Mr. Chandler has pushed his internet campaign machine into high-gear by adding hundreds of his Facebook friends to a new group of supposed former Wildrose Party members. The attacks are centred around the disqualification of federal Libertarian Party leader Dennis Young as a candidate for the Wildrose nomination in Calgary-Hays. The following media release was posted on the wall of the Facebook group:
Dennis Young To File Injunction & Suing For Damages
Removed Calgary Hays Soldier Starts Group
Many Frustrated Members & X-Members Involved
(Calgary) After submitting his signatures, memberships, nomination fee, signing up hundreds of memberships, demon dialing the constituency, dropping two separate pieces of literature to every residence, door knocking 25% of the entire area and with a six month delay, retired soldier and successful business owner, Dennis Young has been terminated as a candidate by the Wildrose Party.
“I am devestated by this and I feel really taken advantage of. On October 3rd, I discovered via a letter by the Executive Director of the party, Shane Saskiw, I was disqualified from the nomination race in Calgary-Hays. In that letter there was no reason for the disqualification mentioned. Also, I was not advised that my candidacy for the nomination was in question, nor was I given an opportunity to defend myself personally against whatever accusations may have been brought against me. Further, I had my interview with the Local Candidate Nominating Committee roughly six months ago, submitted my paperwork and my nomination fee. If I was going to be disqualified, I would have expected to be informed of it at that time.” stated Dennis Young. Read the rest of this extraordinary long media release.
Sherman – energetic, intelligent, charismatic – could prove to be a political white knight riding to the Liberals’ rescue. Or Sherman – inexperienced, mercurial, impetuous – could yet prove to be one of the horsemen of the apocalypse.
Simply put, Dr. Sherman is a mixed-bag. (Don Braid, David Climenhaga, and Maurice Tougas have all penned opinions on what Dr. Sherman’s acendency to the leadership might mean for Alberta’s Official Opposition party).
Former Tory MLA Dr. Sherman will walk into his new office as the Leader of the Official Opposition this week surrounded by an eight MLA Liberal caucus, which has had a tense relationship with its leaders since the 2008 general election. The caucus includes two of his leadership competitors (Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman and Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald) and two of the party’s former leaders (Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann and Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft). Of the group of eight, two (Dr. Taft and Calgary-Varsity MLA Harry Chase) are planning to retire at the next election.
The Big Four
It is my experience that the Chief of Staff, Caucus Communications Director, Party President, and Party Executive Director are four key positions that a Liberal party leader needs support from in order to successfully command the leadership of the party. Two of these positions are about to be vacated.
As noted in a recently Globe & Mail article, Erick Ambtman has resigned as President. Corey Hogan, executive director since 2009, has announced his plans to move on to future challenges. Chief of Staff Rick Miller, a former MLA and nominated candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford, may want to focus his energies on his election campaign. In his short time in the job, Communications Director Brian Leadbetter has proven to be an effective communication manager in a position that has turned into a rotating door over the past few years.
The Liberals need a ground game
While only around a paltry 8,600 out of almost 27,000 eligible voters actually participated in the leadership vote, the party is still left with a vast list of almost 30,000 potential volunteers, sign locations, and voters to help them in the next provincial election. One of the areas that Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Payne stressed during the leadership campaign was the need for the Liberals to build their strength on the ground.
Currently, the Liberals do not have functional organizations in most constituencies across the province, including in constituencies that they held up until the 2008 election. The lack of local organization and funds will pose a challenge in finding credible candidates to run in an expected fall 2011 or spring 2012 general election.
A significant number of the party’s staunch loyalists supported Mr. MacDonald’s candidacy and his criticisms of the open voting leadership process. Many of these Liberals were furious at former leader Dr. Swann’s attempts to cooperate with other opposition parties in response to his party’s shrinking political fortunes. Dr. Sherman will need to mend fences with this sometimes unreasonable group of stalwarts while cementing his own activists into the party ranks.
