduce legislation making it illegal for schools to “out” students who join gay-straight alliances. Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances will reopen an issue that had conservative politicians tying themselves in knots after Kenney told a Postmedia editorial board that he would support teachers outing students who join GSAs.

Eggen has said most schools have been working with the province to establish codes of conduct against discrimination and adopt policies to protect LGBTQ youth, but a small group of mostly publicly-subsidized private schools are resisting. This bill could reignite the debate over the existence of publicly-subsidized private schools, some of which charge tens of thousands of tuition per student in order to attend.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Despite calls from their political allies, Notley’s NDP government has avoided overhauling the structure of Alberta’s school system. But open resistance by private schools over GSAs, and by publicly-funded Catholic Superintendents wanting to dumb-down the Sexual Education curriculum, could force a debate over accountability of public funds being provided to these religious schools.

Kenney has been a vocal supporter of the Catholic schools, claiming that Notley’s opposition to a dumbed-down Sexual Education curriculum is the “statist ideology of the NDP on steroids.”

Of course, Notley is not telling publicly-funded Catholic schools not to teach Catholicism, she is telling them that they must teach consent and acknowledge the existence of homosexuality (welcome to the 21st century).

Alberta is one of a few remaining provinces that provides full public funding to Catholic schools. Former PC MLA David King, who served as education minister from 1979 to 1986, has collected close to 1,000 signatures in an online petition demanding a referendum on the future of publicly funded Catholic schools in Alberta.

David King

On the flip-side, as Kenney enters his role as UCP leader, he will hope that Albertans forgive his more bizarre social conservative views and rhetoric when reminded of the NDP’s more unpopular policies.

Repealing farm safety laws and the government’s climate leadership plan, including the carbon tax and phase-out of dirty coal-fired power plants, were two of his key promises, along with much chest-thumping about withdrawing from Canada’s equalization program (which is not something any province can do, because the funds are collected through Canadian federal income taxes, not by the provinces).

We can expect Kenney to spend a lot of time criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has developed a relatively friendly working relationship with Notley’s government on issues ranging from oil pipeline construction to climate change. With deep connections to the Conservatives in Ottawa, expect a Kenney-led UCP to march in lockstep with their federal cousins on these issues.

Justin Trudeau

Notley’s NDP subtly shifted their messaging last year, focusing on launching new programs and projects they argue will “make lives better for Albertans.” This will provide the NDP with a significant contrast to the Kenney-led UCP, who they will argue would attack public services and hurt Alberta families.

Kenney has said that if he becomes Premier in 2019, the months that follow would be known as the “Summer of Repeal” as his government would immediately move to repeal legislation passed by the NDP since 2015. The trouble with Kenney’s promise to repeal all of the NDP’s agenda is that, despite anger from conservatives still bitter from losing the 2015 election, some of the changes introduced by Notley’s NDP are popular among Albertans.

Would a UCP government cancel the construction of the Cancer Treatment Centre and the Green Line in Calgary or the new hospital in south Edmonton? Would a UCP government increase school fees and cancel the $25/day childcare program? Would Kenney close schools and hospitals, like his political role model Ralph Klein did in the 1990s? Expect the NDP start asking these questions when MLAs meet in Edmonton tomorrow.

This weekend’s UCP leadership vote and the resumption of the Legislative session tomorrow marks a huge change in Alberta’s political landscape. Alberta politics has changed drastically over the past two years, and even the past decade. The next few weeks, and the next 16 months, in Alberta politics will be fascinating to watch.

Are Albertans afraid of changing their government?

Four days before Election Day, Progressive Conservative Party leader Jim Prentice stood on a stage in front of hall of supporters who paid $500 per plate to attend the evening fundraiser in downtown Edmonton. Mr. Prentice warned his audience of the dire consequences of voting for Rachel Notley’s NDP, which has been his key message since the televised leaders’ debate.

