Judging by past performances, not rocking the boat is a difficult thing for Finance Minister Ron Liepert, who managed to table a budget yesterday that will rock Albertans to sleep before it rocks them into a riot. Reminding Albertans of just how good their forty-year government is, the Tories are subtly trying to convince Albertans not to do anything too drastic, like voting for another party in the upcoming election.
Stable increases to the health care and education budgets, increased funding AISH and to end homelessness will appeal to soft Liberal and New Democrat voters that the PCs hope to capture in the next election.
This puts Alberta’s opposition parties in a difficult position. NDP leader Brian Masonquestioned the PCs optimistic projections about the next economic boom, saying that the 40-year governing party is “hiding a big deficit.” Liberal leader Raj Sherman, himself a former Tory MLA, called the budget dishonest and accused the Tories of making “unrealistically high revenue predictions.” Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor accused the government of having neglected to listen to Albertans priorities in this budget.
Meanwhile, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith continues to insist that the government is “poised to raise taxes,” even after Minister Liepert said at least 38 times during his budget speech that he would not raise taxes. Not heeding the political Right’s calls for drastic cuts, the Tories have happily ceded the radical fiscal conservative territory to Ms. Smith’s party.
Premier Alison Redford‘s pre-election budget is tailored to the moderate majority of Albertans, who, unlike the political class, will likely have a hard time getting angry about this budget. Keep Calm and Carry On Voting Tory.
Talking about creating “an alternative that sets us apart from what promises to be a crowded field of candidates,” Mr. Madsen used his speech to talk about the need to remove the influence of money in elections.
It is unclear whether the self-imposed $1 donation limit will prevent his campaign from fulfilling basic legal requirements, such as paying a required monetary deposit with Elections Alberta.
On the required candidate deposit with Elections Alberta:
I will discuss this with the central party office. Because it is conditionally refundable I will probably have it paid out of our normal constituency rebate on contributions. Otherwise I have asked the constituency to return the constituency rebates to the central campaign.
On his personal on financial contribution to his campaign:
I will donate no more than $1500 personally and that will likely be in the form of deferred expenses. There are no secret trap doors here allowing money in the back door. I think credibility is our most important asset and I normally donate that amount anyways. The challenge is that there is no roadmap for this approach.
It is unclear whether Mr. Madsen fully understands how this could handicap his campaign. Trying to remove the influence of money in politics is a noble venture, but it ignores the reality that money is needed to purchase essential items like campaign signs, handbills, and in large rural constituencies like West Yellowhead, fuel for a candidate’s vehicle.
Records from the 2004 election show that Mr. Madsen’s campaign spent $17,940 in West Yellowhead, accumulating a $1,024 deficit. Mr. Madsen earned 1,771 votes.
It is really unfair to say that the Alberta Party ever occupied the limelight. It would probably be more accurate to describe it as having visited the limelight for a few short months.
As a card carrying member of the Alberta Party, I have had mixed feelings about the path the organization has taken over the past year. I joined that party late last year largely because the outstanding group of people it had attracted and the positive energy they beamed with. In November 2010, I delivered the closing remarks to that party’s Policy Meeting and I walked away from the meeting feeling positive about the people involved and the direction that the party was going. Being involved in the Alberta Party did not make me feel bad about politics in our province, which was nice for a change.
I believe that there was real momentum in the Alberta Party a year ago, and that a few factors have helped slow down that momentum.
The election of Naheed Nenshi as Mayor of Calgary was a great move forward for our province’s largest city, but I also suspect that it created an unexpected energy drain on the Alberta Party. Chima Nkemdirim, a driving force behind in Alberta Party, was heavily involved in Mr. Nenshi’s election campaign and soon became the Mayor’s Chief of Staff.
A young, dynamic, well-spoken, and thoughtful individual, Mr. Nkemdirim embodies the future of politics in Alberta. The Alberta Party would have benefited greatly if he had run for the leadership and won, as I suspect he would have. I do not begrudge him for not running. As Mayor Nenshi’s Chief of Staff, he is helping move Calgary forward in a way that he would not be able to as a the leader of a party with only one MLA in the Assembly.