It will also be interesting to see if right-wing leadership candidate Bill Harvey remains in the Liberal Party (it is suspected that he may join the Wildrose Party). The two-time candidate, who was supported by right-wing agitator Craig Chandler, earned 7% of the vote in this contest.
Of interesting note, party Vice-President (Policy) Debbie Cavaliere challenged Dr. Sherman for the PC nomination in 2007 and later ran as the Liberal candidate against him in the 2008 general election.
The Progressive Conservatives will be voting for the first ballot in their leadership contest on September 17. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, then a second ballot with the top three candidates will be held on October 1. The victor of that leadership contest will determine the tone and calendar of the next provincial election, which many political watchers are expecting to be held later this fall or early next spring.
Since 2010, the Wildrose Party led by Danielle Smith have moved into second place in the polls, with the NDP led by Brian Mason are competing with the Liberals for third place. The question is whether Dr. Sherman’s star power can write the Liberals back into the political narrative they have been largely absent from over the past two years.
There is also the question of what effect Dr. Sherman’s victory will have on the new Alberta Party, which continues to organize, but has dropped to a lower-profile since Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor was chosen as its leader earlier this year.
Dr. Raj Sherman was first elected as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark in 2008. In 2010, he sent an email to Premier Ed Stelmach, his caucus colleagues, and medical contacts that led to him being kicked out of the PC caucus. He sat as an Independent MLA while joining the Liberal Party leadership race earlier this year.
Dr. Sherman defeated four-term Liberal MLAs Hugh MacDonald and Laurie Blakeman.
Four-term Edmonton-Gold Bar Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald placed a distant second and Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman and conservative Calgarian Bill Harvey placed a close third and fourth in this online poll. Calgarian Bruce Payne barely registered on the online poll.
On Saturday September 10, the Alberta Liberals will select their next leader following current leader David Swann’s resignation from the post, announced this past January.
An understanding of the dynamics that lead to the initiation of this leadership race is helpful in interpreting the parry and thrust that has played out among the candidates running to be Swann’s successor. It’s probably not quite accurate to say that Swann was forced out—he left of his own volition, but he certainly didn’t have an easy time of it throughout most of his tenure as leader. Job one for the new leader will be to unite the caucus and inspire the membership as Alberta moves ever closer to the next election.
Don Braid’s piece in the Calgary Herald last weekend was a bang-on analysis of the recent and not so recent dynamic within the Party.
I found this section particularly apropos:
“There was another flicker of losing mentality recently when MLAs and leadership candidates suddenly discovered the party has 25,000 members.
The reaction was not joy, or even a touch of pride, but claims of duplicity from candidates who thought Raj Sherman was pushing the rules.”
It has been written elsewhere that this election will be a defining moment in the history of the Party, and I don’t disagree. When Daveberta left the ALP a few years ago he explained to me how his decision was motivated by the Party’s culture that put fealty to the Liberal brand above all else. At the time I didn’t know what he meant. Perhaps I hadn’t spent enough time in the trenches to see it up close. Now, a few years later, I see that Dave was absolutely right: there are elements within the Liberal Party that would take “being a Liberal” over “being in a progressive government that shares my values and does things the way I think it ought to” ten times out of ten. It’s weird, and kind of hard to explain until you’ve seen it. But it’s there.
This leadership election is an opportunity for the Liberal Party to decide what it wants to be: a band of true believers who will always be safe in the knowledge that they remained loyal to the Liberal brand through thick and thin; or a pragmatic, progressive group of people who are willing to stretch their boundaries and open up the organization to new people, new thinking, and ultimately a shot at real relevance again.
The various potential paths for the Liberal Party have been foreshadowed during this leadership campaign. I’ve been to a few of the debates and watched the campaign closely. By my best estimation, the candidates have offered visions as such:
Laurie Blakeman: Solid traditional Liberal credentials as well as an eye towards pragmatism. A Laurie Blakeman Liberal Party would not close itself off to outsiders, and would likely make some attempt to establish consensus with the Alberta Party and the NDP.
