Alberta Liberals Tony Sansotta

in four months time…

Earlier this week, I drank coffee with Alberta Liberal Party President Tony Sansotta while discussing politics and the state of Alberta’s official opposition party (and my former employer).

Sansotta was cagey enough not to reveal much about direction he’s trying to take the Liberals and he was was insistent (but not necessarily convincing) that big changes are starting to happen within the Liberal Party. When I pried for specific examples, I was continually told that I would have to wait four months to see what the changes are. Coyness aside, Sansotta did provide a couple of bits of information to this blogger:

– The Liberals long-awaited Renewal Committee report, an initiative led by former Edmonton-McClung MLA Mo Elsalhy, was submitted to the Liberal Party executive committee but will not be made public. Sansotta ensured me that elements of it will be included in recommendations to delegates at their March 2010 policy conference (but delegates may not be informed which recommendations were taken from the renewal report). Although I understand why any political party would want to keep this sort of report private, it appears slightly insincere to solicit public/membership input and then to keep the recommendations secret from the same party membership (creating little room for an accountability mechanism).

– On September 26, the Liberal Party Board of Directors will be discussing plans for candidate nominations and if incumbency protections should be allowed for the nine incumbent MLAs.

– So far, eight submissions have been received in the Liberal logo redesign contest. The submissions will be judged by a panel whose membership includes VP Communications Jody MacPherson, the co-VP Fundraising, a member-at-large, and a representative from an anonymous PR firm.

– Calgary-based communications consultant Corey Hogan has been tapped to become the Liberals Executive Director, a position that has been vacant since long-time ED Kieran Leblanc resigned in 2008. Hogan’s served as campaign manager for Dave Taylor‘s 2008 leadership bid and more recently as a candidate for the Liberal nod in Calgary-Glenmore. I wish Hogan good luck, because he has one heck of a job ahead of him.

Alberta Budget 2009 Alberta Liberals Laurie Blakeman

mla laurie blakeman on alberta liberal staff layoffs.

Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman answered questions this morning about the recent decision to lay-off the entire staff at the Alberta Liberal Party:

This morning’s media conference held to launch the Official Opposition’s website, which asks Albertans to submit questions for Opposition Liberal MLAs to use during the budget debates in the Legislature.
Alberta Liberals

alberta liberal party laying off remaining staff.

Because of financial reasons, the Alberta Liberal Party has delivered layoff notices for April 30 to its two remaining staff members.

The ALP and all of its 83 Constituency Associations have registered their 2008 financial returns with Elections Alberta.
(This is not an April Fools Day joke)
LINK: Video of MLA Laurie Blakeman commenting on the layoffs.
Alberta Liberals Darshan Kang Dave Taylor David Swann Ed Gibbons Karen Leibovici Kent Hehr Kevin Taft Linda Sloan Mo Elsalhy Nancy MacBeth Rick Miller

what’s eating the alberta liberals?

The first sentence of a recent letter sent out by Liberal Leader David Swann sums up the state of Alberta’s Official Opposition Party:

“We need your help to keep the ALP office operating at a reasonable level, and ready to serve Albertans.”

Over a year after the last election, the Alberta Liberals are struggling to pay their bills. It’s hard to understand why a political organization that earned 251,158 votes in the last election would have such a hard time paying off their 8-year debt, now sitting at around $400,000. The once $1 million debt-load was largely the product of the 2001 election campaign under former leader Nancy MacBeth. The Liberals went from 16 to 7 seats in that election, including a loss by MacBeth in Edmonton-McClung.

Two leaders and four years later, Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft led the Liberals to reclaim a majority of seats in Edmonton and gain a three-seat beachhead in Calgary. While PC leader Ralph Klein was unceremoniously shown the door in 2006, the Liberals had high hopes. Ed Stelmach was selected as PC leader, and the Liberals raised $1 million in 2007 and won the by-election in Klein’s abandoned Calgary-Elbow constituency. As the 2008 election approached, most people predicted the PCs would be re-elected, but with a reduced majority government.