Unfortunately, I believe Mr. Nkemdirim’s choice not to run, and the decision by other leading Alberta Party organizers to sit out the contest, contributed to a vacuum of talent in the leadership contest held in early 2011. All four of the candidates for leader had their own strengths and weaknesses, but none were going to be the next Premier of Alberta. The eventual winner, Town of Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor, entered the role with a hint of opportunity as a well-spoken municipal leader. Since then, he has not been as publicly visible as his party has needed him to be.
Reflecting on another missed opportunity of sorts, I am reminded of a phone conversation I had with Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman in February 2011. A frustrated Ms. Blakeman called me looking for information about how she could join the Alberta Party. I will not disclose any of the details of our conversation that are not already in the public domain (no super secret cabals were involved), but she sounded both fed up with her own party and frustrated with the reception she had recieved when she contacted Alberta Party officials. A few days later she decided to stick with the Liberals, but it was clear that the night she called me she was looking for a political life-boat.
Where does the Alberta Party go from here?
The next provincial election will be a tough slog for the Alberta Party. Expected to run no more than 40 candidates in the next election, it is likely that Mr. Taylor may face a tough fight to convince the television networks to let him join the leaders debate. Whether we like to admit it or not, many Albertans will base their vote on how they perceive the party leaders. Not having a leader in the debates poses an incredible challenge.
I have been told that the party’s board of directors passed a motion last month endorsing a strategy to focus resources on six target constituencies in the next election. I would suggest focusing on 1 to 3 constituencies would be a more reasonable target, but I am not going to argue over this point with a group of optimists.
The Alberta Party does not have ground game province-wide, but areas where they do have ground game is where the party’s candidates have an opportunity to excel. Two ridings that immediately come to mind are Edmonton-Glenora where former school trustee Sue Huff is running, and Edmonton-Rutherford where community organizer Michael Walters has been running for months. Both Ms. Huff and Mr. Walters would be exceptional MLAs and both have the ability to mount strong local campaigns in their constituencies.
In the end, the Alberta Party’s biggest advantage may be that expectations for its success are so low that even electing one MLA in next year’s provincial election would be a seen as a major win for the party. Withpolls suggesting the Tories could be steamrolling towards another huge majority government, lowering expectations might not be a bad strategy for all of Alberta’s opposition parties.
Premier Redford’s first moves appear to be geared towards taking away the most controversial issues that the opposition parties have gained traction on in the last year’s of Stelmach’s premiership.
A recently released Angus Reid online survey (to be taken with a grain of salt, of course) conducted between October 17 to October 19, 2011, revealed an interesting snapshot and positive news for Premier Redford:
The online survey shows Premier Redford with a 55% approval rating, twenty-points higher than her closest opponent, Wildrose Party leader Ms. Smith. The three main opposition leaders, including Ms. Smith, registered higher leadership disapproval ratings than approval ratings among those surveyed.
The online survey shows the Tories leading in support across the province, with the Wildrose placing second in Calgary and rural Alberta, and the Liberals essentially tied with the NDP for second in Edmonton. The Alberta Party barely registers in the online survey, showing only 2% support province-wide and 4% in Calgary.
The online survey also suggested that the selection of Dr. Sherman as their leader has not cured the Liberal Party of their electoral ills. Of those surveyed who identified themselves as having voted Liberal in 2008, when that party was led by Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft, only 56% said that they would vote Liberal if an election were held tomorrow.
Even the NDP, who have showed up perpetually in third place over the past two decades, are looking better prepared for an election than they have in recent memory and will soon have just as many candidates nominated as the Wildrose.
Of course, even a week is an eternity in politics, and with an election expected sometime early in 2012 there is much that can change. Polls and surveys provide useful snapshots, but campaigns matter.