Bill Harvey: Move the Party far to the right of its traditional space on the political spectrum, to the point where many members would no longer feel comfortable with policy positions. Harvey has a very small natural constituency within the Party. If he were to win it would be in large part due to his organizational skills.
Hugh MacDonald: A die-hard Liberal if ever there was one. MacDonald has staked out the traditional Liberal territory with a vengeance during this campaign. He is an unapologetic devotee of the brand, and has played up his Party renewal strategy of empowering constituency associations.
Bruce Payne: A kind and decent human being who doesn’t quite have the backstory that explains why he should be the Liberal Leader. If he can hold Calgary-Varsity when incumbent Harry Chase retires at the start of the next election he would make a strong Alberta Liberal MLA.
Raj Sherman: His policy strength is in health care, but he speaks frequently about the social determinants of health and the correlative relationship between government actions and social outcomes across many policy areas. Sherman’s participation is the story of this campaign. He brings strong name recognition and folk hero status to this race. However his history as a Conservative MLA makes him an unknown and perhaps unsettling quantity in some Liberal circles.
I could certainly be wrong, and in fact I usually am (just ask Premier Jim Dinning and LPC Leader Gerard Kennedy), but I think this race is essentially between Hugh MacDonald and Raj Sherman.
MacDonald represents the true believers; the ones with a Liberal tattoo. Those people who look at traditional Liberal policies like the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, multiculturalism, the right to marry who you love, environmentalism, non-violence, fiscal responsibility, and at a host of other Liberal policy positions and say “yes, I am a Liberal.” MacDonald’s supporters come from the noblest of places within the human spirit. They see a set of values that they call “Liberal”, and they won’t be pushed off that brand come hell or high water. However, the dedication to Liberalism exemplified by MacDonald supporters is myopic: though they have the best outcomes in mind, their inflexibility and inability to understand the bigger picture have trapped them in a perpetual state of being “right”, while being marginalized. And what’s the good in that?
On the other hand, Raj Sherman brings a whole new dynamic to the Liberal Party. He’s famous. He’s smart. He’s brash. He stood up to the government and lived to tell the tale. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with Raj this summer and I can attest to the fact that he is an incredibly hard worker and the most pure retail politician I’ve ever seen. He is totally comfortable in his own skin and loves being with people. During the leadership race Sherman has signed up a large number of new Party supporters, giving the ALP a big new list of people to build its constituency and campaign teams with for the next election.
Over the past several years the Liberal Party has been pulling in two different directions. On the one hand there are the traditional loyalists who think the Party must do the same things, but better. On the other hand there are the younger, more pragmatic activists who wish to reshape the Party in a way that will allow it to continue to be relevant in the 21st Century. MacDonald and Sherman are two nearly perfect proxy candidates for this debate.
When the Party selects a new Leader on September 10, a Raj Sherman victory will indicate a willingness to work outside the Party’s traditional comfort zone with the aim of greater electoral success, while maintaining its commitment to Liberal values and philosophy; a Hugh MacDonald victory will represent a decision to redouble efforts to build the traditional Liberal Party along the same lines that have failed for so long.
This is an important conversation for the Party to have, and I’m genuinely interested in seeing which way the Party decides to go. If nothing else, the Liberal Party leadership contest has been passionate, surprising and interesting. The Party feels exciting again, which is a step in the right direction.
The Alberta Liberal Party announced yesterday that over 27,567 Albertans are eligible to vote in their party’s September 10 leadership contest. The eligible group of supporters include 3,690 paid members and 23,877 “registered supporters” who could participate by registering their name and contact information without a fee.
Although the Liberal leadership contest has by far been overshadowed by the more glamorous Progressive Conservative leadership contest set for September 17 (in which over 150,000 Albertans are expected to participate), I am impressed that the Liberals have been able to collect the names of over 27,000 potential supporters. Regardless if these registered supporters actually vote in their leadership contest, their names are now entered into a database that will be useful for the Liberals in the next provincial election.
