Tag Archives: Edwin Erickson

Wildrose leader faces Rocky [Mountain House] challenges and leadership review

Tim Grover Danielle Smith Edmonton-Whitemud by-election 2014 1

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith at the launch of Edmonton-Whitemud candidate Tim Grover’s by-election campaign in October 2014.

Reacting to her party’s poor results in four provincial by-elections held this week, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith announced that she will face a leadership review at her party’s annual convention on November 14 and 15, 2014 in Red Deer.

Premier Alison Redford

Alison Redford

This is a smart move by the official opposition leader, as a solid approval rating could silence her detractors inside the party and mute Progressive Conservative activists who have been using social media to vocally call for her resignation after this week’s by-election votes.

It is not hard to imagine Ms. Smith doing well in the review. She earned 90% support in a leadership review following the 2012 election.

Ms. Smith has also publicly recognized that her party’s strategy of attack in the by-elections fell flat. And on a conference call with constituency presidents last night, Ms. Smith said she would not accept party strategist Vitor Marciano‘s resignation offer in wake of the by-election results. Mr. Marciano also serves as Ms. Smith’s press secretary and is a former member of the Conservative Party of Canada National Council.

Ed Stelmach

Ed Stelmach

But the move to reaffirm her leadership in advance of the 2016 election also comes with risks if her opponents inside the party do decide to strike.

And as we know from recent PC Party leadership reviews, who is able to vote is highly controlled and the results have limited meaning. In 2009 and 2013, PC leaders Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford earned 77% approval from party loyalists. But within months of the both votes, the leaders were drummed out of office by caucus and party revolts (a real revolt in Ms. Redford’s case and a threatened one in Mr. Stelmach’s case).

Wildrose Party members would be foolish to remove Ms. Smith as their leader before the next election. She is smart, media savvy and has grown into her role as official opposition leader since taking over the party in 2009. Removing her as leader would be a death knell for the party.

Trouble in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre

Joe Anglin MLA Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre

Joe Anglin

Aside from a leadership review, Ms. Smith may have to deal with growing unrest in one of her party’s rural constituency associations. The Wildrose Party executive committee has appointed a special subcommittee to investigate an ongoing dispute within the party’s Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre constituency association.

The controversy centres around a heated vote for a  new board of directors at an October 15, 2014 annual general meeting. A new board of directors is believed to have been elected, but is disputed by the previous board of directors, who claim that the meeting had officially adjourned before the new board could be elected.

Jason Nixon Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre

Jason Nixon

The President of the new board of directors is Edwin Erickson, a former leader of the Alberta Party and former deputy leader of the Alberta Greens during Mr. Anglin’s time as that party’s leader from 2008 to 2009.

These allegations have led the new board, which is operating as the official board, to retain the services of Toronto lawyer Donald Bur to represent them in any legal disputes.

According to the Rimbey Review, Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin did not attend the meeting and claims he heard a tape recording that proves the motion to adjourn was “soundly defeated.”

Much of the tension appears to stem from a recent nomination contest that was wrought with controversy and accusations. During the July 2014 contest, Mr. Anglin, an outspoken property rights activist, publicly accused the Wildrose Party executive committee of failing to enforce the party’s own nomination rules. When the votes were counted, Mr. Anglin was defeated by Jason Nixon.

Following Mr. Anglin’s nomination loss, Ms. Smith suggested that he might consider running in an Edmonton constituency in the next election.

recap: alberta party leadership convention.

Outgoing Alberta Party interim leader Sue Huff sang a tongue-in-cheek rendition of "Over the rainbow" to participants at the Alberta Party leadership convention at Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre on May 28, 2011. Over 300 people attended the Alberta Party leadership convention.

Over 300 people attended the Alberta Party leadership convention.

The Alberta Party held their leadership convention on May 27 and 28 at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton and I attended as a member from the Edmonton-Centre constituency. Despite my reservations about the low-key leadership contest, I was impressed with the quality, organization, and positive energy of the event, which drew over 300 attendees from across the province.

Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor was selected as leader of the Alberta Party on the first ballot at the May 28, 2011 leadership convention at Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre.

Glenn Taylor was elected on the first ballot.

Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor was elected leader by earning 55% support on the first ballot. Candidate Randy Royer placed second with 23%, Lee Easton placed third with 12%, and Tammy Maloney placed fourth with 8%. One thousand  two hundred voting members cast their leadership ballots over the telephone and the internet. Twelve hundred votes may not seem like a lot, but it is a significant number when you take into account that the Alberta Party only had around 40 members at the beginning of 2010.