He has promised its members will reveal themselves next week and that Albertans will see them as “politically active, smart, young people,” mostly between the ages of 35 and 45, whom either the Tories or Wildrose Party would see as attractive candidates for cabinet posts depending on which party wins the next provincial election.
Mr. Boessenkool’s new initiative appears to be based on a perceived threat of a vote split between the two main conservative parties in the next provincial general election.
The province’s only traditional “left” political party, the New Democrats, are vocal, but their support has been electorally limited to a handful of urban pockets across the province (mostly in Edmonton). The Alberta Party, a new centrist alternative led by Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor, are slowly organizing and still need to prove that they can elect an MLA.
Even the official opposition Alberta Liberals, now led by former Conservative MLA Raj Sherman, need to figure out what they stand for before they can be seen as challenging the two dominant conservative parties (and decide if they want to be the third).
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.
While Lethbridge’s two constituencies have traditionally been a close fought battleground between the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals (voters in Lethbridge-East have elected Liberal MLAs since 1993, including former party leader Ken Nicol and current MLA Bridget Pastoor), the area has seen substantial growth for the NDP. In the May 2011 federal election, NDP candidate Mark Sandilands earned an unheard-of strong 27% of the vote, mostly concentrated within Lethbridge city limits. When the votes from the federal election are overlaid on the Lethbridge-West provincial boundaries, the NDP earned around 38% of the vote in the provincial constituency.
The constituency is currently represented by first-term MLA and Advanced Education & Technology Minister Greg Weadick.
Calgary-Buffalo: First-term MLA Kent Hehr has been acclaimed as the Liberal Party candidate. Mr. Hehr was elected in 2008 with 48% of the vote. The Wildrose have acclaimed former QR77 radio host Mike Blanchard as their candidate. Mr. Blanchard had originally sought his party’s nomination in the new constituency of Calgary-Nose Hill-Mackay, but was defeated by Roy Alexander.
Drayton Vally-Devon: Town of Drayton Valley Councillor Dean Shular has been acclaimed as the Wildrose candidate in his constituency. Mr. Shular was first elected to Town Council in 2007.
Drumheller-Stettler: A fifth candidate has joined the Wildrose nomination contest in this east central Alberta constituency. Drumheller Jeweler and FreemasonDoug Wade in Drumheller-Stettler. As reported on this blog in July, Dave France, Rick Strankman, Chris Warwick, and Patrick Turnbull are also seeking the Wildrose nomination.
Edmonton-Meadowlark: Local Wildrose activist Rick Newcombe was acclaimed as the Wildrose candidate in this west Edmonton constituency. Mr. Newcombe had originally sought his party’s nomination in Edmonton-Whitemud, but stepped aside in favour of Ian Crawford. The area is currently represented by former Tory MLA Raj Sherman, who is currently a candidate for the Liberal Party leadership.
Rocky Mountain House-Sundre: He denied it on June 9, but on July 10 landowners rights advocate and Rimbey Town Councillor Joe Anglin submitted his papers to become a candidate for the Wildrose nomination in this constituency. The former Alberta Green Party leader is facing Rocky Mountain House Town Councillor Sheila Mizera and past-president of the local Wildorse Association Ed Wicks.
Sherwood Park-Strathcona: Two candidates have put their names forward for the Wildrose nomination in this constituency. Strathcona County Councillor Jason Gariepy and Paul Nemetchek. Councillor Gariepy made headlines last years when he was sanctioned after sending an email critical of a press release quoting local MLAs Iris Evans and Dave Quest. Mr. Nemetchek was campaign manager for former Reform Party MP Ken Epp.
West Yellowhead: Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor has been officially nominated as his party’s candidate in the sprawling west Alberta constituency of West Yellowhead.
Mr. Taylor was first elected as the Mayor of the Town of Hinton in 2004 and ran as a candidate for the NDP in this constituency in 1997. I am told that Mr. Taylor will be leaving his position as Mayor this fall to focus full-time on the party’s leadership.
Calgary: The NDP are expected to hold a round of joint-nomination meetings for candidates in Calgary later this month.