Not surprisingly, eligible voters in this contest are largely centered in the two main cities of Calgary and Edmonton, highlighting Liberal Party’s almost non-existent levels of support in rural Alberta. Even in a constituency like Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, with a population estimated to be more than 100,000, the Liberals only attracted 134 people to register to vote in their leadership contest.
Unlike traditional one-member-one-vote leadership selection structures, the Liberals have opted to use a weighted-preferential system in constituencies with large numbers of voters. The slightly confusing system is explained on the party’s leadership website:
Each constituency in Alberta is allocated up to 500 points, where each vote up to that number represents one point. Should more than 500 voters cast a ballot in a constituency, each vote in the constituency is applied a weighing formula.
As there are only 15 constituencies with more than 500 eligible voters, it is likely that this system may only be implemented in a handful of them. The only constituency to register more than 1,000 supporters was Edmonton-Whitemud.
Toasting the success of their open membership program, the Alberta Liberals have announced that over the course of the past few months, their party has signed up 15,500 “supporters” to participate in their upcoming leadership contest. These supporters do not have to purchase memberships (of which the Liberals claim to have 3,500 paid members) and can vote in the party’s leadership by providing their name and contact information.
Opening participation in leadership contests to a primary style vote is a positive move, and one that will remove the element of elitism from the party leader selection process.
The challenge that remains is actually engaging these “supporters” to participate in the actual vote and the party process beyond that. The Wildrose Party has around 25,000 paid members and the Progressive Conservatives are expected to grow their membership to over 150,000 paid membership by September.
Good intentions aside, it feels like the move by the Liberals to open their leadership selection process feels like it may have come an election too late. After being decimated in the 2008 election, the Liberal Party has shown negative momentum in Alberta with their federal cousins drawing only 9% of the province-wide vote in May 2011 and a recent Environics survey showing the Liberals with only 13% province-wide and 19% in their former strong-hold of Edmonton.
The poll of 900 Albertans showed that the Progressive Conservatives have once again risen to a dominant position over the opposition parties, including the ambitious Wildrose Party. This is just one poll, and as we learned from the May 2011 Federal Election, campaigns do matter. Keeping this in mind, here are my interpretations of what the poll could mean for Alberta’s political parties:
Progressive Conservatives: The death of the near-forty-year governing PC Party has been greatly exaggerated. The poll shows PC support is above 50% across the province and above 60% with voters over the age of 65 (who show up to vote).
It is difficult to say if support for the Tories will change when they choose their new leader in September or October, but it is clear that the departure of Premier Ed Stelmach is boosting their electoral fortunes. Unless the next PC Party leader (and Premier-Designate) manages to become more unpopular than Premier Stelmach in the next year, it would be easy to see this party return to its dominant status.
The one morsel of comfort that the Liberals can take from this poll is that none of the other opposition parties have been able to capture the imagination of Albertans. If they choose the right leader in their September 10 vote, they may be able to survive the coming electoral storm.
The poll shows the NDP are the second choice among voters between the ages of 18 and 24 (30.9%), and of voters outside of Calgary and Edmonton. In Edmonton, the NDP’s traditional seat of strength in Alberta, the party is polling near the same level of support it received in the last provincial election. The question is whether current NDP leader Brian Mason is the right person to capitalize on this bump.
Wildrose: This poll will put a sour face on the most strident Wildrose supporter. I speculated earlier this month that the Wildrose may have reached the peak of their support in 2010 and this poll certainly suggests that this may be the case.
The departure of Premier Stelmach this fall appears to have removed the lightening rod that turned the Wildrose into a political force in 2010. Forming government looks further away now than it did a year ago, but the Wildrose is still in a better financial and organization position than the other opposition parties. They may have to get used to the sound of the words “Official Opposition Leader Danielle Smith.”
