Alberta Politics

health care could take the liberals off life support in 2011.

The Alberta Liberals shuffled their shadow cabinet yesterday in preparation for the Spring Sitting of the Legislature, an expected PC cabinet shuffle, and a provincial election expected early in 2012. After a rough 2010 filled with internal party divisions, incoherent messaging, and growing communications challenges, the Liberals need to be a lot more strategic in 2011 if they want to be a significant player in the political narrative building towards a 2012 provincial election.

With only eight Liberal MLAs in the Assembly, there are not many combinations that would make for a dramatic shuffle of critic portfolios, but yesterday’s changes includes some interesting moves.

There were a few interesting moves, including shuffling Hugh MacDonald out of the Labour critic portfolios and Kent Hehr from Justice critic to Energy, but most interesting move has Health & Wellness critic Kevin Taft shuffled aside to let Liberal leader David Swann take an additional critic responsibility. This gives us a pretty good clue about what the Liberals want to focus on in 2011, and how they might try to write themselves back into the political narrative.

Becoming the Health Care Party.

Health care was the dominant issue of the Fall 2010 sitting of the Legislature and is expected to be front and centre when the Spring sitting begins on February 22, 2011. The past six months of high-profile health care news stories, the firing of Dr. Raj Sherman, and the political battles that ensued make it a no-brainer why the Liberals would want their leader to be front and centre on this issue.

Liberal leader Dr. David Swann, the next great defender of health care?

The soft-spoken Dr. Swann brings years of practical experience as a medical doctor that gives him a unique and personal perspective from inside the health care system, but that does not make his challenge any easier. As Health & Wellness critic, Dr. Taft has easily been the most well spoken and focused Liberal MLA in the Assembly. Carrying a wealth of knowledge collected after years working in the health care policy field, Dr. Taft was a formidable critic in that role.

As a strategy, it would be smart for the Liberals to want to become the health care party and the main alternative to the “lurch planning” of the Progressive Conservatives and the privatization agenda of the Wildrose Alliance. Putting their leader front and centre is one small step towards this and gaining more media attention, as NDP leader Brian Mason has discovered in his dual role as Health critic for his party.

Former Liberal Health & Wellness critic Kevin Taft

The big challenge for any party is whether to emphasize the strength of their current team or improve the visibility of their current leader? With Dr. Taft having announced that he will not be standing for re-election there is a good argument to be made that the caucus should shift that high profile role to an MLA who is planning to stand for re-election. The challenge for the eight Liberal MLAs is whether they can afford to put their leader front and centre at the cost of putting one of their strongest players on the bench? It is a bit of gamble, but it could work for the Liberals.

New Liberal Critic Portfolios
David Swann
(Calgary-Mountain View)- Health & Wellness, Executive Council
Laurie Blakeman (Edmonton-Centre) – Environment, Sustainable Resource Development, Culture and Community Spirit
Harry Chase (Calgary-Varsity) – Children and Youth Services, Tourism, Parks, and Recreation, Employment and Immigration
Kent Hehr (Calgary-Buffalo) – Energy, Education
Darshan Kang (Calgary-McCall) – Service Alberta, Housing and Urban Affairs, Infrastructure, Transportation
Hugh MacDonald (Edmonton-Gold Bar) – Treasury Board, Finance and Enterprise, Justice and Attorney General, Solicitor General and Public Security
Bridget Pastoor (Lethbridge-East) – Seniors and Community Supports, Municipal Affairs, International and Intergovernmental Affairs, Agriculture and Rural Development
Kevin Taft (Edmonton-Riverview) – Aboriginal Relations, Advanced Education and Technology

10 replies on “health care could take the liberals off life support in 2011.”

If Taft had coattails to ride we would have seen it during his time as leader. Now that he’s just another Liberal MLA, and planning to retire no less, moving him into a bit role is the right move. Swann needs to swing for the fences. Spend big, target NDP, AB Party and soft PC voters and remind them constantly that with a right wing split, now is the time for a united alternative. There’s always the possibility of a Liberal minority government in play, if things split just right during a good campaign.