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.
Stony Plain PC MLA Fred Lindsay also announced that he will be retiring at the next election. An MLA since 2004, Mr. Lindsay was rewarded for his early support of Premier Ed Stelmach‘s leadership candidacy with an appointment to cabinet as Solicitor General in 2006. His loyalty only took him far until January 2010, when he was shuffled out of cabinet to the Tory backbenches. He soon after publicly mused that he might run for the Wildrose Alliance in the next election.
RCMP respond to NDP letter
The RCMP have responded to a letter from NDP MLA Brian Mason asking for an investigation into accusations of politically influenced queue-jumping for medical procedures. According to Sergeant Tim Taniguchi: “It has been reviewed and the matter has been referred to our Edmonton commercial crime section which is going to look into it further to see what further steps are needed.”
Kowalski going to pasture?
Calgary politico David Heyman wrote about rumours that Assembly Speaker and Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock PC MLA Ken Kowalski may retire after a very long (long, long, long) 32 years in politics.
Heyman goes Wildrose
Speaking of Mr. Heyman, it appears that he is now working as a campaign advisor to Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith. Mr. Heyman was until recently working in Communications roles in Premier Stelmach’s Calgary Office and for Energy Minister and Calgary-West MLA Ron Liepert. The former Calgary Herald Reporter was also a supporter of Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr‘s early-aborted Mayoral campaign in 2010.
Alexander beats Blanchard Roy Alexander defeated popular QR77 Radio Host Mike Blanchard for the Wildrose Alliance nomination in the new constituency of Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill. The Wildrose Alliance are expected to announce high-profile candidates in Banff-Cochrane and Lethbridge-East within the next few weeks.
In a matter of three hours, a group of 120 Liberal Party members re-wrote portions of their party’s constitution and threw out the only recently approved rules for their just started leadership contest. I commented on the changes soon after they were proposed two weeks ago and while I do not believe that the Liberal Party will find an easy solution to the problems they face in these changes, it may be a move in the right direction.
The structural change that appears to have attracted the most attention was the move to give supporters who do not want to pay $5 to purchase a party membership a vote in the leadership contest (this appears to be similar to what the New Brunswick Liberal Party does, except that party only collects $5 if a member wants a membership card to carry around in their wallet). This change attracted general scepticism from political watchers like David Climenhaga and former Edmonton-Meadowlark Liberal MLA Maurice Tougas.
Only a completely politically inept person would believe that a $5 fee is what has been stopping Albertans from flocking en-masse into the Liberal Party ranks, but that is not what this is really about.
From an organization standpoint, the changes are about collecting contact information from existing or future supporters and then trying to draw this new blood into the party, something that it desperately needs.
The Liberals announced the changes one day after the Alberta Party chose Glenn Taylor as their new leader. Liberals will boast that their leadership contest will attract more involvement than the lower-key Alberta Party contest and they are likely to be right. There were 8,000 Liberal members eligible to vote in that party’s 2008 contest, a number that the Liberals should be able to recreate in 2011.
If anything, the Liberals should be hoping for numbers closer to the 25,000 members that the Wildrose Alliance has grown to since electing Danielle Smith as their leader in 2009.
The Alberta Party held their leadership convention on May 27 and 28 at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton and I attended as a member from the Edmonton-Centre constituency. Despite my reservations about the low-key leadership contest, I was impressed with the quality, organization, and positive energy of the event, which drew over 300 attendees from across the province.
Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor was elected leader by earning 55% support on the first ballot. Candidate Randy Royer placed second with 23%, Lee Easton placed third with 12%, and Tammy Maloney placed fourth with 8%. One thousand two hundred voting members cast their leadership ballots over the telephone and the internet. Twelve hundred votes may not seem like a lot, but it is a significant number when you take into account that the Alberta Party only had around 40 members at the beginning of 2010.
