alberta politics notes 6/17/2010

This descriptive photo of Finance Minister Ted Morton was taken from the Alberta Chamber of Commerce website.

– Premier-in-Waiting Ted Morton was joined by Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand this week while rallying against a National Securities registry. According to a recent Angus Reid survey, 48% of Albertans are open to a National Securities Regulator, 23% supported the current model (and I am betting that close to 100% did not know the difference between the two).
– Liberal leader David Swann has joined Minister Morton and Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith in opposing the National Securities Regulator.
– Former Premier-in-Waiting Jim Dinning is now the Chancellor of the University of Calgary.
– Alberta’s representative in Washington DC Gary Mar is spending his time promoting the oilsands in the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
– Culture & Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett has apologized for describing Canadian television as “shit” and “crap.” It was rude and condescending for Minister Blackett to say those things during a panel discussion at the Banff World Television Festival, but there was a certain refreshing quality to his honesty.
– I was saddened to hear of the passing of my former MLA Dave Broda. Mr. Broda served as the MLA for Redwater from 1997 to 2004.
– Federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is in Edmonton on June 19. Dan Arnold has written a good article about why the federal Liberals should focus on the West.
Equal Voice Alberta is hosting a workshop on June 23 for women considering running for municipal council or school board trustee. Panelists include Councillor Janice Melnychuk, retiring Edmonton Public School Board Trustee Sue Huff, former Ward 4 campaign manager Sarah Crummy.
– Independent Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor is hosting a town hall forum with Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell and QR77 radio host Dave Rutherford on June 22. Topic: Do Alberta’s Political Parties represent you?
– The United Nurses of Alberta has recommended the ratification of a new provincial contract. The new three-year agreement would provide a commitment to hire at least 70% of new nursing graduates, no rollbacks from the previous agreement, and a six percent pay increase over three years (two percent productivity increase in the second year and a four percent increase in the third year).

Read more in the Alberta Politics Notes archive.


don iveson campaign launch party!

My friend Don Iveson is launching his campaign for re-election to Edmonton City Council this weekend. Don has worked tirelessly over the past three years to help build a more sustainable and smarter city, and I am committed to help him get re-elected. I invite you to join me at Don’s campaign launch:

Sunday June 20th (Father’s Day)
2:00 pm-5:00 pm
Pleasantview Community League
10860-57th Avenue

Tickets are $25 and include tasty food by Nate Box of elm café and drinks (a great deal!). You can ensure your entry by reserving a ticket by emailing (tickets will also be available at the door).

Please feel free to pass on this message to your friends and family. Hope to see you there!

Cheers and Thanks,



chancellor jim dinning.

Message from Joanne Cuthbertson, Chancellor of the University of Calgary

I write today to share exciting news about the search for the University of Calgary’s 12th Chancellor.

This morning, the University of Calgary Senate voted to approve Alberta community builder Jim Dinning as the next Chancellor of the University of Calgary, effective July 1.

When it comes to serving our community, there are few people as passionate and accomplished as Jim Dinning. Jim’s experience, the value he places on post-secondary education, and his strong ties to the corporate, government and non-profit sectors make him an outstanding choice for Chancellor. I believe he will leave his mark on the bold future that lies ahead for the University of Calgary.

I would like to thank the members of the Joint Committee for Chancellor Selection for their commitment and dedication to the process of finding my successor.

It is an exciting time of growth and opportunity for the University of Calgary. I am honored to have been Chancellor of this great university for the last four years. As a graduate of the University of Calgary, it has been particularly meaningful. My passion and commitment for this university will continue and I look forward to staying connected and cheering for your every success under the leadership of our new president Elizabeth Cannon, Chancellor Dinning, the Board of Governors and the rest of the university leadership.

Please join me in congratulating Mr. Dinning on his new role and welcoming him to the University of Calgary community.


Joanne Cuthbertson
Chancellor, University of Calgary


new kids on the political block.

The Alberta Party's Chima Nkemdirim, moderator Nicole Martel, and Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith.