I don’t actually agree with that myself, but it should still be the Liberals strategy at this point.

For the record the Alberta Liberals always have comprehensive Health Care policies and statements. (ex. The latest white paper: The same for Education and for the Environment. The problem is thoughtful policy does not survive retail politics. The media and voters have no time to parse through a few paragraphs, never mind a multiple page document.

Regrettably gaining any traction usually comes down to personality and sound bites – often unplanned (‘I’m eating my cookie!’). Either that or wait for Tunisian total system failure.

Shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. Sadly in this case, they waited until the ship had come to a rest on the bottom. The Libs have lost any credibility or relevance they may have had. Let’s face it. Who has more cred on this file — Raj or Swann? The Libs should never have fired a pro like Larry Johnsrud in favor of whatever flop it was they hired to replace him.

If voters are shopping for a new Premier in the 2011/12 election then it doesn’t matter what the Liberals shuffle. Swann is a nice guy but he’s no future Premier of Alberta. The Liberal MLA’s are nowhere close to cabinet material.

This is a Wildrose -PC fight. Danielle Smith versus Ed Stelmach.

I’m sure this will take the Libs off life support…but in a Jack Kevorkian sense.

Swann takes over health…big deal. He’s sincere. He’s knowledgeable. He’s politically hopeless. The first two don’t matter if the last one never changes…so who cares?

Considering this restructuring as having even minor significance is about as relevant as mentioning a BB gun in the context of nuclear disarmament.

The Liberals remain a popular party with voters despite their listlessness as an organization. A Leger poll conducted for the Democratic Renewal Project in late November (whose results were interestingly somewhat different from the Environics poll conducted at the same time)showed them at 21 percent for decided voters, in second place to the Tories at 39 percent (Wild Rose was at 20 percent, the NDP at 10, the Greens at 7, Alberta Party at 2).

When asked how they would vote if there was a single progressive candidate running against the Tories and Wild Rose, 48 percent opted to vote that way (many undecideds and some Tories switched). Tory support dropped to 29 and Wild Rose to 19, though no Wild Rose voter switched their allegiance.

In this scenario, according to Leger, the Liberals become as popular as the Tories. While this province’s politics are in flux, and the Liberals are boring, they are not out for the count.

If the Alberta Liberals want to win the upcoming election, they need to get their campaign started yesterday. They need to go out there and start differentiating themselves from both the PC’s and the WRA. I personally would message it something like “the PC’s are bad and the WRA have only taken the worst of their ideas”. If they wait until the election date is set before I see them on print, ratio and TV on a weekly basis, then they’ve already lost the election.

Not that I support the Liberals, PC’s or WRA. That’s just what I’d do if I were them.

@dave c.

There are too many left parties in AB fighting for each other’s seats. This has to end. They have to start amalgamating and forge a new more centrist/RW centrist policy to gain the votes. This is exactly what the Fed Tories are doing, Harper is starting to espouse liberal policies to get his supermajority. NDP, LIB, AP are too busy fighting over crumbs and are lacking vision, much to the satisfaction of RW parties. If one thing Ed has done good, is getting a huge lefty vote.

Lefty parties have to start becoming a little more RW, if they are to become an effective and serious force for getting votes and making change. David Swann is a good, nice moral guy, but nice guys like Ned Flanders, only finish lunch.

Lefties must start to more aggressively pursue centrist RW policies. Let the NDP stay as the lefty fringe party, that is good for a balanced democracy.

There is a huge opportunity to take the center in a huge way, I hope the Libs, and AP don’t miss this opportunity. Again, they have to quit fighting each other for the same crumbs and go after the big steak on the Right. Albertans are fairly liberal, but liberal parties are too busy being way too left to attract AB’s.

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