A small crowd of around 80 interested Edmontonians gathered to hear the candidates seeking the leadership of the Alberta Party this week at MacEwan University in downtown Edmonton. It is a low-key contest that will culminate this weekend at a leadership convention at Edmonton’s Shaw Conference Centre. The forum could be described as tame and respectful, and the absence of major policy differences between the candidates meant that the audience had an opportunity to observe the differing leadership styles of the candidates.
Tammy Maloney stressed her experience as a social entrepreneur, as a past director of the Clinton Foundation in Nigeria, and as connecter. Ms. Maloney has the biggest heart of the four candidates in this contest, and she is driven by it.
Lee Easton was the most articulate of the candidates. The Mount Royal University English Professor speaks in an articulate and perfunctory tone about the challenges facing our province and what needs to change. He has some of the same characteristics of what I like about former Liberal leader Kevin Taft, but in the same breath I wonder about his ability to promote the party in non-academic language. I wonder if he can successfully play the game of retail politics.
Randy Royer needs to work on his elevator pitch. His introduction focused on his experiences as a Liberal Party of Canada member in the 1980s and having dinner with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, where he told the audience he advocated against Ottawa’s policies that hurt Canada’s western provinces. Over the course of the evening, only one thing became clear to me: that he would not be getting my vote.
Glenn Taylor appears to be the clear front-runner in this contest. Mayor Taylor is a retail politician and is the only candidate in this race with actual governing experience, having been elected three times as Mayor of Hinton. Over the past week Alberta Party activists like Chima Nkemdirim, Michael Brechtel, and Don Schurman have piled their endorsements behind Mayor Taylor. Experience has taught me to be cautious of candidates who receive too much support from party intelligentsia.
Mayor Taylor is also the only candidate in this contest not from Calgary, and if selected as leader would be expected to run as a candidate in the West Yellowhead constituency.
The candidates answered at least twenty questions from a panel and the audience. The most pointed question of the evening came from an audience member who asked about the challenge of articulating how the Alberta Party is developing its policy and the perception that it is just another populist political party.
The candidates struggled to answer this question.
The short answer is that the process is very focused on sharing ideas.
The longer answer is that The Big Listen process, which is how the party has been developing its policy positions, starts with a series of small meetings (usually held over coffee or in a living room) where participants are encouraged to share their stories, hopes, and aspirations for Alberta. The information collected from these Big Listens is then discerned into themes by the meeting organizers and passed on to an issue-specific policy team that summarizes the collected feedback, does research, and develops policies. The members of the issue-specific policy committees are people with backgrounds in those fields, be it professional, educational, or voluntary. The policy recommendations are then put to the membership for approval. At a policy convention or by using online tools, members are able to view the policy goals, contribute their input, and provide support for the policy goals. It is very process focused and driven by values and principles that the party was founded upon.
The leadership forum reminded me why I dislike the personality politics of leadership races and the cult of personality that perennially envelops partisans. There are politicians that I like, and have put my support behind. I had the pleasure of working with Kevin Taft when he was leader of the Liberal Party and I have enjoyed volunteering for Councillor Don Iveson‘s campaigns at the municipal level in Edmonton. While all the candidates seem to be nice people, some who would also do a decent job as leader, there is no candidate in this contest that I am excited about.
For many Alberta Party members I have spoken with, the leadership question has been almost an afterthought, with members instead focused on building policy and constituency organizations across the province.
As was wisely pointed out in an editorial in this week’s final edition of SEE Magazine
“the PCs and Alberta Liberals are leader-dominated parties, where the party’s identity is closely associated with the leader. The Alberta Party won’t be going that route, either by design or by default.”
Whether by design or by default, the Alberta Party’s low-profile leadership contest is not as crowded as the PC leadership race or oddly casted as the Liberal leadership.
In a political environment where a party leader almost always overshadows their team as the centre of attention (walk down the street and ask a random person how many MLAs they can name), it will be interesting to see whether the Alberta Party can break the growing trend towards the cult of leadership personality. Perhaps that is why, in spite of my general frustration with political parties, I have remained a member of the Alberta Party.
With only 2000 memberships sold in this leadership contest, the Alberta Party has both proven how far it has gone in the past year and how much work still lies ahead for its members and, after this weekend, new leader.