Five polls released on April 29, 2015 show the NDP leading the PC and Wildrose parties across Alberta, and with a massive lead in Edmonton. Most political watchers expected the Mr. Prentice to use the massive PC campaign war-chest to launch a massive negative advertising campaign against the NDP, but it has not materialized.

The PC Party has released some radio ads and its supporters in corporate Calgary, like oil company CEO Brian Ferguson, have spoken out against the NDP proposal to review natural resource royalties. But aside from Mr. Ferguson (and the supporters who paid $500 to hear Mr. Prentice speak last night), I am not sure most voters believe the government should not regularly review royalties to ensure Albertans are getting the best value for their resources.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

[The Globe & Mail reported on September 5, 2014 that Mr. Ferguson was among 39 donors who gave Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign between $10,001 and $30,000]

The attacks do not seem to have weakened Ms. Notley, who is an articulate and likeable politician. Her party has presented a moderate platform focused on reinvesting in health care and education, raising corporate tax rates from 10% to 12%, and carefully reviewing royalties collected for the province’s natural resources.

As Mr. Prentice tries to scare conservatives into re-electing his party to a 13th term in government, one poll conducted by ThinkHQ shows most Albertans surveyed said they were more afraid of a re-elected PC government than a Wildrose or NDP government.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader

Alison Redford

“…68% of those interviewed said they would be very or somewhat concerned about Alberta’s future if the PCs were re-elected as government. Meanwhile, 58% would have concerns about a Wildrose government, and only 47% say they would have reservations if the NDP win the election.”

In the 2012 election, conservative voters in rural Alberta abandoned the PCs in favour of the opposition Wildrose Party. The PCs were re-elected with the support of moderate voters, many former Liberal voters, who were both scared of the Wildrose and excited by Alison Redford’s promise of a progressive government.

Fast forward through three years of scandals, controversy and broken promises, and now many of the same voters who saved Ms. Redford’s PC Party in 2012 are now leaning toward voting for Ms. Notley’s NDP.

With trust and accountability having become the defining issues of the election campaign, Mr. Prentice has not presented a compelling reason for Albertans to trust that the PC Party will be any different in the next three years (especially after he called the election one year earlier than the PC Government’s fixed election date).

There is also a feeling among many Albertans that the PCs have mismanaged our province’s vast resource wealth, especially following the drop in oil prices earlier this year.

Despite years of economic prosperity, the PCs have run deficit budgets since 2008 and do not appear to have planned for any economic downturns (even though the price of oil has always been cyclical in nature).

Unlike previous elections that were dominated by the PCs, there is an increasing permissive environment among Alberta voters that it is okay not to support the governing party in this election.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has predicted the election of a PC minority government but said that Albertans should not be afraid of voting for the other parties. Mr. Nenshi has met with all five main party leaders and said any of them would do a “pretty decent job” for Calgary.

We’re a place of entrepreneurs. We’re a place of risk-takers, yet we don’t take risks in government except in 2010. And I think that one worked out OK for Calgary,” Mr. Nenshi told the Calgary Herald.

In a recent blog post, former Edmonton PC MLA and cabinet minister David King asked “Should Albertans vote for a P.C. candidate, in any constituency, and elect a cog in a machine that is running amuck?”

With NDP support concentrated in urban areas of the province, the PCs also face a major challenge from Brian Jean‘s Wildrose Party in rural Alberta. For the first time in their 44 years in power, the PCs are facing a two front campaign. It is never a safe bet to count the PCs out, but they may be facing their toughest challenge since forming government in 1971.

And with four days left until Election Day, it is still not clear which party will form government on May 5, 2015, but a minority government could be a likely result.

A minority government would breathe new life into Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, which has largely become a rubber-stamp for decisions made behind closed doors by PC cabinet ministers and MLAs. A minority government would also, for the first time in Alberta’s history, force the governing party to meaningfully work with the other parties when passing legislation.

