Alberta Politics

two political gatherings happened last weekend.

Around 100 progressive activists from across Alberta gathered in Edmonton this weekend for the Reboot Alberta 3.0 conference. This is the third Reboot Alberta conference that has been held since fall 2009. I attended the first Reboot Alberta conference in Red Deer, but missed this weekend’s gathering in favour of enjoying a weekend in the mountains. Along with networking and idea sharing opportunities, I am told that representatives of the Liberal Party, the new Alberta Party, and the Democratic Renewal Project were given an opportunity to present their vision for a more progressive Alberta.

Liberal leader David Swann.

Liberal leader David Swann asked for the support of Reboot participants and provided his party’s letter to other parties as evidence of his desire for cross-partisan cooperation. Although I believe that Dr. Swann’s plea was sincere, his party is not completely in step with their leader.

After the letter ad was published in the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald, Liberal Party President Tony Sansotta resigned. On cooperation with Reboot, only a short eight months ago, Edmonton-Gold Bar Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald criticized the group as being “elitist” and dismissed the group by quipping that “It’s renew, Reboot and then recycle.

Alberta Party President Chris Labossiere emceed ChangeCamp Edmonton in 2009. Photo credit: Alex Abboud. Liscence: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Then there is the new Alberta Party which was represented by Chris Labossiere, who has written a summary of his talk on his blog.

There are some interesting growth prospects for the new Alberta Party. As a coalition of former Progressive Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats, Greens, and Independents from rural, urban, and suburban Alberta, it has a diverse core of politically engaged supporters to grow from. This party is also lucky to be starting with a blank slate, which will start to be filled at their policy convention this weekend in Red Deer. The Alberta Party will also choose an interim leader this weekend and begin a leadership contest process soon after that.

Critics have been quick to jump all over the Alberta Party for its focus on policy construction and organization building through the Big Listens, but unlike the already established parties, the tone and process are critically important in the early stages of political organizing. Its growth over the next six to twelve months will likely determine whether this party has the potential to reach to survive into the next election.

Blogger’s Update: I have been informed that the very talented Troy Wason also attended Reboot 3.0 and spoke to the participants as an active rank and file member of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta. I was glad to learn that he was there representing his party. I could not think of a better ambassador to this kind of event than Mr. Wason.

I know a lot of people who get frustrated at the idea of vote splitting and the idea that there needs to be less political parties competing in this province. The challenge for opposition parties is not the number of them, but their effectiveness. As Peter Lougheed proved in the 1967 and 1971 elections, a crowded field of opposition parties can clear out pretty quickly when you work hard to provide Albertans with a competent choice on their ballots.

Where are the NDP?

New Democrat leader Brian Mason.

In Red Deer this weekend, members of Alberta’s New Democratic Party gathered for their annual convention, branded as “Seize the Day.” The convention delegates heard from leader Brian Mason about his hope to take advantage of vote-splitting between the PCs and the Wildrose Alliance in the next election. A conservative vote split could help the NDP in a handful of constituencies in central Edmonton, but without a significant voter-base elsewhere, significant gains will be harder to achieve.

I have to admit it, while they constantly provide some of the most vocal opposition to the PCs on the Assembly floor, I have never fully understood the Alberta NDP as a party.

The “seize the day” theme reminded me of when I covered the 2009 NDP convention for SEE Magazine. While there I asked a number of delegates why they were in Edmonton and not in Calgary helping their candidate in the final weekend of the by-election in Calgary-Glenmore. The response I heard most went along the lines of “I’m sure that there are some people helping out. Maybe we’ll get a win this time.

The by-election was won by Wildrose candidate Paul Hinman in a close race with Liberal candidate Avalon Roberts. At the end of the night, Mr. Hinman was elected by 278 votes over Dr. Roberts. NDP candidate Eric Carpendale barely registered on the electoral radar with 1.3% of the vote. The results of this by-election (and the selection of Danielle Smith as their leader soon afterward) helped rocket the Wildrose Alliance from the conservative fringe to Official Opposition-in-waiting.

No one expected the NDP to win or even be a contender in that by-election, but to this day I still cannot understand what  a party that has not elected an MLA outside of Edmonton since 1989 felt it had to lose by taking an opportunity to try and grow its support in Calgary. Instead of being passive observers, those three hundred conference delegates in Edmonton could have made a big difference for their candidate in that last weekend. Given how close the results were, if they had put in an effort maybe the NDP could have helped shape a different result for that by-election.

Just think how different Alberta politics could be today.

8 replies on “two political gatherings happened last weekend.”

Didn’t Tony Sansotta support the cooperation letter? Isn’t it a bit disingenuous to put “Cooperation Letter Out” > “Tony Sansotta Resigns”?

I suspect the answer to your question about the NDP’s approach to Glenmore stems from its approach to the previous by-election in Calgary Elbow.