Alberta Party: This is poll has no good news for the Alberta Party (and almost no news at all). This poll should be a signal to this party that they should focus their electoral efforts on supporting candidates in two or three constituencies across Alberta, the most obvious being their leader Glenn Taylor in West Yellowhead, MLA Dave Taylor in Calgary-Currie, and former acting-leader Sue Huff in Edmonton-Glenora.
More than 200 dedicated Liberal Party supporters piled into Edmonton’s Santa Maria Centre yesterday evening to hear candidates for their party’s leadership speak and answer questions. I attended and was surprised to discover a fairly lively evening for a traditional style all-candidates forum.
All the candidates spoke well, but I believe that the real star of the evening was the moderator, Josipa Petrunic. Ms. Petrunic was well-spoken, articulate, and did not seem to take herself too seriously. I had to ask myself a few times through the course of the evening why she was not on stage as a candidate (she did announce that she plans to stand as a candidate in the next provincial election).
The perceived front-runner, former Tory MLA Raj Sherman, was well-received by the crowd of Liberals, many who see him (rightfully or wrongfully) as a an anti-Tory folk hero. Dr. Sherman spoke well, but will need to expand his responses beyond “health care” in order to prove that he is not a one-trick policy pony.
Despite my being distracted by his uncanny resemblance to James Brolin‘s Governor Robert Ritchie, Bruce Payne spoke well. I am not convinced that he should lead the Liberals, but this experience is sure to help him as his party’s next candidate in Calgary-Varsity (replacing the retiring Harry Chase)
Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald showed his experience with a commanding performance, abandoning his usual conspiracy theory-driven Question Period style for a more dignified pose. His knowledge of detail and experience as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee helped him throughout the evening.
Calgarian Bill Harvey took a strong conservative-angle on fiscal and social policy, made contradictory statements about government involvement in business, and never missed an opportunity to mention a certain former political leader. After hearing the policy positions espoused by this candidate, I would not be surprised to see Mr. Harvey’s name on a Wildrose lawn sign in the near future.
In my opinion, Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman was the only candidate who left the impression that she would define the Liberal Party as more than just a softer version of the Progressive Conservatives. I believe this may be the biggest challenge that will face the next Liberal leader. What place does their party have in a field that has become increasingly dominated by the PCs and Wildrose?
You might be forgiven if you have not paid much attention to the Alberta Liberal Party leadership contest, which is currently under way. The Liberal contest is not as exciting as the Progressive Conservative’s leadership contest, as flashy as the Wildrose (now minus the Alliance), or intriguing as the new Alberta Party, but it is important enough not to ignore. The Liberal Party is still the Official Opposition and while it has taken a beating in the polls and public image over the past few years, its next leader will play a role in the next provincial election.
Here is a look at the candidates for their leadership:
Laurie Blakeman Slogan: Laurie4Leader Elected Experience: MLA for Edmonton-Centre from 1997 to the present. Background: Laurie Blakeman is known as a vocal and unrelenting critic of the governing Tories. As Deputy Leader under party leaders Kevin Taft and David Swann, she also served as critic for Finance, the Environment, and Culture.
Her strong views as an unapologetic feminist representing Edmonton’s densest urban constituency have made her an enemy to many conservatives, but her skills as Opposition House Leader have gained her respect from some Tory MLAs across the floor. She is also one half of Edmonton’s political power couple, her husband is Ward 8 City Councillor Ben Henderson.
In 1998, Ms. Blakeman supported then-MLA Linda Sloan‘s leadership bid. She declined to run for her party’s leadership in 2004, telling the Globe & Mail that “she doesn’t have the fire in her belly to run” and again in 2008 admitting that fundraising was not her strength. Earlier this year she publicly mused about joining the Alberta Party, but instead decided to seek the Liberal Party leadership.
(Disclaimer: I like Laurie Blakeman have volunteered for her election campaigns in 2004 and 2008).
