Alberta Politics

News from parties not named PC or Wildrose

With Alberta’s daily political scene dominated by the loud and partisan voices of the governing Progressive Conservatives and the official opposition Wildrose, it has become easy to miss what is happening in Alberta’s other political parties. Here is a quick look at some news from the other parties represented in the Legislative Assembly – the Liberals and NDP – and the parties sitting outside the dome – the Alberta Party,  Green Party, and Social Credit Party.

Alberta Liberals

Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman (right), Justin Trudeau (centre), and Sherman's partner Sharon (left) at the Calgary Stampede.
Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman (right), Justin Trudeau (centre), and Sherman’s partner Sharon (left) at the Calgary Stampede. (Photo from Raj Sherman’s Facebook Page).

At a recent annual meeting, the Alberta Liberals abandoned their controversial “supporter” category of party involvement. Described by some Liberals as groundbreaking, gargantuanreal renewal, and politics re-imagined when the party first adopted the new category in May 2011, the idea remained controversial among party loyalists. Some long-time Liberals believed the creation of a “free” category opening leadership selections to non-members gave former Tory MLA Raj Sherman an advantage over loyalist favourite Hugh MacDonald  in the party’s 2011 vote.

According to the Edmonton Journal, the Liberal Party current has about 1,200 registered members, compared to about 3,500 members in August 2011. While the party signed up 27,000 members and supporters in the 2011 leadership race, only 8,900 voted.

A surprise win by past candidate Mike Butler in the party’s vice-president (communications) contest surprised many Liberals at the annual meeting. Mr. Butler is a supporter of cooperation with other parties like the NDP, Alberta Party and Greens, and has helped organize ‘soapbox’ events in Edmonton to promote cross-party dialogue.

The cooperation debate has been heated among Liberals. Last year, party president Todd Van Vliet publicly rebuked Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr for a guest post published on this blog promoting the idea of cooperation.

Alberta NDP

Alberta NDP MLAs Deron Bilous, Brian Mason, David Eggen, and Rachel Notley (photo from Rachel Notley's Facebook page).
Alberta NDP MLAs Deron Bilous, Brian Mason, David Eggen, and Rachel Notley (photo from Rachel Notley’s Facebook page).

The Alberta NDP will  hold their annual conference in Lethbridge in November, hoping to build on recent gains in the southern Alberta city. The NDP have seen significant growth in Lethbridge, with both federal candidate Mark Sandilands and provincial candidate Shannon Phillips significantly increasing their party’s support in recent elections.

NDP executive member Chris O’Halloran was chosen to serve as the interim president following Nancy Furlong‘s departure to accept a new job in Ontario. A new president will be selected at the November annual meeting.

Alberta Party

Following the resignation of leader Glenn Taylor after the last election, the Alberta Party  set September 21, 2013 as the date it will choose their next leader. Calgary businessman Greg Clark is so far the only candidate to step into the race to lead the party.

Not unfamiliar with Alberta politics, Mr. Clark worked as a spokesperson for the Liberal Caucus in the mid-1990s after that party first formed official opposition under Laurence Decore. He ran against Premier Alison Redford in Calgary-Elbow during last year’s election, placing 6th 5th with 518 votes.

Green Party

Reformed after a divisive internal party split and poor party financial audits led to the dissolution of the former Alberta Greens and the creation of the Evergreen Party, the newly renamed Green Party of Alberta is now led by Calgary-based civil liberties advocate Janet Keeping.

Social Credit

In April, the Social Credit Party held a policy convention in Innisfail where members of the small party affirmed policies that support human rights of the preborn, disallowing casino gambling and no sales tax. The Socreds also pledge to make the Alberta Treasury Branch the “economic engine of Alberta.”

Leader Len Skowronski ran in Calgary-Hawkwood in the last election, placing 7th out of 8 candidates with 105 votes. The Social Credit Party ran 3 candidates in the 2012 election.

Alberta Politics

Rogue party activists to discuss ‘collaboration, and cooperation.’