On March 3, 2008, the PCs got their vote out, and everyone else stayed home. Well, that’s not really what happened, but it’s almost true. The PCs surged from 63 to 72 seats, unseating Liberals, New Democrats, and Wildrosers across Alberta, but voter turnout dropped to record low levels. With only around 90% of Albertans registered to vote, the pathetic turnout likely sat under 40% of eligible voters (including 22 out of 83 ridings which had less than 40% turnout).

While the Liberals dropped to 9 MLAs in 2008 by losing seats in Edmonton and facing decreasing support in rural Alberta, they did manage to increase their seat and vote total in Calgary by electing two new MLAs. The election of Kent Hehr in Calgary-Buffalo and Darshan Kang in Calgary-McCall shifted the power base in the Liberal caucus to southern Alberta for the first time in recent memory (five MLAs from Calgary, three from Edmonton, and one from Lethbridge). In the contest to replace Taft, two Calgary MLAs quickly became frontrunners.

In December 2008, Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann won a first-ballot victory against fellow Calgary MLA Dave Taylor and former Edmonton MLA Mo Elsalhy to become the first Liberal leader from Calgary since Nick Taylor campaigned in that city during the 1970s (Nick Taylor was eventually elected MLA in the Westlock-Sturgeon and Redwater ridings north of Edmonton from 1986 to 1996).

Following his victory, Swann appointed Elsalhy to lead a committee tasked with proposing recommendations to renew the Liberal Party. Joining Elsalhy on the committee are Norma Block of Drayton Valley, Barry Cavanaugh and Stephanie Laskoski of Edmonton, Jade Boldt and Peter Willott of Calgary, and Zack Moline of Lethbridge. The committee has launched a website to jump start some discussion, and in a recent email, Elsalhy announced the launch of a survey for ALP members and non-members asking what Alberta’s Liberal Party can do to renew itself. At the Legislature, Swann has brought in former MLA Rick Miller as Chief of Staff, and Calgary Federal Liberal organizer Neil Mackie as Communications Director.

Can the Alberta Liberals renew by creating momentum, attracting new members, and paying down their financial debt? What will it take for the Swann Liberals to attract new strong candidates, as well as re-attracting the many former Liberal MLAs who have moved on to other levels of government (Edmonton City Councillors Linda Sloan, Karen Leibovici, and Ed Gibbons come to mind).

The Alberta Liberals are in a rough spot, financially and organizationally, and though it may be easy to criticize Swann’s choice to focus on open consultations rather than implement a pre-made strategy, consultation and dialogue are his style. At this point in the game, the Liberals have very little to lose, so my recommendations to them are to be bold, challenge their status quo, and turn things on their head, because if the current fundraising trends continue, the Alberta Liberal Party may not be in the position to do so after the next election.

Coming Wednesday: Tiny Perfect Alberta NDP
Alberta Liberals David Swann Judy Wilson Kevin Taft Larry Johnsrude Troy Wason

judy wilson leaves alberta liberal caucus. former mla rick miller new chief of staff.

Following the recent trend of staff departures at the Alberta Legislative Assembly that have included Larry Johnsrude and Troy Wason, Official Opposition Chief of Staff Judy Wilson is now the departing the Dome.

After serving as Director of Operations at Government House for 13 years, Judy Wilson joined the Official Opposition caucus in 2007 as Chief of Staff under former leader Kevin Taft, and remained in her position after David Swann was selected as leader of the Liberal Party in December 2008. Wilson will be succeeded by Rick Miller, who served as the MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford and Finance Critic from 2004 to 2008.

Media Release

March 3, 2009

Alberta Liberal caucus sees change in Chief of Staff

Edmonton – Judy Wilson, Chief of Staff of the Alberta Liberal Caucus will be leaving her position, effective Friday March 6, 2009. Rick Miller, former MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford, will be stepping into that role.

“Our caucus has a new leader, and he has decided to take a new direction,” said Wilson. “I wish Rick all the best in his new role.