Bill Harvey Slogan: Returning to responsible government Elected Experience: Liberal candidate in Calgary-East in 2004 and 2008. Background: Calgary financial advisor Bill Harveyentered the leadership contest this week with a message that Liberals need to return to their past roots to succeed in the future. The main message on his website reminds Liberals of their 1990’s glory days under former leader Laurence Decore and is peppered with fiscal conservative language.
Hugh MacDonald Slogan: None Elected experience: MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar from 1997 to present Background: Since stepping into his role as the opposition labour critic during his first-term and making headlines over the government’s shaky handling of rotting pine shakes roofing and lack of whistle-blower protection, Hugh MacDonald earned a reputation as a dogged critic of the Tories. As Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, his focus on uncovering Tory scandals sometimes makes him appear on the verge of paranoia, but he is relentless and hardworking. It is not uncommon to see Mr. MacDonald buried in books, doing his own research in the Legislature Library.
Mr. MacDonald is a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal partisan. Even if the Liberal Party is wiped off the political map in the next election, Hugh MacDonald will fight to the end (clasping a battle-axe in one hand while caped in blood-soaked battle armour under a Liberal Party flag). Inside the Liberal Party, Mr. MacDonald appeals to the stalwart crowd who believe that it is not the Liberal brand that has damaged their party, but that party members who have not adhered enough loyalty to the Liberal brand are responsible for the party’s 80 years of electoral defeat.
Bruce Payne Slogan: 87 Strong Elected experience: Nominated as the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Varsity Background: An unknown outside some Calgary political circles, it is difficult to know whether Bruce Payne is actually a serious candidate in this contest.
His 87 Strong slogan is in reference to the 87 constituencies that will be created when the next election is called. His campaign also takes a shot at the current Liberal MLAs and their tendency to attack the Tories for every “scandals, faux-pas, screw-ups, miscues and arrogant decisions” without a long-term strategy.
His campaign manager is the former Liberal Caucus communications director Neil Mackie, who departed from his job at the Assembly earlier this year.
Raj Sherman Slogan: None Elected experience: MLA Edmonton-Meadowlark from 2008 to present Background: Former Tory MLA Raj Sherman could be both the wildcard and the front-runner in this contest. Six months ago he wanted nothing to do with the Liberal Party as he sat in the PC caucus as Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Health & Wellness. Since writing the bluntly-worded email that led to hm being kicked out of the PC caucus, Dr. Sherman has attained a folk hero status among many Albertans.
After opening up their leadership vote to any Albertan without having to purchase a membership, I have a difficult time seeing Dr. Sherman as anything but the front-runner in this contest.
Although his opponents will criticize him for switching parties, it is hard to believe that Dr. Sherman has ever actually “belonged” to any political party. On February 13, 2008 PC candidate Dr. Sherman told the Edmonton Journal, “Ideas belong to society, they don’t belong to a party. For me, it wasn’t so much about parties as about getting the idea to the people who make decisions.”
Dr. Sherman has the support of former MLA Bharat Agnihotri, and I have been told that Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr and Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang are lending their support to his campaign.
Not yet entered the contest:
There may be a sixth candidate to enter this contest. Word on the street is that the executive of a medium-sized Calgary-based energy company may announce his candidacy next week.
Calgary financial services executive Bill Harvey is the fifth candidate to join the Alberta Liberal leadership contest. Mr. Harvey was the Liberal candidate in Calgary-East in 2004 and 2008, where he earned 28% of the vote each time. He was also an unsuccessful candidate for the Liberal nomination in Calgary-McCall in 1991.
With liberal use of italics, Mr. Harvey has described his decision to seek his party’s leadership in a letter to members. Taking a curious cue from stalwart candidate Hugh MacDonald, Mr. Harvey invokes the name of former party leader Laurence Decore and argues that the Liberal Party in Alberta needs to return to its past to succeed in future elections.
Mr. Harvey joins four candidates already in the contest, Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman, Mr. MacDonald, Bruce Payne, and former Tory MLA Raj Sherman. Read this blog tomorrow for a more indepth post on the backgrounds of the candidates and their campaigns.