Categories
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). 

Categories
Alberta Politics

Does anyone want to lead the Alberta Liberal Party?

You have until 5:00 p.m. today to submit your nomination to run for the leadership of the Alberta Liberal Party.

If you do, there’s a chance you might be the only one.

The deadline to enter the leadership of the once official opposition and now seatless Liberal Party is fast approaching and there doesn’t appear to be anyone interested in the job.

At least not publicly.

Longtime party volunteer John Roggeveen stepped into the thankless role as interim leader in March 2021 after the job was left vacant following David Khan‘s resignation in November 2020.

The party announced the leadership race in June 2022, and presumably, the executive board would (or should) have had someone in mind when they opened the gates.

It’s unlikely that Khan would want to return to the role now that he is a lawyer for Ecojustice, nor would his 2017 leadership opponent Kerry Cundal, who is now the nominated Alberta Party candidate in Calgary-Elbow.

Former leader Raj Sherman was recently spurned by the United Conservative Party when he tried to become a candidate in that party’s leadership race. Sherman’s main leadership rival from 2011, Hugh MacDonald, has returned to his labour union roots as Business Manager and Secretary Treasurer of Boilermakers Lodge 146.

And other former leader David Swann appears comfortable with returning to his roots as an environmental activist. Swann was the party’s last MLA when he decided to retire from elected politics in 2019.

The Liberal Party formed official opposition from 1993 to 2012, but I’ll leave the story of its quick rise and fall for another day (I have a lot to say).

Now, I guess we wait to see what happens at 5:00 p.m. today.

UPDATE: It appears as though the Liberal Party did not accept any nominations for its leadership race by today’s 5:00 p.m. deadline. The party has removed the “Leadership” section from its website drop down menu and has not made any public statements about the leadership race yet.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Danielle Smith is making sure Alberta doesn’t have a boring political summer

Popular opinion would have that summer is a quiet and boring time in politics, but not so in Alberta.

I can’t remember there was a boring political summer in Alberta?

Last year was the Best Summer Ever disaster and the summer before that was the first COVID summer. Before that was the Summer of Repeal. And so on.

This summer, the most unexpected political comeback might be happening before our eyes.

In almost every aspect, former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith is defining what the United Conservative Party leadership race is about.

Following her “Alberta First” campaign slogan, Smith declared plans to introduce an Alberta Sovereignty Act to let Alberta MLAs vote on which federal laws they want the province to follow.

The other candidates responded.

Even Finance Minister Jason Nixon, a staunch Jason Kenney-loyalist, stepped in to pooh-pooh Smith’s idea (Nixon was nominated as Wildrose candidate back when Smith was still party leader).

Her campaign chair, Rob Anderson, is founder of the Free Alberta Strategy and was one of two Progressive Conservative MLAs to cross the floor to Smith’s Wildrose in 2010 (he later crossed the floor back to the PCs with Smith in 2014).

Smith declared Alberta will never ever have a lockdown again (we never *really* had a lockdown).

The other candidates responded.

She made wild statements about any cancer before Stage 4 is a result of poor personal choices.

Everyone responded.

Postmedia columnist Don Braid wrote that her “dabbles in quackery” are sometimes almost funny but “this one is dangerous.”

When Smith hosted a popular radio talk show she promoted hydroxychloroquine as a cure to COVID-19. She even touted ivermectin as a treatment. Now she wants to appoint chief medical officers of alternative medicine.

Quackery is putting it politely.

It’s the realm of internet pseudoscience.

As my friend David Climenhaga opined, it is the Donald Trump strategy of saying outrageous stuff that appeals to the base voters and damn the consequences.

And it might be working.

Smith has now nabbed 4 MLA endorsements.

Airdrie-Cochrane’s Peter Guthrie, Calgary-Falconridge’s Devinder Toor, Lethbridge-East’s Nathan Neudorf, and Lesser Slave Lake’s Pat Rehn, who dropped his endorsement of establishment favourite Travis Toews to support Smith.

But it’s not exactly the crème de la crème of the UCP Caucus.

Toor was fined $15,000 by Elections Alberta for breaking political finance laws in 2018 and 2019, and was allegedly part of group who bullied and harassed a food truck owner in northeast Calgary.