“I’m looking forward to new challenges and opportunities, and to having time to focus on other projects that are important to me – like the Student Refugee program at the U of A, and my Rotary club. I’ll have more time to devote to coaching my daughter’s soccer team,” says Wilson.

“I have appreciated working with Judy and all that she has contributed to our Caucus in her nearly 2 years here”, says Dr. David Swann, Leader.

Rick Miller will assume his new role effective Monday, March 9, 2009.

“I see this as an opportunity to contribute to democracy in this province, which has always been important to me,” said Miller.

“I feel very fortunate to be able to come into an organization where a strong, solid foundation has been built, thanks to the commitment and talents of Judy Wilson. I’ve known Judy for many years – we are in the same Rotary Club and worked together in caucus when I was an MLA. I have tremendous respect for the skills that she brings to any endeavour in her future,” concluded Miller.


One of the first challenges faced by Miller will be to boost the moral and provide internal direction in Alberta’s Official Opposition caucus, which fell to 9 elected MLAs in 2008. Miller will also face the challenge of plugging leaks that have contributed to a rumour mill of anonymous gossip emanating from the Liberal Caucus over the past couple months. Many of the anonymous rumours surrounded Wilson’s participation in conversations being held by various groups of Albertans dissatisfied with the state of democracy in this province (including myself and Jason Morris from

Alberta Liberals Alex MacDonald David Swann Laurence Decore

state of the liberal party ‘brand’ in alberta.

Two news articles caught my eye this weekend:

Jeremy Loome had an interesting column in the Edmonton Sun this weekend on the state of the Liberal Party brand in Alberta.

Loome raised an excellent point about former Liberal leader and Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore. As much as many die-hard Liberals continue to believe that Decore is an example of how their party has been successful in Alberta, many of them seem to have a hard time recollecting that even Decore wasn’t able to lead the Liberals to victory against the PCs. I understand that many long-time Liberals feel a personal connection to the Liberal Party of 1993, but it’s not hard to argue that the electoral gains made that year had more to do with Decore’s personal brand and his political connections than any party label.

– Decore-era Liberal Alex MacDonald was quoted in the Calgary Herald this weekend arguing that the Alberta Liberal Party is now in a better position than it was when Decore became its leader in 1988.

Having no personal experience with the Liberal Party of 1988, I can’t say that this isn’t the truth, but the political environment that exists today makes it difficult for me to believe that the Liberal Party of 2009 could attract the high profile leadership material like Decore.

MacDonald continued to argue that “[w]ith the right leader, and with the right strategy, and with enough support from people around the leader and in the party, it’s very possible for a great deal of momentum to be created from a base of not very much.

‘If everything were different, things would be different’ is a hard argument to counter.

I have a lot of personal respect for current Liberal leader David Swann, but the cultural state of that political party has led me to step away from the Liberal Party and focus my energies elsewhere. With the recent news that the Liberals will be abandoning their 124th Street Edmonton Headquarters because of financial reasons, I am having an even more difficult time being convinced that the Liberal Party of 2012 will be in a position to present itself as the viable alternative that it did in 1993.

Clarification: I received an email from the Alberta Liberal Party this afternoon:

At this time there has been no decision made on the state of the “124th street headquarters,” our lease is coming up and we are in discussions with the landlord and looking at other options as well for less space for less money. We might end up moving as you state or we might not, no decision has been made.

Alberta Liberals Alberta Oil Sands Dave Taylor David Swann Mo Elsalhy

can david swann change politics in alberta?

Alberta Liberals may have selected a new leader this weekend, but they still face the same serious challenges as they did a week ago. New Official Opposition leader David Swann, and competitors Dave Taylor and Mo Elsalhy were only able to convince 6,000 Albertans to participate in the vote, which raises some serious questions about the viability of the Liberal organization in Alberta. As leader, Swann will need to engage the +250,000 Albertans who supported the Liberals in the last election, while trying to reverse his party’s downward slide in popular support over the past 15 years.