Changing our government is not something Albertans should be afraid of. It is something we should probably do on a regular basis.

alberta politics notes 11/19/2010

After a week-long break, MLAs returned to the Assembly for a week that started with three-sided tailing ponds and ended with an emergency debate on health care.

Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman at 2010 Premier's Pancake Breakfast.

Emergency Debate on Health Care
Edmonton-Meadowlark PC MLA and parliamentary assistant for Health & Wellness Raj Sherman got the attention he was looking for when he wrote a blunt email to the Premier, and several MLAs, cabinet ministers, and medical colleagues. The letter continued a month long media firestorm on the state of emergency room wait times in Alberta.

As Question Period ended yesterday, Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman succeeded in her bid to hold an emergency debate, which lasted for just over an hour and showcased some of the most passionate debate I have seen in the Assembly this year. This was the second attempt by the opposition during this session to initiate an emergency debate on this topic. A motion to extend the debate during the afternoon was defeated when a number of PC MLAs who did not want to extend their four day week on the Assembly floor (Ron Liepert, Jeff Johnson, and Barry McFarland as tweeted by Liberal caucus Chief of Staff Rick Miller). UPDATE: Mr. Miller has commented below that his tweet was naming the three PC MLAs for not standing in support of the initial vote to have an emergency debate, not to vote against extending the debate past 4:30pm.

MLA Laurie Blakeman initiated the emergency debate.

For Dr. Sherman, the big question is what does his political future hold? After embarrassing the Premier and his caucus on this sensitive file, it is questionable how much longer his colleagues will tolerate an independence streak. With three former PC MLAs having crossed to the Wildrose Alliance in the past year, the Tories need to balance maintaining caucus unity without being too disciplinary with their more independent-minded MLAs. This is a balancing act that has proved difficult in the 68 MLA PC caucus.

New Rural Municipalities Leader
The AAMDC Annual Conference was held this weekend and Bob Barss was elected as their new President. Mr. Barss is the Reeve for the Municipal District of Wainwright No. 61. He was first elected in to Council in 1995 and became Reeve in 1997. Mr. Barss replaces Municipal District of Taber Reeve Don Johnson, who has served in the position since 2004. The conference included speeches from provincial cabinet ministers Hector Goudreau, Rob Renner, Ray Danyluk, Heather Klimchuk, Jack Hayden, Luke Ouellette, and Premier Ed Stelmach.

Liberal Party AGM
The Liberal Party is holding its annual general meeting on November 27 and will elect three of its executive committee members, President, Vice-President (Policy), and Secretary. Edmonton Regional Director Erick Ambtman has declared his intentions to run for President. Current President, Debbie Cavaliere, was appointed on an interim basis after former President Tony Sansotta resigned in July. Ms. Cavaliere will be seeking election as VP (Policy) and current Secretary Nancy Cavanaugh will be seeking re-election for her position.

New NDP Communications Guy
Richard Liebrecht started his new job as the Communications Director for the NDP Caucus this week. Mr. Liebrecht is a former reporter for the Edmonton Sun and editor at the Hinton Parklander. Mr. Liebrecht replaces another former Sun reporter Brookes Merritt, who recently left the NDP Caucus for a job at the Public Affairs Bureau.

The former Libertarian leader wants to carry the Wildrose flag in Calgary-Hays.

Libertarian leader goes Wildrose
Dennis Young is seeking the Wildrose Alliance nomination in Calgary-Hays. The former leader of the Libertarian Party of Canada, Mr. Young earned  265 votes in his 2008 campaign in Calgary-Southwest, which was won by Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Note: Mr. Young is still listed as leader on the Libertarian Party website, but lists himself as the former leader on his campaign website). View the updated list of declared and nominated provincial election candidates.

Distracted drivers
Alberta has a new distracted driving law that will prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.

Alberta Party (new) media coverage
If you missed the coverage of last weekend’s Alberta Party policy conference, there is no shortage of online news stories and blog posts. Here is a run-down from media and participants of the policy convention and recent Big Listens.