Outgoing Alberta Party interim leader Sue Huff sang a tongue-in-cheek rendition of "Over the rainbow" to participants at the Alberta Party leadership convention at Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre on May 28, 2011.

Outgoing Alberta Party interim leader Sue Huff sang a tongue-in-cheek rendition of "Over the Rainbow."

Mayor Taylor takes over the party leadership from acting-leader Sue Huff, who has stepped into the position after former leader Edwin Erickson resigned in November 2010. Ms. Huff is expected to be nominated as her party’s candidate in Edmonton-Glenora, an area she represented as a Public School Board Trustee until October 2010. During the convention, Ms. Huff wowed convention attendees with a tongue-in-cheek rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” a good-humoured response to critics of the Alberta Party’s focus on its new approach to policy development through the Big Listen process.

Campaign swag from the various Alberta Party leadership candidates at that party's leadership convention on May 28, 2011 at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton. Candidates were Glenn Taylor, Randy Royer, Lee Easton, and Tammy Maloney

Campaign swag from the Alberta Party leadership candidates

Aside from the announcement of the leadership vote, the May 28 program included updates on constituency organizing from Michael Walters and the party’s 60 constituency Presidents, and speeches from Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor, Election Readiness Chair Chima Nkemdirim, and the announcement of the Alberta Party’s new Health Care policy brief. The policy was introduced to attendees by University of Alberta Public Health PhD student Elaine Hyshka and former U of A Hospital CEO Don Schurman. The policy brief puts a strong focus on primary care and long-term care elements of Alberta’s health care system.

A campaign fortune cookie from the campaign of Glenn Taylor, who won the Alberta Party leadership on May 28, 2011 at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton.

A campaign fortune cookie from Glenn Taylor's campaign.

On the evening of Friday May 27 the Alberta Party launched its new visual identity and held a Pecha Kucha-style Big Ideas Night, giving participants five minutes on stage to share their “big idea.” Speakers included Dennis Lenarduzzi,  Everett Smith, Danielle Klooster, Connie Jensen, Lisa Marie Fox, Glenn Taylor, Jesse Rowe, and Wade Ferguson. I missed the Big Ideas Night while volunteering at Homefest’s One Room concert that night, so I was glad to read that Mack Male had written about it on his blog.

Alberta Party MLA Dave Taylor and newly elected Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor at the May 28, 2011 Alberta Party leadership convention at Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre.

Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and newly elected leader Glenn Taylor.

Having attended countless political events organized by nearly every major political organizations in the province, I have become accustomed to spotting the “usual suspects” in these organizations. One of the measurements I use to judge the success of political organizations are the amount of people I do recognize when attending political events. This weekend, I was pleased to discover that I only recognized around 1/3 of the convention attendees, which I believe is promising news for the Alberta Party.

I have posted more photos from the Alberta Party leadership convention on Flickr.

ted morton takes aim at property rights picasso.

 

Ted Morton takes aim at Cubism, and Keith Wilson.

The PC government is expected to introduce amendments to the Land Stewardship Act tomorrow as part of their campaign to win back the support of rural landowners spooked by new laws granting cabinet ministers extensive land expropriation powers.

The passage of the Land Assembly Project Area Act and the Electric Statutes Amendment Act have sparked a rift between the near forty-year governing PCs and many of their long-time supporters in rural Alberta. The spooked landowners and their supporters have shown up in the thousands to town hall meetings across central Alberta over the past two years.

Under normal circumstances the disgruntled landowners would have few options available for a political alternative to the PCs, but the Wildrose Alliance are using the property rights issue as a wedge they hope will help elect their candidates in the region in the next election. Former Green Party candidates and landowners rights advocates Joe Anglin and Edwin Erickson were able to capture support on the issue in their 2008 election campaigns in Lacombe-Ponoka and Drayton Valley-Calmar, yet in 2011 the Wildrose have capitalized on it.

Speaking to the Alberta Beef Industry Conference in Red Deer, PC leadership candidate Ted Morton took aim at a lawyer he claimed was spreading fear about the PC land-use laws:

“If politics is the art of the half truth, the lawyer that’s been used by this other political party to spread this around, I’d say he’s a real Picasso.”