Mayor Taylor takes over the party leadership from acting-leader Sue Huff, who has stepped into the position after former leader Edwin Erickson resigned in November 2010. Ms. Huff is expected to be nominated as her party’s candidate in Edmonton-Glenora, an area she represented as a Public School Board Trustee until October 2010. During the convention, Ms. Huff wowed convention attendees with a tongue-in-cheek rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” a good-humoured response to critics of the Alberta Party’s focus on its new approach to policy development through the Big Listen process.
Aside from the announcement of the leadership vote, the May 28 program included updates on constituency organizing from Michael Walters and the party’s 60 constituency Presidents, and speeches from Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor, Election Readiness Chair Chima Nkemdirim, and the announcement of the Alberta Party’s new Health Care policy brief. The policy was introduced to attendees by University of Alberta Public Health PhD student Elaine Hyshka and former U of A Hospital CEO Don Schurman. The policy brief puts a strong focus on primary care and long-term care elements of Alberta’s health care system.
Having attended countless political events organized by nearly every major political organizations in the province, I have become accustomed to spotting the “usual suspects” in these organizations. One of the measurements I use to judge the success of political organizations are the amount of people I do recognize when attending political events. This weekend, I was pleased to discover that I only recognized around 1/3 of the convention attendees, which I believe is promising news for the Alberta Party.
I have posted more photos from the Alberta Party leadership convention on Flickr.
Congratulations to Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor for being selected as the leader of the Alberta Party at this weekend’s convention in Edmonton. Mayor Taylor scored a first round victory with 55% of the vote.
Lee Easton : 144 – 12.00%
Tammy Maloney: 104 – 8.67%
Randy Royer: 287 – 23.92%
Glenn Taylor: 665 – 55.42%
The convention has drawn over 300 attendees from across the province. Not a bad turnout for a political party that barely existed only a year ago.
Follow #abpleader on Twitter for Alberta Party convention related tweets.
Photos and commentary on this weekend’s convention coming soon.
A small crowd of around 80 interested Edmontonians gathered to hear the candidates seeking the leadership of the Alberta Party this week at MacEwan University in downtown Edmonton. It is a low-key contest that will culminate this weekend at a leadership convention at Edmonton’s Shaw Conference Centre. The forum could be described as tame and respectful, and the absence of major policy differences between the candidates meant that the audience had an opportunity to observe the differing leadership styles of the candidates.
Tammy Maloney stressed her experience as a social entrepreneur, as a past director of the Clinton Foundation in Nigeria, and as connecter. Ms. Maloney has the biggest heart of the four candidates in this contest, and she is driven by it.
Lee Easton was the most articulate of the candidates. The Mount Royal University English Professor speaks in an articulate and perfunctory tone about the challenges facing our province and what needs to change. He has some of the same characteristics of what I like about former Liberal leader Kevin Taft, but in the same breath I wonder about his ability to promote the party in non-academic language. I wonder if he can successfully play the game of retail politics.
Randy Royer needs to work on his elevator pitch. His introduction focused on his experiences as a Liberal Party of Canada member in the 1980s and having dinner with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, where he told the audience he advocated against Ottawa’s policies that hurt Canada’s western provinces. Over the course of the evening, only one thing became clear to me: that he would not be getting my vote.
Glenn Taylor appears to be the clear front-runner in this contest. Mayor Taylor is a retail politician and is the only candidate in this race with actual governing experience, having been elected three times as Mayor of Hinton. Over the past week Alberta Party activists like Chima Nkemdirim, Michael Brechtel, and Don Schurman have piled their endorsements behind Mayor Taylor. Experience has taught me to be cautious of candidates who receive too much support from party intelligentsia.
Mayor Taylor is also the only candidate in this contest not from Calgary, and if selected as leader would be expected to run as a candidate in the West Yellowhead constituency.
The candidates answered at least twenty questions from a panel and the audience. The most pointed question of the evening came from an audience member who asked about the challenge of articulating how the Alberta Party is developing its policy and the perception that it is just another populist political party.
The candidates struggled to answer this question.
The short answer is that the process is very focused on sharing ideas.