Todd Babiak: Alberta Party hopes to gain foothold with “post-partisan politics”
Dave Berry: Political Crowdsourcing
Samantha Power: Party of the Young
The Unknown Studio Podcast: The Brierley Patch
Mack Male: The Alberta Party’s Big Listen
Edwin Erickson: Moving right along then…
Gerard McLellan: Sunday morning at the Alberta Party policy convention
The Roundhouse: Alberta Party Policy Convention – Part 1
Alberta Party policy convention – Aftermath
Chris Labossiere: Tired and yet inspired
David King: Carpe Diem
Ken Chapman: The Alberta Party is on the Move and Making Waves
Max Fawcett: Mission Impossible?
Duncan Kinney: Feed-in Tariffs, Geothermal and Carbon Disclosure – My experience at the Alberta Party Policy Convention
Jeremy Barretto: Why the Alberta Party is a game changer, not late to the game

Read more in the Alberta Politics Notes archive.

my closing remarks to the alberta party conference.

A few weeks ago, Alberta Party President Chris Labossiere asked if I would be interested in sharing some closing remarks to this past weekend’s policy conference. I accepted Chris’ invite and shared some closing remarks this afternoon in Red Deer. After the remarks a few people have asked if I could post my remarks on this blog, so here are the rough notes from my closing remarks.

Alberta Party Convention Closing Remarks
November 14, 2010

I want to thank Chris Labossiere for inviting me to give the closing remarks to this weekend’s conference. We have all had a long weekend and some of us have a long ride home this afternoon, so I am going to keep my closing remarks short.

When I met with Chris over breakfast to chat about the Alberta Party a few weeks ago, we spoke a lot about why we were looking for a new kind of politics. We both came from different political experiences, but we both see the need for change.

I want to share with you why I participated this weekend and why I have joined the Alberta Party.

For many years, I was involved in a different political party. I had great experiences in my previous political life and met great people, many who I consider to be close friends, but as a member I came to feel disenfranchised by both the political system and the party of which I was a member. After I let my membership in that party lapse two years ago, I was very hesitant to join any political movement.

As a politically active citizen, there were a number of things that pushed me away from the institutional parties.

To quote Bing Crosby: “You’ve got to accentuate the positive Eliminate the negative Latch on to the affirmative Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.” I found the negativity in opposition politics to be too much to stomach.

The current government is many things, but not everything they do is bad. One of the biggest problems we face is not bad leadership from our government. It’s extremely mediocre leadership from our government, which in many ways feels almost worse, because we can see the potential that is not being realized.

Alberta is a great place to live, but it could be much better. If we want to create that better Alberta, we cannot focus on the negative, on what is wrong. Let’s talk about what is right, what’s almost there, and what we can do to push it forward.

We also need to respect Albertans. We have all heard opposition candidates or leaders in the heat an election defeat call Albertans “stupid” or say “they got what they deserved” because we have elected the same governing party for the past forty years. Albertans are not stupid. When presented with a positive alternative, Albertans will consider and embrace it.

But it is not just about replacing Party A with Party B, what we need is a change in how governments operate in Alberta, we need to change the way we do politics.

This week, it was revealed that the Energy Minister has been consulting a secret council of oil sands experts. Our elected officials should always be consulting the best and the brightest in their fields, but when it comes to our most valuable natural resource, we deserve to know who is influencing our elected officials. I do not believe that the decision to hide the identities of these secret advisors to be malicious or nefarious. It is a sign of a governing party that has lost its way. A governing party who holds stakeholder meetings instead of talking with Albertans. They have forgotten how to talk with Albertans.

There is an appetite for a new kind of politics. A new kind of participatory governance. We saw it in the recent municipal elections in villages, counties, towns, and cities across Alberta. People stepped up and took the risk to challenge not only institutional candidates, but an institutional culture. A top-down institutional culture that has driven many Albertans away participating in their politics and governance. In many ways, we are all taking a similar risk.

