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.
TIME TO SCRAP THE OLD MODEL?
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.
WARREN KINSELLA SPEAKS
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.