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Alberta Politics

Into the Wilderness. Nobody wants to lead the Alberta Liberal Party

“This Leadership Race is an exciting opportunity to build our party, debate ideas, discuss strategy and reach out to Albertans,” wrote Alberta Liberal Party president Helen Mcmenamin in a June 13 statement on the party website.

“They are looking for leadership they can trust to tackle the issues of today and the challenges of tomorrow.”

Albertans might be looking for leadership to tackle the issues of today and the challenges of tomorrow but they won’t find it from the Alberta Liberal Party, at least not right now.

Last Friday’s 5:00 p.m. deadline for candidates to enter the leadership race came and went without any announcement. Anyone who was watching assumed there were just no candidates in the race.

That proved to be the case. 

Mcmenamin issued another statement yesterday. 

“As no candidates have stepped forward the Leadership race has concluded with no permanent Leader being selected,” she wrote.

It’s a blow to an already much diminished political party.

It’s not something I take pleasure writing about. It’s actually kind of sad.

Some current and former Liberal activists I’ve reached out to over the past few days point to in-fighting and a party executive controlled by a small group of people. Some say the current group is too loyal to the former leader and not open to new ideas. Some say they will just appoint a new interim leader of their choice.

The smaller the stakes the bigger the fight, right?

The Liberals have no MLAs and got less than 1 per cent of the province-wide vote in 2019. 

That’s the party’s worst result since 1940, and even then they managed to elect 1 MLA.

They have struggled raising money and have been without a permanent leader since David Khan resigned in 2020.

Being leader of the Alberta Liberal party right now is not even a thankless job, it’s whatever the next level is after thankless.

And the party has really been without a purpose for a while.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Liberal Party formed the Official Opposition in Alberta. This was the party of Nick Taylor, Laurence Decore, Grant Mitchell and Kevin Taft. And it’s MLAs included Bettie Hewes, Sheldon Chumir, Mike Percy, Gary Dickson, Frank Bruseker, Howard Sapers and Laurie Blakeman – people who’s impact on politics is still felt today.

The space occupied by the Liberals shifted quite a bit over the decades.

Decore’s Liberals witnessed the party’s greatest success in 75 years when it came within a whisker of forming government in 1993. A record 32 Liberal MLAs formed the largest official opposition in Alberta history.

But an informal alliance with socially conservative Reform Party activists and its deficit hawk policies made for an awkward transition to an opponent of some of those same policies when they were implemented by Klein in the mid-1990s.

The party recalibrated under Mitchell in 1997 and was able to hold on to its seats in Edmonton, but 2001 represented a major blow when the party then led by Klein rival Nancy MacBeth was reduced to 7 MLAs and saddled with a million dollar debt.

The party rebounded under Kevin Taft’s leadership in 2004 when they regained much of their support in Edmonton and made important breakthroughs in Calgary.

Albertans were tiring of Klein and shopping around.

Despite winning an important by-election in Calgary-Elbow in 2007, the Liberals lost a lot of ground when facing Ed Stelmach’s PCs in 2008. It turned out the PCs brilliant “Change that works for Albertans” message did a better job of capturing the Obama-theme than “It’s Time.”

It was all downhill for the Liberals after that election.

By this point the Alberta Liberal Party had become less of a cohesive political party and more a coalition of independent-minded and locally popular MLAs. 

Former PC MLA turned Liberal leader Raj Sherman was squeezed out of 2012’s two way race between Alison Redford’s PCs and Danielle Smith’s Wildrose.

Liberal voters flocked to the PC Party.

Then they flocked to the NDP in Orange Wave of 2015.

Party leader David Swann survived on the strength of his personal popularity but the Liberals were washed out.

And today any political territory the Liberal Party once occupied is now held by Rachel Notley’s NDP and, to a much lesser extent, the Alberta Party.

It’s hard to point to any laws or policies passed by Notley’s NDP in government and now proposed in opposition that would be meaningfully different from what the Liberals (and in some cases from the old PCs) would do.

And most federal Liberals in Alberta are supporting Notley or have abandoned provincial politics entirely. 

It’s difficult to see how the Liberals can dig themselves out of their current hole, at least in the foreseeable future.

Maybe they are waiting for the NDP to collapse?

They might have to wait a while and every day they wait they sink into further irrelevance.

The Liberals are in the wilderness now.


Note: I was a member of the Alberta Liberal Party from 1999 to 2009. I sat on constituency association boards, I organized fundraisers, I knocked on a lot of doors, and worked for the party in various roles, including as Communications Coordinator from 2006 to 2008. During the 2008 election I worked with a group of MLAs and former cabinet ministers who were preparing the Liberal Party’s transition plan to form government (we were nothing if not optimistic). 

9 replies on “Into the Wilderness. Nobody wants to lead the Alberta Liberal Party”

Given that the next election will be about Alberta’s place in Canada, it is hard to see room for a third option. Either you support Alberta being part of Canada and are a federalist and vote NDP; or you support Alberta separating from Canada and vote Conservative.