In the Elbow by-election, the NDP did attempt to run a bigger campaign, spending a bit of money, opening an office and even hiring a campaign manager. I was on the provincial election planning committee at the time and I advocated for this approach – reasoning that we could use the campaign to train volunteers, and that any boost in our vote numbers would signal some momentum.

Our efforts were not successful. After spending around $20K, we still got a very weak result. After that result, there were some in the NDP who felt the party wasted its money.

By the time the Glenmore by-election came around, I was no longer involved, but I suspect that sentiment won the day. Glenmore is, if anything, even more hostile territory to the NDP than Elbow. I’m not sure I agree with that approach, but there it is.

Having said all this – the by-elections are ancient history, and really not relevant to the subject of what happened at the 2010 NDP convention. And some interesting things did happen.

First of all, the NDP had a good turnout. Over 220 delegates attended – a high number for an NDP convention outside of Edmonton.

The convention raised a large amount of money. Over $27,000 was raised from the floor in various pitches. I can’t remember previous convention fund raising hauls, but I think they were likely in the $7-10,000 range.

Finally, there was a unity among the delegates missing from previous years. The last couple of years have seen some ugly battles, including with the democratic renewal project, that were largely absent.

I’m not claiming the NDP is about to sweep to power – only that the convention was energized, united and upbeat in a way that I haven’t seen in a few years.

Wasn’t a large portion of the turnout a block group of UFCW members thou, Lou? While it’s good to see more folks at convention, it would probably mean a lot more if they were actual engaged citizens choosing to come out on their own, rather than paid union members doing what their union asks.

The AB NDP’s biggest problem will be fielding quality candidates, as usual. Sure Notley and Eggen make for good MLAs, but who else will be nominated by the NDP that can be taken seriously? How long will places like Calder and Strathcona be content to elect 4th party members while the business of governing Alberta completely passes them by? Without growth towards something larger, it’s hard for me to imagine that the NDP can hold ground for much longer. And while ~$25,000 is a great cash haul for one weekend, how much will it do against the party’s half million dollar debt?

The reality is Alberta’s NDP needs new leadership. Brian Mason is great with a quote and horrible at actually leading people. Next year’s convention will be the last chance before election 2012 to make a change in that position and the members would be wise to do so. Give the party a fresh face and some new energy. Let people know what the plan is to do deal with the party’s debt and how the NDP will recruit quality candidates and put them into winnable positions.

At least that’s my two cents…

I was also at the NDP convention in Red Deer and was told by some long-time members that this was the best convention we’ve had in 10 or 15 years. As Lou said, it was a strong, united convention. New Democrats are ready for an election at any time, and I don’t think there is any better evidence than Sarah Hoffman’s crushing victory over George Rice in the EPSB elections. We have had candidates for the next provincial election knocking on doors now for months, and more are being nominated and doing the same every month.

I understand the idea of wanting to start fresh and come up with something Albertans have never seen before, but the truth is that no amount of sitting around a table talking policy will substitute for old-fashioned campaigning. The New Democrats are getting back to the basics and getting out to the doors in full force, and all Albertans will see that during and leading up to the next election.

Joel, I’m afraid you’re just rehashing partisan rhetoric. If you’re the same Joel that’s on Twitter, you recently thought Hana Razga had a fighting chance in the city election and that doesn’t speak well to your grasp of political realities. I like your enthusiasm but you need to be able to see the forest for the trees.

Sarah Hoffman’s recent victory was, if anything, an argument for DRP style thinking. She was endorsed by a Liberal MLA (Hugh MacDonald) as well as by NDP ones. And many of the folks at her party were not lockstep NDP supporters. Sarah did a great job of focusing on the issues that mattered to the local voters… when was the last time the NDP did that? It seems to me our provincial NDP just adheres to their own idea of how Alberta should be run.

You shouldn’t confuse Sarah’s well run campaign against a disliked and disorganized incumbent as some sort of harbinger of an NDP groundswell, because it just ain’t.


I didn’t mean to suggest there was a big NDP groundswell happening – only that the ANDP had a good convention.

You are correct – the party needs good candidates. The party has a debt. The party is small. These are not things that are going to be turned around overnight. I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise.

But a lot can be accomplished with a small group of dedicated, motivated people. And based on last weekend’s convention – I think the NDP has that resource to build on.

Dave: As you know, I wish the NDP well, but the preference of many of the party’s activists for defeating Liberals more than candidates from other, arguably more harmful, parties in ridings where the NDP doesn’t have a chance still gripes me. I suspect that is what was behind the NDP’s strategic retreat from Calgary-Glenmore in 2009. On another topic, I don’t think it’s fair to accuse me of “jumping all over” the AP. All I’m saying is that Alberta voters, me included, aren’t going to take this party seriously until it puts forward some meaningful policy positions that can be judged on their merits. At that point, I for one am quite open to considering the AP. We keep waiting, and we keep being told something great is in the offing. But where’s the beef? Good policy takes time to prepare just isn’t going to fly with voters when other parties are campaigning with real platforms, however imperfect, that we voters can contemplate and judge.

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