liberal party convention (losers can’t be winners).

Cramped in the dark and cavernous halls of the Mayfield Inn this weekend are some of the most dedicated card carrying partisans in the province of Alberta. Despite recent internal conflict and a third place showing in the polls, around 200 delegates traveled from across the province for this weekend’s Liberal Party Policy Convention and Annual General Meeting.

I was only able to attend the convention for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon (before the +25C weather lured me back outdoors), but the convention appeared to be well organized and had a more professional look to it than Liberal conventions I have attended in the past.

The convention provided evidence of the difficult road ahead for the Liberal Party in Alberta. Party organizers created some buzz by soft launching their new party logo and policy material, but the 200 convention delegates were largely over the age of 50, likely annual attendees, and felt sleepy.

In contrast, over 200 high school students and 100 teachers gathered in the next convention hall for what sounded like a much livelier meeting at the Speak Out conference. Generational renewal is a challenge faced by all political parties and our traditional democratic institutions in general.

If parties are not able to attract large numbers of new Albertans to their conventions, perhaps the traditional “policy conference” model is no longer viable? Perhaps the same could be said about how our political parties are organized? From a simple survival perspective, these are important questions that the organizers in all political parties should be discussing.

Generating buzz was the proposal to award $50 tax credits to voters in an attempt to boost the low voter turnout in Alberta (which was around 40% in the 2008 election). During his keynote address, federal Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella took a direct shot at the Edmonton Journal for criticizing the policy. It is very easy to question the effectiveness of this policy proposal, but I believe that it is a part of a larger debate around democracy in Alberta.

Overall, Mr. Kinsella delivered a pretty typical political speech that attempted to rile up the crowd over the lunch hour. He did offer some good advice to convention delegates though, urging them to be ruthless, tough, and creative in taking advantage of the potential split between the two conservative parties in the next election.

It is true that the potential vote split between the two conservative parties could give the Liberals an edge in some marginal races in the next election. The challenge will be for the Liberals to actually have well-organized campaigns and credible candidates in 87 new constituencies (or at least 55) that can take advantage of this opportunity. If they want to make this a reality, they need to take advantage of every opportunity presented to them to organize (hint hint, the municipal elections are only five months away…).

Take it or leave it, but here is some advice for the Liberal Party. Many Liberal Party activists have become comfortable with electoral defeat and as perennial martyrs to their party banner (or the spirit of Pierre Trudeau). I know that there are Liberal Party members who are serious about rebranding their party, but it will more than just a new logo or typeface a website. A big step would be to take a look at who was at their convention this weekend and determine who has become too comfortable with losing and show them the door.

19 replies on “liberal party convention (losers can’t be winners).”

Good post again Dave.

I’ve been neck deep in my master’s program this month but it has given me the chance to think greatly about organizing. Most of the writers I have been reading are talking about how the old ways of organizing are being superseded by more authentic interconnected, collaborative and asynchronous organizing. I think your point that the policy conference model should be reconsidered is very apt. A newer model for engagement and participation needs to build on small groups that are already connected and finding the people that connect the small groups to each other.

The approval by Liberals this morning of a policy to work with other progressive parties is a big step towards a more collaborative process of governance, but we are still being caged in by a system that is adversarial by design. We really need to take a hard look at first-past-the-post elections and even our parliamentary system to revive democracy and make it relevant again.

“Many Liberal Party activists have become comfortable with electoral defeat and as perennial martyrs to their party banner (or the spirit of Pierre Trudeau). ”

I call straw man. Name names.

200 delegates to a policy convention has got to be better than the Liberals have gotten in ages. The last one I was at cost half the price and still had less than 100 people out.

I believe you may have worked for the party at that time. Hmmm….

Chester: I seem to remember that there were around 100 people at the policy convention in 2007 and around 200 people at the convention in 2008. Sure, it’s an extra 100 people, but it’s far from stunning numbers. I don’t believe that I was working for the ALP at that point.

Dave Dave Dave.