The longer answer is that The Big Listen process, which is how the party has been developing its policy positions, starts with a series of small meetings (usually held over coffee or in a living room) where participants are encouraged to share their stories, hopes, and aspirations for Alberta. The information collected from these Big Listens is then discerned into themes by the meeting organizers and passed on to an issue-specific policy team that summarizes the collected feedback, does research, and develops policies. The members of the issue-specific policy committees are people with backgrounds in those fields, be it professional, educational, or voluntary. The policy recommendations are then put to the membership for approval. At a policy convention or by using online tools, members are able to view the policy goals, contribute their input, and provide support for the policy goals. It is very process focused and driven by values and principles that the party was founded upon.
The leadership forum reminded me why I dislike the personality politics of leadership races and the cult of personality that perennially envelops partisans. There are politicians that I like, and have put my support behind. I had the pleasure of working with Kevin Taft when he was leader of the Liberal Party and I have enjoyed volunteering for Councillor Don Iveson‘s campaigns at the municipal level in Edmonton. While all the candidates seem to be nice people, some who would also do a decent job as leader, there is no candidate in this contest that I am excited about.
For many Alberta Party members I have spoken with, the leadership question has been almost an afterthought, with members instead focused on building policy and constituency organizations across the province.
As was wisely pointed out in an editorial in this week’s final edition of SEE Magazine
“the PCs and Alberta Liberals are leader-dominated parties, where the party’s identity is closely associated with the leader. The Alberta Party won’t be going that route, either by design or by default.”
Whether by design or by default, the Alberta Party’s low-profile leadership contest is not as crowded as the PC leadership race or oddly casted as the Liberal leadership.
In a political environment where a party leader almost always overshadows their team as the centre of attention (walk down the street and ask a random person how many MLAs they can name), it will be interesting to see whether the Alberta Party can break the growing trend towards the cult of leadership personality. Perhaps that is why, in spite of my general frustration with political parties, I have remained a member of the Alberta Party.
With only 2000 memberships sold in this leadership contest, the Alberta Party has both proven how far it has gone in the past year and how much work still lies ahead for its members and, after this weekend, new leader.
The contest for the Alberta Party leadership is nearing its end, with the results scheduled to be released at an Edmonton event on May 28. The deadline to purchase a membership in order to vote in the contest is May 13 and it is my understanding that the actual voting will take place online over the following weeks.
While the low-key contest was largely overshadowed by the recent federal election and the ongoing Progressive Conservative leadership contest, it has been interesting to watch a new cast of characters, not veteran provincial politicians, join this contest. None of these new characters could be characterized as “superstars,” but their lack of substantial political baggage could be a benefit to the newly revitalized Alberta Party. I will be writing more about this contest over the next few weeks.
Here are a series of video interviews with the leadership contenders that that Party has prepared:
Former MLA supports Raj for Liberal leader
Conservative MLA turned Liberal leadership hopeful Dr. Raj Sherman has the support of at least one former Liberal MLA. Bharat Agnihotri, who served as MLA for Edmonton-Ellerslie from 2004 to 2008, left a gushing endorsement on Dr. Sherman’s Facebook wall.
The Calgary-Foothills Wildrose nomination has attracted two candidates, Dustin Nau and Walter Wakula. Foothills is represented by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Len Webber, who has also been nominated as his party candidate for the next election. Said Abdulbaki will seek the Wildrose nomination against Chestermere Town Councillor Heather Davies in Chestermere-Rockyview. John Hilton-O’Brien in Calgary-Bow. Mr. Hilton-O’Brien will be facing Tim Dyck in his party’s nomination contest. Bow is represented by backbench PC MLA Alana DeLong, who was first elected in 2001. Beiseker Mayor Bruce Rowe has announced his intentions to seek the Wildrose nomination in Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills.
The Liberals will nominate candidates in Calgary-Foothills on April 8 and Edmonton-Riverview on April 15 , where Arif Khan is the only declared candidate.