We can see political change all around us. Our province is a different place than it was even ten years ago. Our politics has not reflected that, but it is starting to. This weekend we provided Albertans with proof that politics can change. Let’s challenge them let’s challenge the other parties to do better.

In closing, last weekend some friends and I scrambled up one of the peaks of Mount Lougheed in Kananaskis Country. It was tough and it was hard work. On our way up the mountain, we switchbacked left and right, left and right, but we kept on leaning forward up the mountain. When we reached the summit, it made me think of what a great metaphor that day was for what anyone trying to change politics in this province. It made me think of what a challenge it must have been the last time someone changed the way we do politics in this province.

As David King described in his opening remarks yesterday morning, forty years ago, it was a group of young forward thinking Albertans, led by Peter Lougheed, who changed the way we do politics in this province. When I look at the group of people here this weekend. When I think of the positive and respectful debate that I participated in this weekend, I know that it is possible that if we keep leaning forward, we can reach the top of our mountain and change politics in this province forever.

alberta party annual general meeting & road to policy 2010.


I have travelled across a lot of Canada and while I have experienced some amazing scenery, in my mind little compares with a Fall drive down the Queen Elizabeth II Highway through central Alberta. The colours of the leaves are changing, the farmers are harvesting their crops, and a new season is just around the corner. This was the drive I took this weekend on my way to Red Deer to observe the Annual General Meeting of the Alberta Party.

Around fifty members of the Alberta Party crowded a meeting room at the Holiday Inn to participate in their party’s Annual General Meeting. It was a typical hotel conference room, but the crowd was different. Where most traditional partisans could easily be characterized by their greying hair or balding heads, this crowd was much more generationally diverse than I have seen at other political meetings.

I arrived at noon and was told that I had missed a series of small fireworks set off by some of the old guard of the Alberta Party. The Alberta Party was formed in the 1980s and existed as a Reform Party-esq fringe party until earlier this year when a new group of mainly rural Party members joined forces with the largely urban Renew Alberta group. I was told that some of these older party members felt that the influx of new members and new constitutional changes were changing the party too quickly. After a thorough debate, all the constitutional changes and motions were approved.

Not being able to piggyback on the resources of federal political cousins or traditional party establishments, members of the new Alberta Party have focused on building their party and policy infrastructure through hundreds of “Big Listen” meetings held across the province. The ideas and feedback generated through these living-room and coffee meetings were used in Saturday afternoon’s Road to Policy session to determine the general areas of discussion that will be proposed at the Alberta Party’s Policy Convention in November.

It was my observation that ideas generated from the Big Listens that were discussed this weekend were not extreme or ideological driven. The ideas were moderate and likely reflective of the views of most Albertans. It felt that one of the biggest differences between this party and the traditional establishment parties is not necessarily policy, but the tone of discussions that are shaping that party.

While some political leaders talk about doing politics differently, the Alberta Party is actually doing politics differently. What I witnessed this weekend did not feel like a political party event, it felt like a real collaborative process.

Some criticism levelled at the Alberta Party since they launched their Big Listen campaign has been that they do nothing but listen. A few months ago, I might have been more sympathetic to these criticisms, but I now understand the process that the party is following. Laying a strong foundation of organization and ideas is not something that can be created overnight and it is critical for the survival of a new political party.

One of the big news items of the day was the announcement by Leader Edwin Erickson that he will resign from his position at the November Policy Convention. At that convention an interim leader will be appointed and an open leadership contest will begin.

The thing that impresses me the most about the new Alberta Party is the group of credible and politically savvy people who have joined its ranks over the past ten months.

New Party President Chris Labossiere was previously involved with the Edmonton-Whitemud Progressive Conservatives and played a key role in Dave Hancock‘s re-election campaign in 2008. Vice-President Chima Nkemderim is the campaign director for Naheed Nenshi‘s Calgary Mayoral campaign and managed MLA Kent Hehr‘s 2008 campaign in Calgary-Buffalo. Their Board of Directors includes former Education Minister David King and Edmonton Public School Board Trustee Sue Huff. At the end of the day, the newly elected Alberta Party Board of Directors consisted of 11 women and 14 men from across the province.