Can Alberta's centre-left parties "work together?"
Can Alberta’s centre-left parties “work together?”

The latest episode of Alberta’s ongoing “cooperation on the centre-left” saga will continue on January 23, when rogue activists from the Liberalberta Party, the New Democratic Party, and the Alberta Party will host a “Soapbox, Suds, and Wings” night in Edmonton.

The event, which is being organized by Edmonton-Mill Creek NDP president Stephen Anderson, Alberta Party president William Munsey, and 2011 Liberal candidate Mike Butler, promotes “citizen engagement, collaboration, and cooperation” as the way of the future for Alberta politics.

In a December guest post on this blogCalgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr restarted the latest debate about cross-party cooperation and was stunningly, and strangely, rebutted by Liberalberta Party president Todd Van Vliet in a media release. Liberal leader Raj Sherman remained suspiciously silent during the very public rebuke, leading political observers to believe he sanctioned Mr. Van Vliet’s ill-advised response.

Edit: On January 8, Mr. Van Vliet announced that merger ideas would be debated at his party’s annual convention, scheduled for June 2013.

NDP leader Brian Mason has also spoken out against any formal electoral cooperation or merger with the other non-conservative opposition parties.

The main centre-left opposition parties (the Liberals, NDP, and Alberta Party) earned a combined 21% of the popular vote in the 2012 provincial election, down from 34% in the 2008 election and 39% in the 2004 election. In 2012, the three parties were pushed aside by a reinvigorated moderate Progressive Conservative Party led by Alison Redford and an aggressive conservative Wildrose Party led by Danielle Smith.

Mr. Hehr and Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman have confirmed their attendance on the “Soapbox, Suds, and Wings” Facebook event page, as have 2012 Green Party Senate candidate Elizabeth Johannson and 2008 federal NDP candidate Dave Burkhart.

Alberta Politics

Scandal, controversy, and electoral fortunes? What does 2013 hold for Alberta politics?

Alberta Politics in 2013
Alberta Politics in 2013

What does 2013 hold for Alberta’s political leaders? Do their performances in 2012 shed any light on how the next year will play out?

Saved from defeat by controversial comments made by social conservative elements of the Wildrose Party, Premier Alison Redford led the Progressive Conservative Party to its 12th consecutive electoral victory since 1971. Under her leadership, the Tories have sent signals suggesting their intention to build a new electoral coalition centred around moderate conservatives and liberals, a response to the loss of their hard-conservative base to the Wildrose Party.

As I wrote earlier this month, the Redford Tories have been consistently slow in responding to emerging political crises and scandals, giving the opposition Wildrose Party the opportunity to define the media narrative each time. The Tories will need to shed their geriatric reflexes and become quicker at managing crisis communications less they be defined as old, tired, and corrupt over the next three years.

On the horizon, an expected sixth consecutive provincial budget deficit and tension with Doctors’ and Teachers’ unions could be the defining political issues of the next few months. The election of an NDP government in British Columbia could also reopen discussions around the development of the Northern Gateway Pipeline from Bruderheim to Kitimat.

Old and corrupt is exactly what Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith wants the Tories to look like in 2013.

In advance of the April 2012 election, the Wildrose was at its strongest in the public opinion polls when the newspaper headlines trumpeted tales of Tory corruption. Her new 17 MLA caucus, which has now faced against the Tories on the floor of the Assembly,  is battle ready to continue its permanent negative campaign against the Tories in 2013.

The question is whether the Wildrose Party can transform itself into more than just a conservative political war machine. Can the Wildrose Party led by Ms. Smith transform itself into a government-in-waiting?

Optimists in the Liberal Party will tell you that the fact their party won any seats in the 2012 election is proof that Raj Sherman has earned the right to remain party leader. The Liberals did survive the election with five MLAs, but the former Tory MLA led the party to its worst electoral showing in more than twenty-five years.