Intervivos organized a great event this evening at the Billiards Club on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton featuring two guest speakers – the Alberta Party‘s Chima Nkemdirim and Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith. It was refreshing to see two political representatives engage and interact in such a respectful and civil way. New Kids on the Political Block was a fun and engaging evening that attracted a good cross-section of politically engaged and interested people from across the political spectrum.

The evening was video streamed live online at and was the lead story on last night’s CBC local news.


reel injun.

As part of the Dreamspeakers Film Festival this weekend, I attended a screening of Reel Injun at the Metro Cinema. The film focuses on how aboriginal peoples have been portrayed in Hollywood film since the 1880s, which not surprisingly has largely been based on a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions. It was a well-humoured film that gave a pretty good educational background on the only exposure that many have of aboriginal peoples and their cultures. The film is also really good-humoured.

I enjoy a good Western film as much as anyone and this documentary made me think about how limited my own experiences have been with aboriginal cultures in Canada. When I was younger, I attended grade school with many students from the Alexander First Nation north of Edmonton, but beyond attending classes, there was no talk of cultures or history beyond the Social Studies textbooks.

As Chair of the Council of Alberta University Students in 2006, I participated in a handful of meetings of the Provincial Government’s First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Educational Advisory Committee. These were only day long meetings, so I was not under the impression that I fully understood all the issues discussed, but they did give me a degree of exposure to the challenges facing aboriginal communities in accessing education.

Reel Injun does not delve into explanations of the cultures, but it does an excellent job educating viewers about the ridiculous (and sometimes hilariously ridiculous) film stereotypes that are easily accepted when you do not really think about it. The film makes me want to learn more about aboriginal cultures. If you have the chance, I would recommend that you see it.


from regina, saskatchewan.

Queen Elizabeth II welcomes visitors to Saskatchewan's Legislative Assembly.

I am in the rainy and windy city of Regina, Saskatchewan for the week. While taking a walk around downtown Regina this afternoon (and to the Legislative Assembly), I noticed a lot of buildings that are a rare sight in my home province of Alberta: a lot of crown corporation headquarters.

Regular blogging will resume soon.


cabinet tour pitstop: edmonton.

Want the ear of a provincial Cabinet Minister ( and lunch)? It will only cost you $30. The executive branch will be stopping in Edmonton as part of their criss crossing tour across the province. A friendly reader forwarded me a copy of this email, from the Rotary Club of Edmonton.

The Cabinet Ministers will be in Edmonton May 27, 2010 A lunch for the Edmonton business community will be held at the Sutton Place hotel ballroom from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. on that date, arranged by the Rotary Club of Edmonton. There will be 30 tables of 10 persons each for a total of 300 places. A cabinet minister will sit at each table.

Tickets are $30.00 each. The ticket price will cover the cost of the lunch and printing. This is not a political or charitable donation and no receipts are available. Cheques are payable to Rotary Club of Edmonton.

To purchase tickets in advance contact a member of the Rotary Club of Edmonton, including:

John Whitmore
Rotary Club of Edmonton
780 702 3341 (direct)

Peter Stephen
Rotary Club of Edmonton
780 455 3417
780 221 3417

Any tickets not sold in advance will be available at the door before the lunch. There is no guarantee tickets will still be available. At that time only Rotary’s pos card reader will be available for credit and debit cards. A line-up can be expected.


my edmonton: challenges facing the core.

Yesterday I wrote about the changing face of downtown Edmonton. Today I focus on a few of the challenges facing our City’s urban core.

When did Edmonton become the Baltimore of the North? Three murders in one week. It is beginning to feel like there is a murder or stabbing almost every week. While this kind of violent crime can happen anywhere in the city, the recent duo of stabbings near Churchill Square in front of the Stanley Milner Library and the City Centre Mall does not help create a welcome environment. I am not sure what the solution is, but it is clear that something serious needs to be done.

City Council, Densification, & Urban Sprawl
There has been a noticeable tone shift on City Council in support of infill in the urban core, but there appears to be little hard action being taken to stem the outward sprawl of new neighbourhoods (now being constructed outside the Anthony Henday ringroad). A lot of the difficulty rests in balancing increased densification and infill with a market demand for more single family housing. The reality is that the farther our city sprawls, the more expensive it will be to provide the kind of services that are idealized for these neighbourhoods. Put simply, urban sprawl is unsustainable.

