Photo: Liberal Party executive director Gwyneth Midgley and newly elected party leader David Khan (photo from March 2017).
Khan earned 54 percent of the vote with 897 votes to Cundal’s 765 votes. He succeeds interim leader David Swann, who is also the party’s only MLA. He may also be the first leader of a political party in Alberta who is openly-gay.
It would be easy to have forgotten the Liberals were picking a new leader today, as the race did not generate much interest outside of loyal Liberal Party circles. The race was also fraught by a series of resignations.
Leadership co-chair Kevin Feehan was appointed as a judge of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench in October 2016. And the other leadership co-chair, Nirmala Naidoo, resigned in October 2016 to work on Sandra Jansen’s campaign for the Progressive Conservative leadership (Jansen later withdrew from that race and joined the New Democratic Party).
The two candidates both entered the race at almost the last minute after St. Albert mayor Nolan Crouse dropped out days before the nomination deadline in March 2017. It was widely expected until that point that Crouse would be acclaimed.
Cundal, a past federal Liberal candidate who was a PC Party member only weeks before she launched her leadership bid, promoted the idea that it was time for the Liberal Party to work with other centrist parties, and maybe even create a new party. Khan ran on a more traditionalist platform of keeping the party name, which appealed to the party’s loyalists.
But it is hard to figure out where the Liberal Party fits in today’s provincial political environment.
Most of the party’s voter base in Edmonton shifted enmasse to Rachel Notley’s NDP in the 2015 election. I am not sure why many of those former Liberal voters would abandon the NDP in the next election, especially faced with the alternative of Derek Fildebrandt, Jason Kenney, or Brian Jean becoming the next premier of Alberta.
I am sure that Khan will work hard in his new role. As his party’s 2014 candidate in Calgary-West (where he earned 8.5 percent of the vote) and 2015 candidate in Calgary-Buffalo (where he earned 24.6 percent of the vote), Khan already has experience campaigning at a local level. And a local level might be the best place for him to start in his new role. He has a huge challenge ahead of him to rebuild a party that over the past five years has fallen from official opposition to obscurity.
Both Khan and Cundal were endorsed by former Senator Nick Taylor, the likeable and quotable stalwart who led the party from 1974 until 1988. As the last person to lead the party through a long-period in the wilderness, Taylor might have some wise advice to share with Khan as he starts his new role as leader of the Alberta Liberal Party.