Deprived of its long-held official opposition status, the newly rebranded Liberalberta Party now faces the difficult challenge of figuring out where it fits in Alberta’s new political landscape. Popular Calgary MLA Kent Hehr and party president Todd Van Vliet clashed earlier this month over what the future direction of the Liberal Party should be. The next year will show indications whether Dr. Sherman’s rag-tag caucus can survive the three years until the next election.

New Democrat leader Brian Mason wants to build a bigger tent. The NDP, electorally stuck within Edmonton city limits for the past twenty-years, is hoping to take advantage of the electoral decline of the Liberal Party to expand his own party’s base of support. While the NDP is expected to form government in British Columbia and is on an electoral upswing in Ontario, Alberta has historically not been fertile soil for even moderate versions of the social democratic party.

Currently the longest-serving party leader, Mr. Mason told the Calgary Herald in a year-end interview that he plans to lead his party into the next election in 2016. The next election would be Mr. Mason’s fourth election as party leader and will mark his twenty-seventh year as an elected politician.

While experience is important, and sometimes irreplaceable, party supporters will need to ask themselves whether Mr. Mason is the leader who can bring the NDP to the next level in Alberta. With a newly expanded and younger caucus, New Democrats will be forgiven if they look to Rachel Notley, David Eggen, or rising star Deron Bilous, to be a fresh face for their party in the next election. An inspiring leadership race with a new generation of candidates could give the NDP a significant boost in Conservative-dominated Alberta.

The next 365 days could be interesting for Alberta’s political scene.

Happy New Year!


There is little doubt in my mind that the title for story-maker of the year on Alberta’s political scene in 2012 is held by CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell. A serious investigative journalist, Mr. Rusnell uncovered some of the defining political stories of the year from Allaudin Meralli‘s and Lynn Redford‘s expense claims to the unfortunately named “Tobaccogate“. These stories shaped the political debate in Alberta at critical moments in 2012. (EDIT: I mistakenly gave credit to Mr. Rusnell for uncovering the controversial payments to MLAs for serving on a committee that rarely met. Credit for this story belongs to Scott Hennig).

Alberta Politics

Liberalberta Party president attacks Alberta Liberal MLA in worst news release ever.


I really cannot improve on this media release sent today from Liberalberta Party president Todd Van Vliet, so I have posted it in its entirety.

A response from Alberta Liberal Party President, Todd Van Vliet, regarding merger

(EDMONTON, AB) A merger of the Alberta Liberals and the NDP? Won’t happen.

Why not? Because politics isn’t simply about math. Politics is mostly about what voters will actually do, and combining polling numbers rarely works when it comes to mergers. In politics, adding 10 percent support to another 10 percent support never totals 20 percent. In fact, it could add up to far less (or more!) as voters make their real-life choices. That’s exactly what happened to the ‘left’ in the last election when Liberal voters slipped over to the PCs to stop a potential right-wing Wildrose avalanche.

And what about all the voters who weren’t motivated to get out to the polls in the last election? This is a bit of math that Mr. Hehr has forgotten to count. Who’s going to speak for their uncounted numbers?

So, what’s really going on when a Liberal MLA starts calling for a merger with another party? Not so much.

MLAs have their own opinions and even can choose to cross the floor and join another party if they disagree with their own party’s directions. While Mr. Hehr may be working in good faith to create a stronger alternative to the PCs, working to eliminate one’s own party would not seem to be the best way to do that.

Yes, the quest for power and to create a winning team is the business of all political parties. But politics has always been more than that. Politics, at its best, is about higher principles, about advancing values, which differ greatly from party to party. Yes, policies can be similar, even identical. But the paths are markedly different. And those paths matter. The means and the ends are never truly separate.

The NDP used to be the party of labour, unions and social justice. It was and perhaps still is “solidarity forever.” But over the past few decades the party has worked diligently to move itself into the ‘centre’ with some success.

The Liberals, on the other hand, have had a broader mission from the outset. The introduction to our bylaws states that it is “dedicated to the values that have sustained the party since 1905: public good, individual freedom, responsibility and accountability,” and that it puts “people first.” That is significantly different than putting labour first, or business first, as other parties do.