Some difficulty lies in the sprawl in a number of municipalities surrounding Edmonton. While the Capital Region Board has made progress since its creation there is still a lot more progress to be made in building a smarter region. Is amalgamation far off?

Not Family Friendly
The recent closures of school programs at Eastwood, McCauley, and Parkdale schools will create a more difficult environment to attract families into the urban core. Proximity to educational institutions is a critical key to convincing young families to settle in the core, but so are expenses. Many apartment and condo buildings in the downtown area have not created a friendly atmosphere for families and many are listed as ‘Adult Only.” This unfortunately creates a situation where many young Edmontonians who are already living in the core need to relocate in order to start a family (many to more affordable areas in sprawling suburban neighbourhoods).

There is a noticeable divide in our city around the 100th Street area. West of the divide is the business district and much of the upscale downtown residences. East of the divide are many of Edmonton’s homeless shelters and many lower income areas. There are homeless people all around our city, but the number of homeless becomes more evident to the naked eye when driving through the eastern streets of downtown.

The 2008 count revealed that there were 3,079 homeless people in Edmonton (1862 were absolute homeless (having no housing alternative) and 1217 were sheltered homeless). The Municipal and Provincial governments along with some very dedicated non-profit groups have made a positive impact. As accomplishable as it may sound, the Government of Alberta’s 10 year plan to end homelessness sets some ambitious goals and has thus far resulted in the funding and construction of a number of new housing units in Edmonton.

Lack of Imagination
There are some people who appear to simply refuse to see beyond what downtown Edmonton was in the past and what it has become in 2010. The rail yards and warehouse districts have heeded to the construction of Grant MacEwan University, Railtown residential area, Oliver Square, and some of the projects I highlighted in yesterday’s post.

White Elephants
University of Winnipeg academic Christopher Leo uncovered a classic example of how clever developers have mislead Edmonton City Council in the past. He uses the example of the former Eaton Centre (now the western section of City Centre Mall):

My research shows that developers found it easy to manipulate Edmonton’s city council again and again, and to put taxpayers in the position of paying for a development over which their representatives exercised no meaningful control. They used a bait and switch tactic which, though blatantly obvious in retrospect, is not always easy to spot before it is too late. Edmonton’s story is a cautionary tale. It ought to be required reading for city councillors throughout North America, and for anyone concerned with democratic control over the development of our cities. Read more…

It is a cautionary tale for Edmontonians to keep in mind when approached by potential rainmakers in the future.


my edmonton: it has to be downtown.

There was a time when I believed that I would need to move to a bigger city like Vancouver, Toronto, or even Calgary in order to find a great job and improved quality of life. Experiencing the changes that have happened and are happening in Edmonton has changed my mind over the past few years. I am excited about the changes that are happening in our city, especially the changing face of Edmonton’s urban core.

A cool strip. Jasper Avenue and 104th Street.

104th Street & Jasper Avenue
New life has been breathed into a street that until a couple of years ago was derelict and barren. The City Centre Market, along with the new Icon Towers and other condo developments in the area have brought a new sense of cool to the district. The addition of a Sobey’s urban market and many non-chain stores and vendors also adds to the character of the street (Blue Plate Diner, Credo Coffee, Carbon, deVine Wines, and the soon to be re-opened and re-located Bistro Praha).

Jasper Avenue & 109th Street
The construction of new residential and commercial development will change the face of a corner that has been dominated by a derelict Mayfair Hotel and a less than desirable Oil City Roadhouse.

Today’s formal launch of phase one of ProCura Real Estate’s innovative 708-unit Mayfair Village apartment complex at the southeast corner of 109th Street and Jasper Avenue has been years in the making.
When it’s finished, the stylish twin-tower complex — which will eventually stretch an entire block east to 108th Street — will house some 900 residents, bringing new life to a blighted stretch of the main drag long dominated by the derelict Mayfair Hotel and a drab surface parking lot next door.