The latter is a challenge not uniquely faced by Swann and the party he now leads. As voter turnout continues to slide across the board, it is clear that there is a serious disconnect between the average Alberta citizen and the political organizations and politicians representing them in the Legislature. This poses a serious threat not only to all of our political parties, but also to the existence of democratic vibrancy, a humbling reality that is lost on many of our current elected representatives.

The serious question also needs to be asked whether the Liberals are politically, organizationally, and financially past the point of saving. I have serious questions about the future potential of that party, which was only able to draw around 120 delegates to its recent annual convention. As I’ve written before, as none of our political parties have been able to successfully engage Albertans, it may be time to look outside the traditional party establishment (others have thoughts on this as well).

Though partisan opponents have already begun to label Swann as an ‘out of touch academic,’ I have a hard-time believing that most Albertans would categorize a family doctor as an academic. This type of behavior dilutes the political dialogue, and is the exact type of lowest-common denominator partisanship that keeps citizens away from political involvement in droves.

In the end, Swann may prove not to be the great leader who leads the Liberals to victory in Alberta, but he is certainly cut from a different cloth than the two other party leaders in the Alberta Legislature. He is not a career politician (both Ed Stelmach and Brian Mason have been politicians for over 20 years) and is not any more charismatic than either of his counterparts in the Legislature, but agree or disagree with his politics, Swann is a devout Christian, social justice advocate, and environmentalist who personally practices what he preaches when it comes to what he believes in, and you can’t fault him for being genuine (he has also been one of the few MLAs to seriously engage First Nations communities on water safety and oil sands issues in northern Alberta).

As a politically engaged and frustrated Albertan who is looking to become involved in 1) an organization that is serious about engaging and challenging Albertans to be better citizens, and 2) a viable and competitive alternative to the current governing party, I have serious doubts that the Liberal Party fits these descriptions, but seeing engaged citizens like David Swann get involved in elected politics gives me a little bit more hope for democracy in general.

Alberta Liberals Alberta NDP

what’s next for alberta’s opposition parties?

After receiving a substantial beating in last week’s election, I thought it is important to take a look at Alberta’s two opposition parties in the Legislature and make some suggestions on what their next moves should be.

Though there has been talk of leadership change in the opposition parties, I don’t see any need for the Alberta Liberals or New Democrats to rush this decision. The goal of both parties should be stability, and I’m not sure how a leadership change in the short-term will help this (I’m not sure you’d see a mad rush of leadership contenders, either). As both parties will have their opposition budgets slashed, they should look to increase their cooperation in the Legislature and in legislative committees for the sake of a stronger and more united opposition.

Alberta Liberals

The Alberta Liberals lost eight seats in the Edmonton region last week. With three seats in Edmonton, one in Lethbridge, and five in Calgary (where they actually increased their seats from four to five), the Alberta Liberals can take solace in that they are probably in a better position to grow than when they were decimated down to 7 seats in 2001. Though I’m sure the financial situation situation of the party isn’t pretty, a leaner opposition will force the Alberta Liberals to do some soul searching in the meantime.

Having the majority of their seats in Calgary is a changing dynamic that the Alberta Liberals haven’t seen in recent memory, which suggests that the Calgary Alberta Liberal caucus will have more influence on opposition politics than they had before the election.

In terms of Kevin Taft’s leadership, my advice to the party is to not rush any decisions. Internal stability is something that will be very important in the process of preparing for the next election and leadership is something the Alberta Liberals need to be smart about. Holding a leadership race now would be fool hearted and would most likely not draw the types of contenders that the Alberta Liberals would need to lead them into the next election. There’s no rush, so wait a year and let Ed Stelmach’s Tories stumble, then if a leadership race needs to be held, you’ll see more people stepping up to the plate.

Over the next four years, the Alberta Liberals need to take a critical look ‘outside the box’ and decide what kind of party they want to be, including abandoning the traditional party structure and mentality. Everything should be on the table, including more than just a name-change.

