examining the past while looking to the future.

As David Swann joins Mo Elsalhy and Dave Taylor in the race to replace Kevin Taft as the leader of the Alberta Liberal Party, I thought it would be interesting to take a historical look at the past leadership races of that party. Though I promise more real analysis later (including the significance of two candidates being Calgary MLAs and all three having been first elected in 2004), here’s a quick look at the races since 1988:

With a 4-seat Liberal breakthrough into the Legislature in 1986 after a 19 year electoral drought, Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore and rookie Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Grant Mitchell pushed long-time leader Nick Taylor out of the leader’s chair at a 1988 Calgary delegated convention. Decore’s coalition (which included Liberals, New Democrats, Red Tories, and right-wing Reformers) challenged the dominance of both Premier Don Getty (who would lose his Edmonton-Whitemud seat to Liberal Percy Wickman in 1989) and Ray Martin‘s Edmonton-based NDP opposition (who would be wiped out in the 1993 election).

Laurence Decore – 801
Grant Mitchell – 385
Nick Taylor – 259

Decore resigned in 1994 after having led the Liberals to win 32 seats in the 1993 election (and intensifying the Battle of Alberta), leaving Edmonton MLA Bettie Hewes as interim leader until a new leader was chosen. This race attracted a full-lot of candidates that included Edmonton MLAs Grant Mitchell and Sine Chadi, Fort McMurray MLA Adam Germain, Calgary MLA Gary Dickson, and expelled Lougheed-era PC MLA Tom Sindlinger. Rumoured candidates who stayed out of the race included Calgary MLA Frank Bruseker and Calgary Mayor Al Duerr.

As the final ballot featured a race between Mitchell and Chadi, many prominent Decore supporters, including Jim Lightbody, Patricia Misutka, Nancy Power, and Ted Power, were seen supporting Chadi (leading many observers to believe that 1994 was an extension of the Decore-Mitchell/Chretien-Turner-Martin power struggle). This race featured no shortage of controversy caused by dubiously malfunctioning phone lines and questionable absentee ballots during the phone-in vote, after which Chadi and Germain launched appeals of the results. The real and perceived problems in this race dogged Mitchell into the 1997 general election.

It would later be revealed that Chadi has expressed interest in joining the Tory caucus, to which Premier Klein responded …I’ve indicated subsequently that Sine is not the kind of person that we would like to have in our caucus.

1st Ballot

Grant Mitchell – 4,799
Sine Chadi – 3,772
Adam Germain – 1,663
Gary Dickson – 706
Tom Sindlinger – 64

2nd Ballot
Grant Mitchell – 4,934
Sine Chadi – 3,794

Mitchell stepped down after the Liberals only won 18 seats in the 1997 election. Stepping up to run were Edmonton MLAs Karen Leibovici and Linda Sloan, Lethbridge MLA Ken Nicol, and former PC Cabinet Minister Nancy MacBeth.

In 1992, MacBeth (then Betkowski) faced off against Ralph Klein for the PC leadership following Don Getty’s resignation. In this race however, with the support of 5 MLAs and 35 former candidates, MacBeth easily defeated her MLA opponents by winning the support of the majority of members in Calgary and Edmonton, while Nicol bested her in rural Alberta. As a party outsider and former Tory, MacBeth faced strong resistance and opposition from within the Liberal caucus. After leading the Liberals to disastrous results in the 2001 election, electing only 7 MLAs and being defeated in own her seat by Tory Mark Norris, MacBeth resigned only days after the election.

Interestingly, MacBeth’s election marked the first time in Alberta history that two parties in the Legislature were led by women (along with NDP Leader Pam Barrett).

Nancy MacBeth – 4,271
Ken Nicol – 2,042
Karen Leibovici – 1,038
Linda Sloan – 285

Having been quietly acclaimed after MacBeth’s resignation, Ken Nicol resigned as Leader in early 2004, opting instead to run for Paul Martin‘s Federal Liberals in Lethbridge. As interim leader, Edmonton MLA Don Massey led the party until Edmonton MLA Kevin Taft was easily elected against two relatively unknown candidates. Taft faced little opposition from former Alberta First Party leader Jon Reil and Forensic Psychologist Jon Parsons Friel.

Though Taft inherited a party with 7 MLAs and a million dollar debt, he led his party to win 16 seats in the 2004 election and pay down a significant amount of its debt. Following the setback of winning 9 seats in the 2008 election, Taft announced his resignation.

Kevin Taft – 2,354
John Reil – 205
Jon Parsons Friel – 174

NOTE: Most of the information I used to write this post came from newspaper articles and books such as Quasi-Democracy? by David Stewart and Keith Archer.

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