Convincing Albertans to sweep out the Conservatives after 10 majority governments, in the midst of heady economic times, may sound excessively ambitious. But talking to Mr. Taft, now marking his third anniversary as leader,
the possibility seems less remote.
Ralph Klein counted on strong support from two of either Calgary, Edmonton or rural Alberta for a safe re-election. But the Liberals’ Edmonton stronghold is being bolstered by gains in Calgary and rising support in the rural south.
“When I became leader three years ago, the Alberta Liberal Party was a train wreck,” admits Mr. Taft. “It was financially bankrupt, and there was almost no functioning organization. It’s always an uphill climb for the opposition in Alberta, but I have no doubt we’re climbing and we’ll continue to climb. It’s quite exhilarating.”
It should be noted that Mr. Taft is several logs short of great oratorical fire, but he’s got Mr. Stelmach beat in articulately synthesizing ideas, and his policy perspectives sound more visionary and cosmopolitan.
“We are at a crossroads. If we get it right, it’s unbelievable what we could do for Alberta and this country and in some ways the world. We need to build a place where people want to come here for more than a job but a quality of life,” he says.
“But look at the ghost towns from the silver rush in B.C. or those from Saskatchewan in 1926 when that province had the highest per capita income on the planet because of the wheat boom.
That’s our future if we get it wrong.
“And there’s a real risk we’ll get it wrong if we don’t change government.”
Such talk doesn’t seem to preoccupy Ed Stelmach, who is still finding it hard to believe he landed the best job in Canadian politics.
“To be the CEO of the province of Alberta at a time with so much potential …” he pauses to search for words “… sometimes when I put my head on my pillow at night I want to pinch myself.”
Well, he’d best not fall asleep on the job. That Albertans are waking up and warming to the possibility of electing a non-Conservative government is perhaps the most jarring consequence in the transition from King Ralph to Honest Ed.
Also, this was a fun story.