Today’s Liberals work hard to represent the needs of real Albertans and work for their future. As we said during the last election, it’s not so much about “right” or “left.” It’s more about “right” and “wrong.” And we definitely think this province should be doing a lot better in that regard.

So yes, even though both Liberals and NDs oppose the PCs, there are profound cultural differences between the two. For instance, it’s telling that the Liberal bylaws are open to the public. What do the Alberta NDP bylaws say? We don’t know. They’re not published.

To be even clearer, the Liberal bylaws state that membership in the party is open to those who “subscribe to the principles, aims and objectives of the party.” Mr. Hehr, more than anyone, should understand that eliminating this party through a merger would not be within the objectives of the party. At the very least he must know that such talk would create uncertainty.

So what’s actually going on with Kent Hehr and his advisers? Well, the idea of a merger certainly isn’t news. It has been raised at the last NDP annual general meeting and dismissed, and raised again at the last Alberta Liberal board meeting, and again dismissed. So who does this “merger” actually benefit? One would have to say, the PCs.

The only logical outcome of a merger is a widening canyon between the party on the so-called left (whatever it might be named) and Wildrose on the right—with the majority of dispossessed Liberals moving to the nominal ‘centre’ with the PCs. Without the Liberals to balance the centre, the PCs gain a real possibility of staying in power for decades longer.

As president I have regular discussions with party members, and I can say that nothing leads me to believe a merger option is wanted by our members. Nor would it benefit the Alberta public in the least.

As a final aside, one can’t help noting that the former Alberta Liberal executive director helping Mr. Hehr is a PR professional working with the local branch of one of the world’s larger PR firms. And one of his closest colleagues recently worked as Alison Redford’s leadership campaign manager and former Chief of Staff. Coincidence? Well, maybe.

At the end of the day this merger talk isn’t news. It’s just more back-room political engineering. To date, neither party’s leadership has picked up the phone to talk merger face-to-face, and I won’t be doing that.

The real math is engaging Alberta voters. Our job is to attract existing voters, motivate new voters to exercise their democratic rights and to show Albertans that the Liberals have a lot to offer. The rest is just noise.

Anyone interested in what we stand for should visit us at

Todd Van Vliet
President, Alberta Liberal Party

Read the guest post from MLA Kent Hehr that spawned this debate.

UPDATE: MLA Kent Hehr has provided a comment via email in response to the Liberalberta Party press release: “It is what is and I understand the collective frustration of everyone involved. That said, in my view this is a discussion that progressives in this province need to have. I’m just trying to have that conversation.”

Alberta Politics

alberta liberals hire new brunswick resident as new executive director.

The Alberta Liberals quietly announced on their website this week that New Brunswick-based writer and consultant Gerald McEachern would take over as the party’s executive director on September 4. Following the Liberal Party’s disastrous showing in the May April 2012 election, the position had been filled on a temporary basis by strategist and former candidate Alex Macdonald. Before to the election, the executive director role was filled by Corey Hogan.

Here is an exert from the Liberal Party website:

After an extensive national search that saw more than 20 people apply for the position, Van Vliet said he’s confident that Gerald has the experience, the skills and the enthusiasm to lead the Party organization forward as we all support Raj Sherman’s four-year plan to win the hearts and minds of Albertans.

Gerald comes to us via Northern Ontario and lately from New Brunswick. His career is both rich and varied: he has been a strategic consultant, a business developer for towns, businesses and NGOs and the owner of a marketing and communications firm.

He has been an active Liberal for many years, both in New Brunswick and in Ontario. Gerald has also been a dedicated volunteer board member for several social, historical and arts organizations.

Mr. McEachern is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post Canada and also maintains his own blog. His online biography lists him as living in St. Andrews by-the-Sea in New Brunswick.

Led by Raj Sherman, the Liberal Party elected only 5 MLAs in the 2012 election and lost official opposition status for the first time since the 1993 election.