Mr. Morton’s “Picasso” remarks were aimed at lawyer and Wildrose member Keith Wilson, who has been hosting town halls and information meetings across the province with long-time advocates like Mr. Anglin.

2010 in review: alberta politics.

This past year has been a fascinating one in Alberta politics. We have felt the rise of a new political opposition, witnessed more floor crossings than in decades, and a long-serving government that is trying desperately to find a direction. What have the changes in the past year meant for Alberta’s political players and what will it mean for them in 2011?
Progressive Conservatives
The challenges facing the PC Party on the eve of 2011 are similar to the challenges they faced a year ago. During the mid and late 1990s, the PCs were driven by an all-consuming desire to defeat the provincial deficit and debt. Once those goals were accomplished in the mid-2000s, the PCs lost their driving force. As in 2009, they continued to drift through 2010, without a defining purpose.

To say that the government was on auto-pilot in 2010 might be too generous a description because even that assumes that the ship is purposefully being steered in one direction. This is not to say that the PCs have driven Alberta into the ground. Alberta is still one of the most economically vibrant regions in Canada, but even the biggest optimist would admit that with a lack of strong leadership an institutional mediocrity has begun to define the leadership of Premier Ed Stelmach.

Protecting the reputation of the oil sands has become a raison d’aitre for many cabinet ministers, including Premier Stelmach and Environment Minister Rob Renner, but issues like health care have overshadowed these environmental issues on a domestic level. The firing of Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett along with a public shaming by the ER Doctors, and a very public battle with Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Dr. Raj Sherman over Emergency Room wait-times turned the Tories to damage control mode late in 2010.

The PCs had initially hoped to turn health care as one of their positive stories of 2010 and promised one of the most important pieces of health care legislation in decades. The flagship Alberta Health Act was initially created to bring all health care laws under one piece of legislation, but once it made it to the Assembly floor, it was watered down to include a non-binding health charter and empowering the Health Minister to make more decisions in closed door cabinet meetings, rather than through Legislative votes.

In a number of year end interviews, Premier Stelmach has already begun managing expectations for 2011, stating that the provincial budget deficit may not be paid down until 2013, which creates an interesting political environment for an election expected in March 2012. The Premier has also stated that he will shuffle his cabinet in early 2011 in advance of the next election.

The next year will give the PCs an opportunity to mend some fences in their former stronghold of Calgary. The election of Mayor Naheed Nenshi in October 2010 could create a new cooperative tone between the Premier and the Mayor of Alberta’s largest city (a relationship that was not kind to the Premier when Dave Bronconnier was Mayor). If the PCs are unable to regain lost ground in Calgary, they might begin asking what, or who, caused their decline in support, and whether the reason responsible should be replaced.

Liberals
After being elbowed to the sideline by the growing narrative of the Wildrose Alliance as the next government-in-waiting in 2010, the Liberal Party’s biggest challenge in 2011 is to be relevant. Unable to defeat the PCs after 17 years as the Official Opposition, the Liberal Party has started to look and feel like yesterday’s opposition party.

The party has paid down its enormous debt and the caucus has released a series of new policies, but under David Swann‘s leadership the party has been unable to show any momentum as it slipped to third place in nearly every poll in 2010.

The departure of Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor in April 2010 hurt the Liberals and I am told that many of the party’s traditional big donors in Edmonton are not pleased with the current leadership or Dr. Swann’s last minute appeal for cooperation with other opposition parties. With up to three of the party’s eight MLAs planning on retiring at the next election, the party is hoping to draw on a number of former MLAs defeated in the 2008 election to bolster its slate in the next election. Not exactly the sign of renewal that they will need to build momentum.

Wildrose Alliance
The past year has been a spectacular one for the Wildrose Alliance. With four MLAs, that party now has the third largest caucus in the Assembly, the most charismatic leader, Danielle Smith, a slew of staffers and organizers who have fled the PCs, a growing membership, and a group of 26 already nominated candidates knocking on doors across the province. The annual fundraising reports expected to be released by Elections Alberta in March 2011 will reveal another part of this party’s story in 2010 and will show if they will be able to compete with the PC Party’s multi-million dollar war chest.