The proximity to the Corona LRT station and the kitty-corner Save-On Foods could make this a pretty cool corner to live on.

Transit HUB
The LRT is finally being extended and downtown Edmonton will be the connector in the spokes of the proposed LRT routes to west to Lewis Estatessoutheast to Mill Woods, and north to NAIT (and eventually northwest to St. Albert). This development of this kind of critical transportation infrastructure is overdue for our City and I am excited to see our urban train system grow!

West downtown and Oliver neighbourhood (note the parking lots).

Jasper Avenue between 109th and 124th Street.
There is life in the Oliver, Grandin, and Railtown neighbourhoods of downtown. There is life because there are people living here. I believe that the neighbourhood could do with more densification and less above ground parking lots. Who needs a single family home when you can live in the most densified area of the City with the North Saskatchewan River Valley as your backyard?

Downtown Arena District
I was initially excited about the potential for a real debate about how this proposal could shape our downtown, but since Daryl Katz’s company launched the proposal, they have engaged in little real debate on the issue and instead have created a slick political and public relations campaign geared towards convincing Edmontonians need a downtown arena. There remains many debatable questions about what kind of effect a downtown arena would actually have on the area and one of the largest unanswered questions: who would pay for it.

City Centre Airport Lands
Alex Abboud has a great post about the potential residential development for lands currently used by the City Centre Airport, which is entering a phased closure. With the debate around the future of the lands having finally been settled by City Councillors in July 2009 a huge parcel of land in Edmonton’s urban core will be opened up for development.

Edmontonians living in the urban core face some unique challenges such as the closure of inner city schools and crime. As a resident of the urban core and a younger Edmontian, I share the perspective of a growing number of younger professionals and creative-types who believe that Edmonton is a place to be. The changes that are happening in Edmonton’s urban core make me excited about how we will shape our city over the next five to ten years.

Tomorrow I will post a list of some of the main challenges I feel are facing downtown Edmonton.

(In March 2010, I created a photo collection of Jasper Avenue from 98th Street to 124th Street)


alberta politics notes 5/18/2010

– Legislative mega-bills may make for dry conversations, but the upcoming changes to health care legislation is one that Albertans should pay close attention to. The Friends of Medicare and Join Together Alberta have announced a series of open consultation meetings on the Alberta Health Act.
Intervivos is hosting a political party mixer with the Wildrose Alliance‘s Danielle Smith and the Alberta Party‘s Chima Nkemdirim on June 9 at Latitude 53 Metro Billiards the Billiards Club on Whyte Avenue.
– The National Post has published an interesting article about the Alberta Party’s Big Listens.
– Federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff will be touching down in Edmonton on May 20 for his annual Leader’s Dinner fundraiser.
– Calgary MLA Kent Hehr is launching his campaign for Mayor today. Mr. Hehr’s 2008 PC opponent Sean Chu has announced that he is running for Alderman in Ward 4.
Alex Abboud has a great rundown of the Edmonton City Council elections.
– Lt. Daryl Bonar is the first challenger to Mayor Stephen Mandel.
– Father, Husband, Career Security Officer, Ordained Satanic Priest Scott Robb is running for Edmonton City Council in Ward 4.
– Councillor Tony Caterina is seeking re-election in Ward 7. Councillor Caterina will face off against Brendan Van Alstine and potentially Harvey Voogd.
Dale Peterson would give most conservative politicians in Alberta a run for their money…
UPDATE: I should not be surprised that a parody has already popped up (though I believe the original is still better).

We’re Better Than That, Too!!!! w/ Dale Peterson – watch more funny videos

downtown farmers’ market kicks off.

The 104th Street area of downtown Edmonton showcased its vibrancy this weekend as the City Market kicked off. The very talented Raffaella posted this video creation on Vimeo:

market day from fella on Vimeo.


liberal party convention (losers can’t be winners).

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.

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.

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.


clean government initiative.

Just days before their party policy convention, the Alberta Liberals unveiled a new package of democratic reform proposals branded as the “Clean Government Initiative.”