I am not confortable with electoral defeat. I actively campaign now for the ALP. But I did not attend the convention. I could not justify the cost. That was the reason why so many young people like myself did not attend.

Jonathan: Good points. For organizations that depend on generational renewal, political parties (at least in my experiences) have not fully grasped the value changes that have happened. Kinsella touched on this briefly during his talk and referenced some studies from Yale on the issue of youth involvement in politics. Re-structuring political parties sounds like a good topic for a summertime blog post series.

As for the party cooperation motion, I wonder how it will manifest itself considering that the leadership of the other traditional “left” party – the NDP – doesn’t seem keen on any sort of cooperation.

Not in any other province, perhaps, but this weekend’s Liberal membership’s majority vote in favour of the cooperative resolution for the party to enter discussions with other progressive parties was an audacious move in a province whose politics have been fossilized to the teeth for years. Cooperation, in Alberta? Who would have thunk it?

So, exactly as you advised, Dave, those who are a “little too comfortable” with losing had a major denture- shaking wake-up this weekend when a breeze of fresh air blew through the hall in the form of an idea that is gaining ground.

This was no small event, regardless of how it plays out or what any mainstream journalist says. Every tiny inching towards logical cooperation to strengthen the centre-left opposition in this mummified province is a victory (although I can well imagine that the mainstream press will try to make light of it).

Dave, I think you do have an anti-Liberal bias. Three points:

How could the crowd be just “annual attendees” if its twice as many as the last policy convention?

If the Liberals have twice as many people at a policy convention as when they were in the “Ready, Set, Win” days of 2007, doesn’t that speak to a certain level of enthusiasm and growth? Particularly given the 2007 convention’s supposed lower cost?

Weren’t there just 225 people at the PC policy convention? What yardstick are you measuring the Liberals by that they are coming up so short in your eyes?

Are you in as much denial about the state of the Alberta Liberals as you accuse their members as being? Why do you so desperately want the Liberals to be a sinking ship that you spin it negatively any chance you get for your old party? I also think Chester’s question you ignored is a good one: who in the party do you think doesn’t want to win?

Adam Adamson: Thanks for the comment. Nice use of the “anti-Liberal” bias card. Good try, but the points I have made are fair.

200 people is an improvement from 100, but in a province of 3,500,000 people it is hardly a signal of a vibrant political organization. I have said the same thing of the other parties and many of our traditional democratic institutions. They are not connecting.

It was reported that the PCs had around 500 people at the policy convention this year (also held at the Mayfeild Inn).

I’m not in denial, I’m pointing out the obvious.

No, they’re not fair. Again:

How could the crowd be just “annual attendees” if its twice as many as the last policy convention?

Who in the party do you think doesn’t want to win?

re: posting #5

Dave, one of the scare tactics used at recent NDP Conventions to discourage delegates from voting for the two cooperation resolutions that have been brought forward since 2008 was to accuse the Liberals of not wanting to pursue cooperation. Well that tactic is no longer relevant.

Another point is that though only about 30 delegates out of about 160 voted for the cooperation resolution at the most recent NDP Convention, there were many other delegates who supported cooperation but didn’t vote for it because of union solidarity.

At the Labour Caucus meeting held just before the vote, a majority of Labour delegates voted to oppose the cooperation motion, so all labour delegates voted against it as a block. There are voices within the Alberta Labour Movement who are open to cooperation. Support for cooperation within the NDP is more than meets the eye.

Congratulations to the delegates at the Liberal Convention for making a concrete step towards positive regime change in Alberta! The ball is now squarely in the NDP’s court.

It’s going to be interesting to see with which “progressive” parties the Liberals will co-operate with at the next election, given that the rank & file of the NDP have defeated motions to do exactly this at two successive annual conventions. The other “progressive” groupings are the de-registered Alberta Greens and the nascent Alberta Party. Not a lot of bang for the buck there.