Some people have asked me “why I bother writing about the Alberta Party” and why I do not focus on helping get the established opposition parties elected. The truth is I have a difficult time not getting frustrated when writing about the sorry state of Alberta’s traditional establishment opposition parties.

To me, the characteristics that differentiate what I experienced this weekend from what I have experienced at other political meetings is the optimism of the people in the room. The people I spoke with at the AGM are not driven with a singular desire to destroy the PCs or gain power, but are driven with an optimism to change the culture of politics in this province.

The Alberta Party has proven to me that they can attract competent people and actually understand the meaning of practicing politics differently. Their big challenge will be to translate this into support outside their already politically active communities and into the next provincial election.

new ad: liberal party seeking single, progressive partners.

The Liberal Party ran this ad in today’s Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal.

It is nice to see David Swann and the Liberals taking a public stance on this issue. I was among a group of delegates who raised this idea at the 2008 party convention and were given a cold shoulder by party loyalists for suggesting that the party needed to start something new. Most members of that group of delegates have since left the Liberal Party and some are now members of the Alberta Party.

They might hold Official Opposition status in the Assembly, but it is a little late for the Liberals to try to position themselves as the leadership figures among progressives in this discussion. It really is too bad that the Liberal Party took so long to join the conversation because they could have had a big impact if they would have been more open-minded to the possibilities two years ago.

UPDATE: I have to say that I am disappointed with the NDP and Alberta Party for their unwillingness to be open to discussions with the Liberal Party. Dr. Swann has taken a big political risk by offering to talk and in the low-stakes of opposition politics in Alberta it would cause negligible political harm to kindly accept the offer.

Alberta Party-supporter David King has written some thoughtful commentary on how the letter was framed. I do agree that it was unnecessarily adversarial towards the governing Progressive Conservatives. As a friend of mine pointed out after reading the Liberal Party ad, if you remove the anti-Conservative section of the letter, there is very little that most Albertans would disagree with. Perhaps Dr. Swann should have opened the same invitation to the PCs, and even the Wildrose Alliance.

It was not a shock that NDP leader Brian Mason is not interested in cooperating with the Liberal Party, but his political cheap-shot response was rude and not helpful. While many Albertans would probably agree with Mr. Mason that the Liberal Party is a “train-wreck,” the Alberta NDP, sitting at ~10% in the polls, is hardly an example of a relevant modern political machine.

breakfast with the new alberta party.

I had a very interesting meeting over breakfast at the SugarBowl on Saturday morning with some of the members involved in the new Alberta Party. Most Albertans probably did not even know that an Alberta Party even existed. Most Albertans would probably be surprised at what a busy couple of months it has been for the tiny political party that has so far occupied a historical footnote worth of activity.

At a meeting in Sylvan Lake in early January 2010, members of Renew Alberta and the board members of the Alberta Party met to flesh out ideas on how they could work together. While the little-known Alberta Party has found itself in the “right-wing” category for most of its existence, I am told that by January 2010, most of the more socially conservative members had left that party to join the Wildrose Alliance. This left a tight-knit group of people from central Alberta, old Reformers with a centrist bent, on that party’s board. After meeting to discuss the ‘merger’ with Renew Alberta, the members of the Alberta Party board voted first to unanimously to suspend their party policies (many of which were developed in the 1980s) and second to welcome members of Renew Alberta to join their board, starting a fresh.

Former Green Party Deputy Leader Edwin Erickson was collecting signatures to create a new ‘Progress Party,’ when he was approached to join the Alberta Party and run its leadership late last year. He was soon after acclaimed as Leader. Erickson is well-known in central Alberta for his opposition to the new transmission line laws (Bill 46, Bill 50, and Bill 19) and he placed a distant, but strong, second when running in the Drayton Valley-Calmar in the 2008 election.