1) Establish an independent commission with binding powers to set MLA pay, benefits and bonuses.
2) Make all MLA expenses and compensation publicly available online.
3) Lengthen and strengthen cooling off periods to prevent senior civil servants from flip-flopping between high-level public and private sector jobs.
4) Strengthen the Lobbyist Act.
5) Strengthen the power of Officers of the Legislative Assembly.
6) Reduce power of the Premier’s Office.
7) Protect whistleblowers.
8 ) Ban all corporate and union political party donations.
9) Lower election donation limits for individuals.
10) Reform elections.
11) Increase ministerial accountability
12) Establish fixed election dates.

Most of these ideas are not new, and many of these policies have also be found in the manifestos of the New Democrats, the Wildrose Alliance, and the Conservative Party of Canada, but I believe that the Liberals have done a good job packaging them.

Not surprisingly, the most controversial proposal is included in step 10, which proposes offers tax credits of $50 per election to Albertans who vote. I do not necessarily agree that monetary incentives would be the best way to increase meaningful engagement in our electoral system, but could does help spark the debate about creating incentives to vote – a debate that the governing Progressive Conservative Party appears reluctant to participate in.

I also noticed that while releasing this policy package, Liberal leader David Swann has spruced up his wardrobe, abandoning the older worn suit for a more crisp and professional looking image. I get the distinct feeling that recent changes inside the Official Opposition caucus may have allowed Dr. Swann more time to focus on other things, like improving his and his party’s image.


alberta politics notes 5/13/2010

– Alberta’s new Lieutenant Governor was officially installed this week. Colonel (Retired) Donald Ethel is one of Canada’s most decorated Peacekeepers.
Alberta’s three remaining Senators-in-Waiting have voiced their opposition to Premier Ed Stelmach‘s decision to suspend the Fall 2010 Senate elections.
– Premier Stelmach is travelling to Asia with BC Premier Gordon Campbell and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall. Liberal leader David Swann will be in Edmonton for his party’s policy convention this weekend. NDP leader Brian Mason is travelling to Calgary.
– Former PC Finance Minister Jim Dinning was recently interviewed by the Globe & Mail.
– Edmonton Councillor Dave Thiele will not seek re-election in the October Municipal elections. Councillor Thiele was first elected in 1998. In the 2007 election, Councillor Thiele was re-elected with 23.4% of the vote in the hotly contested race between five candidates.
– I have been told that Harvey Voogd is collecting signatures to run as a candidate in the new Ward 7. In 2007. Mr. Voogd was the third place candidate in Ward 3. If he does run in Ward 7, Mr. Voogd will face off against Brendan Van Alstine, who has been campaigning for almost a year.
Heather Mackenzie has announced her candidacy for the Edmonton Public School Board in Ward G. Sadly, one-term Ward C Trustee Sue Huff will not seek re-election.
– Former Saskatchewan MLA Gordon Dirks and former Calgary-West PC MLA Karen Kryczka will not run for re-election to the Calgary Board of Education.
Edmonton-Strathona NDP MP Linda Duncan has been voted Edmonton’s “Most effective politician” in his year’s SEE Magazine rankings. Runners up are City Councillor Don Iveson (who has placed in the top three since being elected in 2007) and Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman.
– Congratulations to CBC Edmonton Reporter Kim Trynacity, who has been nominated for a Canadian Journalism Award (h/t @PABsurvivor)


alberta liberals up in the air.

Even if someone were to offer me good odds, I would be hesitant to bet on who the real players will be in the next provincial election.

As David Climenhaga recently pointed out, although credible polls continue to show the Progressive Conservatives ahead in voter support, the media has continued to frame Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Alliance as the heir’s to the Legislative throne. For the most part, the free ride has continued.

Young Liberal Vincent St. Pierre has written a blog post ahead the Liberal Party’s May 14-16 policy convention disputing the Wildrose’s claims to be “ready to govern.” While I would also dispute those claims, the Liberals also have a difficult time claiming that they are “ready to govern.”

David Swann and the Liberal caucus.