Official Opposition MLAs
Kevin Taft, Edmonton-Riverview
Laurie Blakeman, Edmonton-Centre
Harry Chase, Calgary-Varsity
Kent Hehr, Calgary-Buffalo
Darshan Kang, Calgary-McCall
Hugh MacDonald, Edmonton-Gold Bar
Bridget Pastoor, Lethbridge-East
David Swann, Calgary-Mountain View
Dave Taylor, Calgary-Currie

Alberta New Democrats

The loss of David Eggen in Edmonton-Calder and Ray Martin in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview means that the New Democrats have lost their official party status in the Alberta Legislature. Also, much like the Alberta Liberals, I’m sure their financial situation isn’t pretty.

With leader Brian Mason’s only caucus mate being rookie Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, it’s pretty clear who the favorite to replace Mason will be. This said, even though I’ve never warmed up to Mason, I think that him handing over the reigns to Notley too early after the election could be a bad move for his party.

As a rookie MLA, Notley should be given some time to learn the ropes and decide whether or not she actually likes being an MLA. As much as some New Democrats I’ve spoken with want Mason to hit the road as soon as possible, putting Notley into the leader’s chair this early could be a risky move (but with only two seats in the Legislature, what do the New Democrats really have to lose?).

It is also probably overdue for the New Democrats take a critical look at the advantages and disadvantages of its joint-at-the-hip relationship with some of Alberta’s big labour unions. Does its close ties to the Alberta Federation of Labour do more harm than good? What does this relationship mean for the New Democrats claim to being a voice for progressives in Alberta?

(Also, for a New Democrat point of view, Shannon Phillips has some interesting post-Eday thoughts on the election in Edmonton and Edmonton-Calder.)

New Democrat MLAs
Brian Mason, Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
Rachel Notley, Edmonton-Strathcona

2008 Alberta Provincial Election Alberta Liberals Kevin Taft YouTube

kevin taft on youtube.

In what I only expect to be the beginning of many YouTube videos released during the 2008 Alberta election campaign, the Alberta Liberals have released a video highlighting Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft

2008 Alberta Provincial Election Alberta Liberals Alberta Politics

it’s time. kevin taft launches alberta liberal campaign 2008.

Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft was joined last night by hundreds of supporters and over 50 candidates as he launched his party’s 2008 election campaign. The campaign launch also included the release of his party’s plan for Alberta titled It’s time. A Real Action Plan for Alberta.

Having given the platform a read, I’m fairly pleased with it. It succeeds in presenting positive alternatives to Ed Stelmach‘s 37-year-old Tory government and outlines five key policies including immediately eliminating health care premiums, re-regulating Alberta’s out-of-control electricity utilities, investing 30% of all royalties, capping greenhouse gases in five years, and providing hospitals and training new health care professionals that Alberta needs. On a more specific note, I was pleased to see that this plan includes the re-legislation of Alberta’s post-secondary tuition policy, which was de-legislated by the Tories in May 2007 (allowing tuition policy to be changed in closed-door Cabinet meetings rather than in open public debate in the Legislature). The plan also includes reforming campaign finance rules, fixing election dates, and the creating a Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform to study other forms of election systems.

Not unexpectedly, Tory spinsters have already begun to criticize Taft’s plan for either:

a) including too much spending, or
b) not including enough spending details.

Both criticisms seem a little rich when you look at the pile of giant novelty cheques that Ed Stelmach has been handing out over the past two weeks.

It has also been interesting to watch the difference between the Kevin Taft of the 2004 election and Kevin Taft in 2008. Taft has become more comfortable in his role in public and is starting to show his fun-side during speeches by energizing and interacting more with the crowd (something that he should do more of during the upcoming campaign). Here’s one quote of the speech that I particularly enjoyed:

Is it any wonder then, that the issue over-riding all others is that after 37 years, it is time for a fresh start. This morning, on national radio, Peter Lougheed was asked, “Can one party be in power too long?”