If you can believe those in the Liberal Party who are trying to put a positive spin on it, apparently there were a few tire kickers who for personal or other reasons decided it was not the right time. Probably a good decision.

What the Alberta Liberals need is a well off oil industry person, who is good with quips and getting media coverage, who enjoys a challenge and is willing to work diligently for a decade or so for things to turn around. Unfortunately, Nick Taylor is no longer around.

While I thought Mr. Khan had some promise, he was obviously unwilling to sacrifice years of his life for what might turn out to be a lot of effort with no positive results. While it would provide a bit of political profile, likely most anyone else with Liberal leanings and some potential has made the same conclusion.

No it was not for “personal or other reasons,” that I ‘didn’t step forward’ (read: was barred) but rather, classist structural barriers designed to keep out insurgent campaigns:

The ALP Executive deliberately knee-capped my campaign by barring campagining before candidates were nominated so that they could not raise the money required to put in a deposit… So much for the party principle of Equal Opportunity.

Did you bother to read the rules released on June 13th Dave? Because as I told Chris Brown, they were the “Stop Valerie” rules, designed to install multiple barriers (often subjective) that insiders could far-more-easily traverse, kinda like how Dave Khan deliberately knee-capped the reproductive rights of trans Albertans by claiming to be against HRT gatekeeping while refusing to publicly identify the willful, ideologically-driven, work of the Notley Government in entrenching barriers to trans hormone replacement therapy, which is LESS contradindicated than cis hormone replacement therapy and saves more lives per patient.

The only reason I was not campaigning between June 13th and August 12th of this year, the only reason I was not giving speeches and signing up members, was because the ALP executive had made it clear that they would invalidate any candidacy that did so, through a process they controlled, but labelled fair and free of bias. (Kinda how Fox News does)

Dave Khan ran to re-elect The Honourable Rachel Notley out of animus towards The Honourable Jason Kenney, and anyone serious paying attention to his campaign’s rhetoric, and how it fundamentally was at odds with his stated policy positions and media activity, knows it. That’s why I was interested in running, because apparently after 8 years of saying we should let people buy very-safe therapeutics instead of let bureaucratic insiders hold people’s medicine hostage, millions of people in the Western World died because that didn’t seem very important to the credentialed cognoscenti during what was supposed to be an unprecedented pandemic (instead of the Category Two Pandemic that it was).

I love how you think that we need someone rich, instead of someone honest… I don’t think Nick Taylor would ask you and Climenhaga at Parkland (Fall ’19 conference. I recommend the rest of you look it up, as it was a hell of an experience being the only populist at a conference on populism) why you were more focused on living out the sequel to Mean Girls than you were on questioning why the NDP’s Climate Change Leadership Plan would accelerate climate change by effectively giving imports and methane emmissions a comparative advantage (assuming the present popular model is correct)… maybe he would, in which case I’d like him more.

Sorry, I am a only a commenter here, not the author of the post. While I do follow politics with some interest, I have no idea who you are or anything about the issues between yourself and the party that you brought up.

Come on, Dave, you won’t print a comment from the only Declared ALP leadership candidate, and the only one who campaigned for the job until the ALP executive released rules that targeted just that, because she also questioned your journalistic integrity?

Maybe you should actually let it get questioned so you get better at the job, instead of thinking, like the ALP Executive, that there are no consequences to erasing voices of alarm and concern. I could include a Churchill quote here on the unpleasantness and necessity of being criticized by dissenters, but you all have search engines.

I declared on May 28th while debating Vicky Bayford on whether Separation would secure the freedom of Albertans and, obviously, argued the CON. That you have not-reported on the complaints about the structurally-biased process, despite Chris Brown already interviewing me on the subject back in June speaks to the degree to which you wish to editorialize by erasure. I’m quite confident that when the old guard gets out of the party’s way, instead of simultaneously tweeting under a rainbow logo and silencing a queer trans woman who spent a decade campaigning for her community’s reproductive rights and noting the role in the Neoliberal “Left” in frustrating those rights, that we’ll begin to resonate with Albertans who understand that their decency has been taken-advantage of by people with an ideological agenda they do not share.

Screenshotted in-case you do the same thing again.

I’m running for the Alberta Liberal Party nominee for Edmonton City Centre. Yes, our party has been struggling. It’s easy to focus on the headline news but not what goes on at the grassroots.

It will take years to rebuild. The good fight is a hard fight. There are a lot of young folks myself included in urban areas across Alberta who are committed to the Alberta Liberal Party and Centrism.

Rachel Notley’ brand of NDP wont last long if the NDP fails to form government. If your a Liberal in Alberta now is time to roll up our sleeves and help rebuild the party infrastructure and brand.

The leader of a political party needs three things (amongst others): mettle, money, and mojo. And a group of people (tribe) who will follow.

Perhaps the provincial Liberals can’t be described as a tribe?

The party may not be a tribe… but the Executive? They’re a tribe. A tribe of Khanites who can’t admit that the worst result the party had since Confederation might be their fault, so they released rules designed to stop this lady with mettle and mojo from raising any money.

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