This morning I attended Liberal leader David Swann‘s media conference in response to Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor‘s resignation from the Liberal caucus. Backed up by six of his seven remaining caucus-mates (Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang is in India), the Leader of the Official Opposition put on a brave face. This may have been his toughest media conference since becoming leader in December 2008, but I believe that this may have been the strongest performance that I have seen from Dr. Swann. He had a clear message and showed emotion in defending his leadership from the criticisms raised by Mr. Taylor.
At around the same time in Calgary, Mr. Taylor released a statement to the media explaining his reasons for leaving the Liberals. Among his reasons were some fair comments about the state of the Liberal Party in Alberta. Between 2006 and 2008, it looked like the Liberals were gaining new ground on the nearly forty year ruling Progressive Conservatives. The election of Craig Cheffins in the Calgary-Elbow by-election replacing retired Premier Ralph Klein showed that there could be potential for the Liberals to expand in Calgary, while holding their base in Edmonton. In 2008, the major gains never materialized in Calgary and the Liberals lost ground in Edmonton. Mr. Taylor thought he could turn his party’s fortunes around, but was unable to attract the support needed to win the Liberal leadership in 2008. After his defeat in to Dr. Swann, it became well-known in political circles that Mr. Taylor was not satisfied in playing second fiddle to the Leader of the Official Opposition.
The Liberals continue to have difficulty gaining traction on issues raised in the Legislature and appear completely irrelevant in the political narratives that have evolved around the PCs and the Danielle Smith-led Wildrose Alliance.
No matter how you put it, this resignation is a major blow to Dr. Swann’s leadership and to the Liberal Party. The loss of Mr. Taylor leaves the Liberals with only 8 MLAs and without the public persona that Mr. Taylor perfected during his many years as a radio host on QR77.
Dr. Swann faces a tough and perhaps impossible challenge: as Alberta’s political sands continue to shift, he needs to prove to the Liberal Party membership and his fellow MLAs that he can grow his party’s political support and create a strong presence that can compete with the insurgent Wildrose Alliance in the next election, otherwise his leadership face more serious internal dissent.