The Wildrose Alliance is becoming more adept at using political wedge issues to draw out the weakness of the governing PCs. For example, where the PCs will never admit that they have ever attempted to increase privatization of our public health care system, the Wildrose Alliance is much more open with their desire to introduce private insurance and private providers (of course, their arguments around private health care delivery hit a bump in the road when they decided to defend the bankrupt Health Resource Centre in Calgary).

On the municipal front, Ms. Smith briefly entered the City Centre Airport redevelopment debate and received a stunning rebuke from Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel. While Ms. Smith’s entry into the debate does not appear to have helped that cause, it did give her party the opportunity to organize in their weakest region of the province (a maneuver that appears to have paid off).

A party cannot grow this fast without bumps along the road and the Wildrose has had a few. A few months ago, the entire Board of Directors of that party’s Little Bow Constituency Association resigned over allegations of central party interference in the nomination contest that selected Ian Donovan over Kevin Kinahan in November 2010. This week, the Board of Directors of the Medicine Hat Wildrose Constituency Association resigned over the acclamation of candidate Milvia Bauman.

New Democratic Party
The NDP are well… the NDP. The party’s two MLAs, Brian Mason and Rachel Notley, were vocal opponents in the Assembly this year and the party hosted a reasonably well-attended policy conference. The NDP Caucus released some positive policy this year, but rather than offering a constructive alternative to the current government the two MLAs fell back into the comfortable opposition attack-dog position.

The party shows very little signs of serious growth in the polls outside its traditional areas of support, but they are in a position to benefit from a weakened Liberal Party inside Edmonton’s city limits. Barring a change in leadership, which could see Ms. Notley or former MLA David Eggen step up, the NDP may have missed their window of opportunity to broaden their support beyond a handful of Edmonton constituencies a number of years ago.

Alberta Party
After the merger of the old Alberta Party with the Renew Alberta group in late 2009, the new Alberta Party has experienced huge growth.

Through the Big Listen process, the party attracted many disenchanted Tories, Liberals, New Democrats, former Greens, and independents to its ranks and has grown to nearly 1000 member in just one year. The party has been bolstered through the presidency of Chris Labossiere and in a smart move the party hired community organizer Michael Walters as their provincial organizer in Spring 2010. This still-growing party is expected to have over 40 constituency associations organized by the end of January 2011.

Acting Leader Sue Huff replaced leader Edwin Erickson in November 2010 and a full leadership contest will be launched in January 2011. A few potential candidates have already stepped up, including Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor and Calgarian Chris Tesarski. The Alberta Party received a boost in public and media interest in October 2010, when many of its key organizers helped vault Naheed Nenshi to the Mayoralty in Calgary.

As an active member of this party, I see the Alberta Party’s big challenge of 2011 to move past the Big Listen to the next step of initiating some Big Action.

sue huff acting leader of the alberta party.

Former Edmonton Public School Trustee Sue Huff is now the Acting Leader of the Alberta Party. Ms. Huff replaces Edwin Erickson, who became leader in late 2009 and announced his intentions to step down at the party’s Annual General Meeting in October. The Alberta Party is preparing to hold a leadership contest that will take place next spring.

The first set of policies ratified by participants of their first convention were also released this week. The party is currently in the process of establishing and organizing constituency associations across the province (founding meetings are being held this week in Edmonton-Centre, Leduc-Beaumont-Devon, Calgary-Mountain View, and Edmonton-Glenora).

(I shared some closing remarks at the Alberta Party’s first policy conference, which you can read here.)

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.

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.

perfesser dave’s five paths to obscurity.

In his most recent blog post and column in the Saint City News, David Climenhaga (aka Perfesser Dave) pointed out five main challenges that the new Alberta Party faces in becoming relevant in the 2012 election. It is a good list and these challenges do not face the new Alberta Party alone. Mr. Climenhaga is also accurate in describing the challenges facing the other opposition parties in Alberta.

While the Wildrose Alliance, now led by Danielle Smith, has been successful in raising piles of cash through their oil and gas sector bankrollers, both the Liberals and New Democrats have had a difficult time raising the kind of funds needed to compete with the near 40-year governing Progressive Conservative Party. In 2007, the Liberals led by Edmonton MLA Kevin Taft raised over $1 million, but it remained a miniscule amount compared to the PC Party’s multi-million dollar war chest.