As for Kinsella, if the Libs are trying to distance themselves from their federal cousins, inviting him to speak was not a good idea. Warren Kinsella is one of the classic back-room boys and was a prime Chretien loyalist in the Grits’ internecine wars of the late 90’s-early 2000’s. In a province where the federal Liberals are about as popular as rats, bringing him here does not show good political judgement.

During my 25 years in this province I’ve voted in every election. Both federally and provincially I’ve voted for the candidate (NDP or Liberal) who had the best chance of winning. I have to say, though, that I’m tired of voting for centre/left parties in this province who think they have the luxury of running against each other.

Suggesting that the ALP and NDP should consider cooperation because they may face pressure from their federal counterparts to do so just handed the Alberta Tories a very effective talking point for the next provincial election. Every election, the Tories make a bogeyman out of the federal government which, more often than not, has been Liberal. They make a point of stating they will stand up to Ottawa to defend Alberta’s interests. All they have to do is suggest if the CLP can pressure the ALP on an issue like this, how much influence will the CLP have if the ALP is ever required to make a chonce between the interests of Ottawa or the interests of Alberta?


Do you think the Tories will be running against the Liberals in the next provincial election? That’s the NDP’s job.

To Adam Adamson,

To answer your question, Dave is anti-Liberal these days because some of his best friends are now Alberta Party “big listeners” LOL. Only they’re listening to themselves, the Alberta Liberals on the other hand don’t mind listening to everyone both inside and outside their tent.

That’s the kind of progressive coalition Laugheed put together in his day. A coalition shouldn’t be limited to just political parties, it can and should include non-profits, service organizations, etc., basically any and all who desire something different than the staus quo.

Landmark Policy for the Mentally Ill

A landmark motion was passed at the Alberta Liberals’ Annual General Meeting and policy convention in Edmonton this past weekend where, for the first time in the history of Alberta politics, a political party made mental illness a policy priority. This is a groundbreaking policy, especially since Senator Michael Kirby notes that “Canada is the only OECD country without a national mental health strategy.” It’s little wonder that Alberta lacks the same, but under the leadership of David Swann, the Liberal party fully intends to address that deficit.

Other policy proposals were also important, but an emphasis on mental health is long overdue. If we consider that approximately 20% of Albertans will suffer from some form of mental illness in their lives, and if we factor in family members and friends who care for them, a cautious estimate is that 50% of Albertans deal with the suffering of mental illness, directly and indirectly, on a daily basis. Because the cost of mental health problems in Alberta is incalculable human suffering and lost productivity, and because families are unduly burdened and under qualified to provide the necessary assistance for their mentally ill relatives, voters will be pleased to know that the Alberta Liberal Party fully recognizes the urgent need to improve access to professionals and treatment centers that address mental health issues.

Given the quality of thought and discussions behind the motions passed at the policy convention, I am convinced that the ALP is a truly progressive party.
Judy J. Johnson,
Calgary, AB

Cooperative commonwealth pointed out that delegates from the labour caucus at the NDP convention voted as a block, even though some of them were in favour of the motion, because they voted the way they were instructed to by the group they were representing at convention. What CC neglects to mention is that some of the delegates who voted in favour of the motion were in fact against it, but voted the way that their DRP dominated constituency association had instructed them to. That’s just the nature of a delegate convention.

Dave, you’re right again. Although the 200 turnout is a vast improvement, it’s dismal, as is almost all political activity in the province, frankly.

That’s exactly why the resolution is a historic and wise move, and why the Lib membership in their wisdom, turned their back on old-party strategies and the old bullpit partisans in the party who help them lose every election, and which they are clearly sick of. They’ve broken the decades-old spell!

Pundits and stubborn partisan types can argue back and forth all day about the detailed and fine merits of cooperation versus parties going it alone, but let’s let the voters decide whether they want to see a cooperative progressive movement or not. My impression is that they will — in droves. Just like most people would like to see cooperation at work, between warring countries, and between our families and friends. it’s the mature, reasonable path to a system that is much more in the general public’s commonwealth, than isolated parties. As our teachers used to say in school, a minority government that is forced to cooperate with other factions, is always the best government.

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