Erickson was joined at our Saturday morning breakfast meeting by two new Alberta Party board members. Chris Labossiere is a successful businessman and is the former VP Communications for the Edmonton-Whitemud Progressive Conservative Association. He left the PC Party in 2009 after the Bill 44 controversy. David King is one of the few Albertans still involved in politics who was around the last time a change in government happened. As the MLA for Edmonton-Highlands from 1971 to 1986 and Minister of Education from 1979 to 1986, King was closely involved with building the PC Party under its first Premier Peter Lougheed. King was also one of the founding forces behind the similarly named, yet differently focused, Reboot Alberta.

The co-chair of Renew Alberta, who will be heavily involved as a spokesperson for the new Alberta Party, is Chima Nkemdirim, a lawyer from Calgary who until the last election was involved with the Liberal Party as campaign manager for Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr. Taking a look at the list of the new Alberta Party board members revealed a healthy mix of very urban and very rural, and young and old with diverse political and community backgrounds. I know many of these people and have a lot of respect for what they are doing (I am told that the full list of board members for the new Alberta Party will be released when the new website is fully launched in March).

With the old party policies suspended, the new Alberta Party plans to focus their energies not on selling party memberships or building constituency organizations (at least now), but on ‘The Big Listen’ – a conversation with Albertans. Critical to their success is the need for ‘The Big Listen’ to be more than an exercise in faux-populism. We have seen a brand of faux-populism from the traditional political parties where they travel the province to “listen to Albertans” or hear “what Albertans want,” only to return with a pre-determined partisan or ideological policy stance. In many ways, “listening to Albertans” has turned into an exercise in market research and brand development, rather than sincere governance. If the new Alberta Party is to be successful, “The Big Listen” needs to be a real exercise in collaborative policy development and ideas generation.

I was told that the new Alberta Party is planning to go beyond the traditional dreary town hall meeting to help supporters to host smaller and more intimate meetings in living rooms and seniors centres across Alberta. One of the ideas proposed at the breakfast meeting was the use of technology to create a collaborative atmosphere online where citizens can contribute beyond the on-going ‘Big Listen’ meetings.

As explained to me, the immediate goal for the people involved with the new Alberta Party is not to form government or to create another top-down leader dominated party, but to help change the culture of governance in Alberta. To “turn fear into hope and isolation into collaboration” by re-engaging Albertans in the way they are governed. If you think this sounds a bit like the language of ChangeCamp, you are correct. Some of the people involved in the new Alberta Party have also been involved or attended ChangeCamp in Edmonton, CivicCamp in Calgary, and Reboot Alberta.

Over breakfast, the example of Nokia was brought up. Responding to changing markets, the Finnish mobile phone company adopted an overlying strategy geared towards collaboration with their customers, rather than purely focusing on competition with other mobile phone companies. When this idea is applied politically, it is a large step away from the traditional confrontational mentality of annihilating your opponents at any cost. It should not be, but it is a novel idea, and not one that any of the traditional political are offering in any sincere way.

Throughout our discussion, the underlying theme I sensed from Erickson, Labossiere, and King was a desire for more accountable, transparent, and honest governance and a greater role for citizen engagement in how Albertans are governed. Essentially, an engaged, reformed, and accountable government reflective of the citizens of this province.

I have already heard harsh criticisms from friends in the PC, Liberal, and New Democratic parties that a new Alberta Party will only serve to split the centrist vote in the next election even further, helping the Wildrose Alliance to win more seats. There is a chance of this, but I have a difficult time seriously discussing vote splitting when 60% of Albertans did not vote in the last election. The traditional political parties have proven that they are uninterested or incapable of renewing themselves beyond what is politically most convenient in the short-term – and that is not good enough. As I wrote in response to comments in my previous post, maybe the new Alberta Party will flop, but maybe they will make politics more interesting (and more positive) for the average Albertan. I’m open minded and willing to give them a chance.

(You can find the Alberta Party online on Facebook and on Twitter)