The focus of the weekend convention is policy, but the big news could be financial. The Alberta Liberal Party is expected to announce shortly that their outstanding debt, much of which was accumulated during their disastrous 2001 election campaign, will finally be paid off. This is a big step for the Liberals, but it is only one of the many challenges facing their organization.

I have been accused by both MLAs and some party loyalists of having an anti-Liberal bent on this blog (one MLA even accused me of conspiring with the NDP) and while I admit to being critical of the Liberal Party, I believe that my assessments have been fair. As someone who was involved with the Liberal Party for many years, including time as a constituency vice-president and a political staffer, I am aware of the political strengths and psychological weaknesses of that organization.

The Liberal Party is in an interesting situation. They might be a beneficiary of a PC-Wildrose vote split in some Edmonton and Calgary constituencies in the next election, but their membership has not exactly been flooded by progressives afraid of the two conservative parties. The departure of MLA Dave Taylor and Kent Hehr‘s decision to run in Calgary’s Mayoral election is not a ringing endorsement of the party’s current fortunes. Can the party attract back into their ranks the sizeable group of Liberals who joined disenchanted Red Tories, moderate New Democrats, and former central Albertan Greens under the new Alberta Party banner? They have been low key, but since March, the Alberta Party has held almost 100 Big Listen meetings across the province.

You do not have to spend too much time inside the Liberal Party to become aware of how iconized the 1993 election is in the minds of party activists. As many Albertans will remember, that election saw former Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore lead the Liberals to their best showing in decades by winning 39% of the vote and forming official opposition by electing 32 MLAs.

Much of the traditional Liberal motto against large-scale change within their party – especially a name change – has centered around the 1993 vote. “We won 32 seats under Decore and we can do it again,” is something that I have heard countless times. There is no doubt that 17 years ago the Liberals launched an impressive campaign with a slate of candidates who were “ready to govern.” It would be difficult to argue that has been the case since. The Liberals have cultivated reliable support in a handful of constituencies in Calgary, Edmonton, and Lethbridge, but they have had a very difficult time growing their base of support. In most rural areas, the Liberals have run paper candidates in the past three elections, ceding a growing number of constituencies to the PC hegemony.

The decision by the Liberal Party years ago to focus resources on urban areas has opened up the potential of rural success to the Wildrose Alliance, whose leader Ms. Smith has spent months traveling to rural communities and smaller cities meeting with any group that will have her. Her party is now reaping the benefits of gaining media attention from local weekly newspapers, organizing constituency associations, and attracting large crowds to their town hall meetings. Imagine what the political map would look like after the 2011/2012 election if Alberta had an opposition party that could elect candidates in both rural and urban constituencies.

Both the Liberals and NDP have been frustrated by their lack of traction in the polls (and in elections), but neither party appears prepared to change gears to face this reality. Liberal leader David Swann has held town hall meetings across Alberta, as has NDP leader Brian Mason, but there is little evidence that this will lead to an even mediocre rural breakthrough for either party. This is probably less the fault of the current leadership and more the fault of a tradition of political tactics focused on weekly issues and electoral strategies focused on urban enclaves (and the influence of their federal party cousins).

It is difficult to believe that these parties once had long-time MLAs who represented rural constituencies. NDP leader Grant Notley represented the sprawling Spirit River-Fairview from 1971 to 1984. Liberal leader Nick Taylor represented Westlock-Sturgeon and Redwater from 1986 to 1996. Premier Ed Stelmach defeated two-term Vegreville NDP MLA Derek Fox in 1993. The last time either of these two parties elected a candidate in rural Alberta was in 1997 when Liberal MLA Colleen Soetaert was re-elected in Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert.

If the Liberal Party is successful in building a policy platform that appeals beyond their traditional base of supporters, will they have an organization on the ground that can translate it into electoral results? Even if they have all the best policy ideas in the world, without  feet on the ground it will be very difficult – even with a potential vote split on the right – to reach beyond their traditional base of supporters in this province.

(I will be attending parts of this weekend’s Liberal convention as a media observer, including federal Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella‘s keynote address. Look for updates on this blog and on twitter at @davecournoyer)