Rehn was briefly expelled from the UCP Caucus in 2021 after taking a hot holiday to Mexico while most Albertans respected the government’s own COVID-19 travel advice and stayed home, and local municipal leaders called on him to resign after spending more time in Texas than his own riding.

Kenney said Rehn would not be allowed to run for the UCP nomination in the next election but he was quietly allowed to rejoin the UCP Caucus last summer. But now Kenney is on his way out.

Some might say I’m playing into the Smith-comeback narrative by writing this article, but she’s the only candidate saying anything interesting – even if it’s quackery.

She’s drawing crowds and appears to be hitting the right notes with a motivated segment of the UCP base, which says a lot about who the membership of the UCP is today.

This isn’t your father’s Progressive Conservative Party, folks.

The other candidates in the UCP race better get their acts together, because the membership sales deadline is on August 12.

That’s just 16 days away.

The final 7

Smith might be getting the most attention but she’s not the only candidate in the race. Leela Aheer, Brian Jean, Todd Loewen, Rajan Sawhney, Rebecca Schulz and Travis Toews also made the cut. Bill Rock dropped out to endorse Jon Horsman, who dropped out, and, as expected, Raj Sherman was not allowed to run (his old job as Liberal Party leader is open though).

More separatist drama

Danielle Smith Paul Hinman Daveberta Wildrose United Conservative Party
Paul Hinman and Danielle Smith in 2010. (source: Dave Cournoyer)

If there’s one thing we can depend on Alberta’s cottage industry of fringe right-wing separatist parties to deliver, it’s drama.

It looks like Paul Hinman has been ousted as leader of the Wildrose Independence Party. The ouster comes shortly after the Independence Party of Alberta announced that merger talks with WIP broke off.

Hinman has been replaced by Jeevan Mangat, who ran for the Wildrose Party in Calgary-Fort in 2012 and 2015.

The WIP was created in 2020 through the merger of the Wexit group and the Freedom Conservative Party (which was previously known as the Alberta First Party, the Separation Party of Alberta and the Western Freedom Party). The party has struggled with fundraising and Hinman placed a distant third in the recent Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election.

Before his time as WIP leader, Hinman served as a Wildrose MLA from 2004 to 2008 and 2009 to 2012, and as leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party immediately before Danielle Smith was chosen as leader in 2009.

Meanwhile, the IPA is still looking for a new leader. Past federal Liberal candidate Katherine Kowalchuk is the only candidate in the race, so far.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Race to replace Jason Kenney takes shape – Rajan Sawhney and Rebecca Schulz join the fray. Will Michelle Rempel Garner and Raj Sherman be next?

Hey there politics fans!

The United Conservative Party released its leadership race rule book!

UCP members will choose a replacement for Premier Jason Kenney on October 6, 2022.

It will cost $150,000 to enter the race, plus an extra $25,000 good behaviour deposit.

Low rollers need not apply.

It’s not just a race to replace Kenney.

It’s a race to save the UCP from defeat against Rachel Notley‘s resurgent Alberta NDP.

And the race is starting to take shape.

The cowboy hat wearing former Finance Minister from Beaverlodge, Travis Toews, launched his campaign last week with endorsements from 23 UCP MLAs, including Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro.

Savage and Grande Prairie-Mackenzie MP Chris Warkentin are co-chairing his campaign.

Toews is seen as the establishment favourite, which isn’t always a blessing.

Just ask Jim Dinning and Gary Mar.

Former Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney launched her campaign yesterday with a whistle-stop tour down the QEII, starting with media events in Edmonton, Penhold and Airdrie before ending at a +700-person rally in north east Calgary.

It was a strong kick-off.

Sawhney’s campaign is being run by well-known political strategist and conservative thinker Ken Boessenkool, who worked as an advisor to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former BC Premier Christy Clark.

Her former chief of staff (and former Daveberta Podcast co-host) Ryan Hastman is her deputy campaign manager.

Angela Pitt MLA Airdrie-East UCP
Angela Pitt (source: Facebook)

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt is Sawhney’s campaign chair.