For all the talk of vote-splitting among the opposition parties, the political field is really not that crowded. In 2008, over 60% of Albertans stayed away from the polls, which signals that Albertans are hardly overflowing the polling stations to split votes. Even the electoral equations provided by the Democratic Renewal Project show that a merger of Liberal and NDP votes in recent elections would only create a moderately-sized opposition. It is true that the new Alberta Party leader, Edwin Erickson, is not high profile and is unlikely to be the next Premier of Alberta, but once you step out of the political echo chamber or away from the Dome, all the parties become irrelevant. For all their hard work, show a picture of David Swann or Brian Mason to a random person on the street, and you will likely get a puzzled look.

Voter Turnout versus Eligible Voters (Alberta 1975-2008)
Total Vote: Party Breakdown (Alberta 1971-2008)

Mr. Climenhaga claimed that the Alberta Party is a group of “self-important yuppified professionals who would like to go straight into power.” I have met with some of the organizers of the new Alberta Party and some of them are even good friends of mine. I can attest that while they are ambitious (and perhaps a bit naive), they are not what Mr. Climenhaga describes.

I have spoken with many Liberals and New Democrats who remain befuddled as to why anyone would attempt to start something new, rather than join the ranks of the already assembled politicos. On many levels, the people behind the new party are looking for a cultural shift in Alberta politics. Although they may agree with some of the policies promoted by the traditional political parties, they see the culture of these traditional parties as part of the problem. The Alberta Party organizers appear to be fully aware of the risks of failure and that they are stepping beyond the political comfort zones of many people already involved in other parties.

I know many jilted Liberals and jolted New Democrats who have resolved to bask in the glory days of Pierre Trudeau or Laurence Decore and Tommy Douglas or Grant Notley. I somewhat admire their political stamina and strength (or madness) in the face of adversity, but I also completely understand why a group of young politically ambitious reformers would want to chart their own course. Joining a group that has become content with spending decades in the relative obscurity of the opposition benches is hardly attractive if you are serious about changing government policy.

Building a new political party from the ground up is hard work. The current leadership of the Liberals and New Democrats inherited a base of support and network that has existed for decades. Considering that the party was formed only eight years ago, the growth of the Wildrose Alliance is impressive (recognizing that it did have roots in the mini-resurgence of the Randy Thorsteinson-led Social Credit Party in 1997). It will be interesting to see whether the people involved with the new Alberta Party can actually build something different.

Contrary to what you may sometimes read on this blog, I do not always enjoying pointing out the flaws of Alberta’s opposition parties. I wish they would do better. I wish for opposition parties that were not uncompetitive in half the constituencies represented in the Assembly. I wish for a competitive election in 2012 that will attract Albertans back to the ballot booths. If the current polling trends continue, it looks like it may be competitive, but it remains to be seen who will actually be the contenders.

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)

upside-down week.

Shuffling the deck.

Long-time Government spokesperson Jerry Bellikka replaces Tom Olsen as spokesman for Premier Ed Stelmach (Olsen now becomes Alberta’s Olympic Spokesperson in Vancouver). Former MLA Jim Gurnett replaces Jerry Toews as Chief of Staff at the NDP caucus. Instead of laughing at satire, PAB blogger David Sands leaves Twitter altogether. Taking a more open approach to the media than his predecessor, Health & Wellness Minister Gene Zwozdeskys cell phone number is now showing up on Government media releases.

Not your father’s NEP

With new Energy Minister Ron Liepert‘s mandate to reclaim PC dominance over energy sector support from Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Alliance, the Liberals do not want to be left out. Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor is leading his party’s 180-degree policy change from their previous position that resource royalties are too low. On the policy change, Mount Royal University Professor Bruce Foster told FFWD:

“It seems as if the Liberals didn’t take the lead on this or didn’t distinguish themselves and now they’re playing catch-up,” he says.

Calgary Grit has more.

Alberta Party of Alberta

Former deputy leader of the now-defunct Alberta Green Party Edwin Erickson is now leader of the Alberta Party. In the last election, Erickson placed second with 19% of the vote against Tory Diana McQueen in Drayton Valley-Calmar. Erickson and Joe Anglin led the fight against Bill 50 and Erickson had publicly mused about creating the Progress Party of Alberta. The Alberta Party has existed in a number of forms since 1986, but has never been competitive (highest support: leader Mark Waters earned 1,200 votes in Calgary-Currie in 1993).

Ralph University

Olds College has re-named their Community Learning Centre after former Premier Ralph Klein and not everyone in Olds is enamoured with the decision.