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Monday, March 30, 2009

what's eating the alberta liberals?

The first sentence of a recent letter sent out by Liberal Leader David Swann sums up the state of Alberta’s Official Opposition Party:

“We need your help to keep the ALP office operating at a reasonable level, and ready to serve Albertans.”
Over a year after the last election, the Alberta Liberals are struggling to pay their bills. It’s hard to understand why a political organization that earned 251,158 votes in the last election would have such a hard time paying off their 8-year debt, now sitting at around $400,000. The once $1 million debt-load was largely the product of the 2001 election campaign under former leader Nancy MacBeth. The Liberals went from 16 to 7 seats in that election, including a loss by MacBeth in Edmonton-McClung.

Two leaders and four years later, Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft led the Liberals to reclaim a majority of seats in Edmonton and gain a three-seat beachhead in Calgary. While PC leader Ralph Klein was unceremoniously shown the door in 2006, the Liberals had high hopes. Ed Stelmach was selected as PC leader, and the Liberals raised $1 million in 2007 and won the by-election in Klein’s abandoned Calgary-Elbow constituency. As the 2008 election approached, most people predicted the PCs would be re-elected, but with a reduced majority government.

On March 3, 2008, the PCs got their vote out, and everyone else stayed home. Well, that’s not really what happened, but it's almost true. The PCs surged from 63 to 72 seats, unseating Liberals, New Democrats, and Wildrosers across Alberta, but voter turnout dropped to record low levels. With only around 90% of Albertans registered to vote, the pathetic turnout likely sat under 40% of eligible voters (including 22 out of 83 ridings which had less than 40% turnout).

While the Liberals dropped to 9 MLAs in 2008 by losing seats in Edmonton and facing decreasing support in rural Alberta, they did manage to increase their seat and vote total in Calgary by electing two new MLAs. The election of Kent Hehr in Calgary-Buffalo and Darshan Kang in Calgary-McCall shifted the power base in the Liberal caucus to southern Alberta for the first time in recent memory (five MLAs from Calgary, three from Edmonton, and one from Lethbridge). In the contest to replace Taft, two Calgary MLAs quickly became frontrunners.

In December 2008, Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann won a first-ballot victory against fellow Calgary MLA Dave Taylor and former Edmonton MLA Mo Elsalhy to become the first Liberal leader from Calgary since Nick Taylor campaigned in that city during the 1970s (Nick Taylor was eventually elected MLA in the Westlock-Sturgeon and Redwater ridings north of Edmonton from 1986 to 1996).

Following his victory, Swann appointed Elsalhy to lead a committee tasked with proposing recommendations to renew the Liberal Party. Joining Elsalhy on the committee are Norma Block of Drayton Valley, Barry Cavanaugh and Stephanie Laskoski of Edmonton, Jade Boldt and Peter Willott of Calgary, and Zack Moline of Lethbridge. The committee has launched a website to jump start some discussion, and in a recent email, Elsalhy announced the launch of a survey for ALP members and non-members asking what Alberta’s Liberal Party can do to renew itself. At the Legislature, Swann has brought in former MLA Rick Miller as Chief of Staff, and Calgary Federal Liberal organizer Neil Mackie as Communications Director.

Can the Alberta Liberals renew by creating momentum, attracting new members, and paying down their financial debt? What will it take for the Swann Liberals to attract new strong candidates, as well as re-attracting the many former Liberal MLAs who have moved on to other levels of government (Edmonton City Councillors Linda Sloan, Karen Leibovici, and Ed Gibbons come to mind).

The Alberta Liberals are in a rough spot, financially and organizationally, and though it may be easy to criticize Swann’s choice to focus on open consultations rather than implement a pre-made strategy, consultation and dialogue are his style. At this point in the game, the Liberals have very little to lose, so my recommendations to them are to be bold, challenge their status quo, and turn things on their head, because if the current fundraising trends continue, the Alberta Liberal Party may not be in the position to do so after the next election.

Coming Wednesday: Tiny Perfect Alberta NDP


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the current batch of Liberal MLAs is one of the weakest that this party has fielded in the last 20+ years.

Sure Blakeman, McDonald and Taft are still good, however the entire Calgary contingent (excluding Taylor) have some of the worst oratorial skills in the Assembly.

It's hard to drum up cash for a group of MLAs that cannot advance anyone's agenda. Opposition politics is about influence and the Liberals are currently lacking in that department.

The one *success* they did have was on the issue of public service bonuses, which Hugh McDonald convinced Stelmach to do away with. Now who in the Liberal party thought that was a good idea? I think a lot of their core support used to come from within the public service, and they just destroyed any good will they had with those people. Smart move... not.

Gauntlet said...

I took a look at that non-member survey they have available.


I got about 2/3 of the way through and then cancelled.