His answer? (Quote.) “Never did I anticipate that our party would exceed the time in office that Social Credit were in office. I remember campaigning back in 1971 – can you believe this Social Credit party has been in office for 36 years. It is a problem for the current party to be in office for that length of time.” (End quote.)

And I say, and all of us say, and Albertans in growing numbers are saying, let’s… fix… that… problem.

With a growing group of Albertans (and former Tory voters) parking their votes in the undecided column in pre-election polls, Taft’s challenge will be to convince those Albertans that he and his party can provide the solid management and real plan that Albertans are looking for after 37-years under Progressive Conservative governments.

Here are the YouTube videos of Kevin Taft’s 2008 election campaign launch:

2008 Alberta Provincial Election Alberta Liberals Alberta Politics

it’s time.

Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft launched his party’s election campaign by releasing their platform and plan for the future at last night’s Alternate Speech from the Throne (which doubled as a campaign rally). I’ll take some time later this afternoon to write a more in depth post the platform and the energy at the rally, but until then you can check out the Alberta Liberal plan “It’s Time” for yourself.

Alberta Liberals Alberta Royalty Review Kevin Taft

kevin taft on the royalty review.

Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft explains the bottom line on oil and gas royalties: they must rise at least 20%.

Alberta Liberals Kevin Taft The Western Tiger

kevin taft on the western tiger.

Earlier this week, Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft delivered a
major policy announcement
while speaking to the Calgary Rotary Club. As Premier, Taft said he would call for a meeting of western provinces, with an agenda of turning western Canada into an energy superpower.

You can now watch the speech on YouTube:

Western Tiger Speech Part 1

Western Tiger Speech Part 2

Western Tiger Speech Part 3

Alberta Liberals Kevin Taft Laurie Blakeman Women in Politics

alberta liberals reach for the TOP.

Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft was joined by Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman in lauching the ‘Take Our Place’ program yesterday. The TOP initiative is geared towards getting more women involved in provincial politics.

From the media release:

The Take Our Place program brings together a mentor team of dynamic women, including current and former Alberta Liberal MLAs, to support and encourage new candidates, as well as to identify barriers to political participation and find ways to eliminate or reduce them. While the program is currently focused on creating opportunities for women in the upcoming election, it will continue in the post-election period.

“There are so many issues important to women and families in Alberta,” Blakeman notes. “Our perspective is critical if real progress is to be made. It’s time we had more women at the decision-making table.”

In 1998, eight of the then-eighteen member Alberta Liberal Caucus were women.

Alberta Liberals Alberta NDP Alberta Tories Richard Magnus

retirement row.

In what I expect to be a steady stream over the next few months, long-time Tory backbencher Richard Magnus joined the current as he announced that he won’t be seeking a fifth term in office.

That brings the official MLA retirement list to eight:

Progressive Conservative MLAs
Victor Doerksen (Red Deer-South)
Clint Dunford (Lethbridge-West)
Carol Haley (Airdrie-Chestermere)
Denis Herard (Calgary-Egmont)
Rob Lougheed (Strathcona)
Richard Magnus (Calgary-North Hill)

Alberta Liberal MLA
Maurice Tougas (Edmonton-Meadowlark)

New Democrat MLA
Raj Pannu (Edmonton-Strathcona)

On the Tory retirements, comments are abound:

“A lot of MLAs see the writing on the wall that people are not happy with the party and the way it’s run,” says Jim Stevenson, who chaired Alberta Renewal, founded during last fall’s leadership race in an effort to reconnect the party with its grassroots.

“There’s so many things that need to be changed to bring some democracy back into the party and I don’t see that happening.”

David Taras, a political analyst at the University of Calgary, agrees a number of factors affect the decision whether to run again, but says Stelmach has to wear some of the responsibility.

“There are a lot of factors at work here and some are not the kind of factors the premier likes to talk about,” he said. “Klein had enormous coat tails. With those coat tails gone, and the argument that Stelmach has very short coat tails, or none at all, could be a drag on some of these candidates.

“If you do the basic math, some of them could be in tough re-election battles and some could lose.”