It’s an odd fit for a leadership candidate who appears to be trying to position herself as a political moderate (no word if South Tyrol-like autonomy for Alberta will be in her platform).

Pitt endorsed Brian Jean for the UCP leadership 2017, and even have him credit for her entry into politics.

This time she’s backing Sawhney.

Jean is launching his campaign at a hotel in west Edmonton tomorrow. 

Autonomy for Albertans is Jean’s slogan, not Anatomy for Albertans, as this writer first thought he read.

The former Wildrose Party leader launched his second political comeback in last year’s Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election with the singular purpose of defeating Kenney in the leadership review and run to replace him.

He’s met half his goal so far.

Another former Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith is also trying for her second political comeback after a short and disastrous stint on the Calgary Board of Education in the late 1990s and as Wildrose Party leader from 2009 until she infamously abandoned her party to join Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives in 2014.

For many conservatives, especially those of the Wildrose-variety, it is a betrayal that will live in infamy.

The leadership is only one-half of Smith’s comeback attempt. 

She’s also challenging MLA Roger Reid for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod, which appears far from a safe-bet.

Rebecca Schulz United Conservative Party leadership candidate
Rebecca Schulz (source: Facebook)

First-term south Calgary MLA Rebecca Schulz stepped down as Children’s Services Minister to jump into the race.

Schulz wants to take on what she describes as “the boys club.”

She has the backing of Calgary City Councillor Dan McLean, Health Minister Jason Copping, UCP MLAs Michaela Frey and Jeremy Nixon, MPs Laila Goodridge and Stephanie Kusie, former federal Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose and former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. 

The Wall endorsement might seem odd, but he endorsed Schulz in her bid to win the hotly contested Calgary-Shaw UCP nomination race back in 2018.

The Saskatchewan native was a spokesperson in Wall’s government before moving to Alberta in the mid-2010s, and her husband, Cole Schulz, was a ministerial chief of staff in Regina (he’s now the Vice President, Communications for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in Calgary).

UCP MLA Leela Aheer, who was ousted from cabinet for calling on Kenney to resign, is in and wants to “defeat the machines.”

“I think Albertans will defeat the machines. They understand what the machine is. They’re frustrated with the machine,” she told reporters.

She’s also facing a strong nomination challenge in her Chestermere-Strathmore riding.

Northern Alberta UCP MLA-in-exile Todd Loewen also jumped into the race, as did Village of Amisk Mayor Bill Rock, another former Wildrose Party candidate.

But one of the big potential contenders, Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, is playing coy. 

Maybe she’ll run. Maybe she won’t.

Her text message reply to Press Gallery Dean Don Braid was “hahahaha!”

Raj Sherman MLA
Raj Sherman

And the hot gossip in political circles today is that erratic former Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman is thinking about joining the fray. 

Sherman was first elected as a PC MLA in 2008 but was driven out of that party and scooped up the Liberal leadership in 2011. He left politics in 2015 and returned to being full-time ER doctor. 

He also donated $4,000 to the Alberta Party last year.

So it’s a scramble. It’s a dog’s breakfast.

And there could be more.

We’ll know soon enough.

July 20 is the deadline for candidates to pay up if they want to stay in the race.

The high-entry fee will quickly weed out candidates who can’t raise enough money.

August 12 is the deadline to buy a membership.

No time for the two-minute Tories who wreaked havoc against the establishment candidates in the old PC Party leadership races.

The party is also organizing debates and attendance by all candidates is mandatory.

Stragglers will risk be fined or disqualified, or both.

It’s no Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, but it’s bound to be entertaining to watch.


Liberal Party seeks new leader

The Alberta Liberal Party also announced that it will be holding their own leadership vote and choosing a new leader on September 25, 2022.

Former party leader David Khan stepped down in November 2020 after failing to win a seat in the 2019 election, marking the first time since before 1986 that the provincial Liberals not represented in the Legislature.

Party stalwart John Roggeveen has filled the spot as interim leader since March 2021.

The race has no candidates as of yet. The second place finisher from the 2017 leadership race, Kerry Cundal, is running for the Alberta Party in Calgary-Elbow.


And don’t forget to sign up for my Substack at daveberta.substack.com.