I sincerely hope that they're not going to be making any decisions on the basis of what is effectively a push poll.

They seem to be demonstrating a pathological inability to actually care what other people think.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous dude said: "...have some of the worst oratorial skills in the Assembly."

That didn't hold back Ed Stelmach, did it.

Parties don't elect dialogue facilitators. They elect leaders. David Swann should take note.

Bob McInnis said...

To receive revenue, you need to demonstrate value. The ALP does not. In fact they seem to devalue potential supporters with their rhetoric, leadership (professor Taft for Dr. Swann), psuedo enagagement, stubborn resolve to hold onto a name that has so much baggage and a platform that is without real substance. I expect that regardless of gaffes by the current government there won't be much cahnge after the next election and ALP will be sending out appeals from the next intellectual leader.

Mo Elsalhy said...


We are serious about listeningm I am serious about listening, both to our grassroots and to Albertans-at-large. I am interested to find out why you abandoned your survey two thirds of the way.

Also, if you are an ALP member, I promise you the members survey will be much more thought-provoking, that is if you have the patience to complete it (longer than the 'guests' one for sure).

But back to us being serious about listening, you can phone us or fax us your thoughts, on our dime (the toll-free number is on the website). You can even email us directly at and forget surveys and questionaires.

And this is what we're doing too on our forum, when people say things like "the Liberals need to become a credible alternative," we ask them to give solid suggestions and "doable" recommendations and challenge them as to how THEY can help. My challenge to you is similar, what would you like to see us do and how can you take part?

And so you know, recommendations will be made based on what we hear, but they're going to be weighted, of course. Your opinion is valuable so please share it with us.

Chandler Kent said...

Gauntlet, I agree 100 per cent. It kind of reminds me of those self-serving "surveys" on the late and unlamented M n M blog, where the attempts to influence your survey choices were so transparent and pathetic, they were laughable. I actually finished this piece of crap and when I hit submit, I got an error message. I guess the ALP brain trust didn't like my answers. I wonder if they aren't actively trying to sabotage Dr. Dave so they can shit-can the whole operation?

Anonymous said...

Chandler, surveys, as with any cgi or php or asp-based web forms, and as any web programmer would tell you, can malfunction sometimes and give error messages. I doubt anyone has the technical ability or the manpower to cut you short on the spot if they didn't like your answers.

Also, if you had something valuable or positive to say, you would have tried again for sure.

I agree however they were not likely going to like your responses anyhow seeing how you're the evil spawn of two wacky conservatives or however you describe yourself (;-)

Chandler Kent said...

Thanks Anon @ 3:15 - I was joking about them actually being able to screen my answers - I'm not that much of a Luddite ;-). And you're right, they wouldn't have liked them. Doesn't mean I was wrong, though.

Anonymous said...

There are some who leave the organization, like Don Massey or Maurice Tougas, or are forced to leave after an election, like Elsalhy and Miller, but remain loyal and active (Miller better be after his flirtations with the new party group and now that he's Chief of Staff).

There are those like Leibovici and Gibbons who almost disown their Liberal past and pretend they never were, Leibovici less so with her participation as a Liberal panelist on Ian Gray's Sunday Magazine but that's about it for her. They don't even have party memberships anymore. Same goes for Debbie Carlson, Lance White, Bill Bonner, etc.

Former MLAs and candidates should be re-engaged and brought back to the fold, and I think Swann has started with his invitation for them to attend the Opposition Budget announcement this Thursday. He should expand however to include former party grass as well, not just the former brass.

Anonymous said...

Linda Sloan was a guest of honor at Michael Ignatieff's 800 person dinner in Edmonton in February.

Kyle said...

Dave: Did you get an invite to the Liberal Opposition Budget announcement on Thursday?

Frankie said...

Is Maurice Tougas as warm and pleasant as the vibe he gives off in SEE?

Can't wait for your take on the Alberta NDP. Interesting future battles between shut-down tar sands and save union jobs forces.

Anonymous said...

Maurice Tougas is one of the laziest asshats to ever stumble into the legislature. And the competition is fierce for that title.

Anonymous said...

Mo starts new paragraphs with "also", "but" and two "ands". He also displays a lack of understanding as to when to use the word "too".

Unfortunately his poor grammar undercuts his messaging. Mo, get someone to proofread your stuff before you post.

daveberta said...

Mo, I'm going to have to side with Jason (Gauntlet) on the survey. I did find it to be long, and a little patronizing, especially the sections that asked me who the Liberal leader was, and ranking my support of PC policies.


Anonymous said...

Solid post, Dave. Keep up the good work.

Kyle said...

A lot of Calgarians want to vote for someone other than Ed Stelmach's crew and Taft's Liberals benefited from this in 08. There was a strong Liberal organization on the ground and good candidates. I don't know if Swann can win them more seats in Calgary next time or if those votes will go to another party.