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Thursday, March 13, 2008

what's next for alberta's opposition parties?

After receiving a substantial beating in last week's election, I thought it is important to take a look at Alberta's two opposition parties in the Legislature and make some suggestions on what their next moves should be.

Though there has been talk of leadership change in the opposition parties, I don't see any need for the Alberta Liberals or New Democrats to rush this decision. The goal of both parties should be stability, and I'm not sure how a leadership change in the short-term will help this (I'm not sure you'd see a mad rush of leadership contenders, either). As both parties will have their opposition budgets slashed, they should look to increase their cooperation in the Legislature and in legislative committees for the sake of a stronger and more united opposition.

The Alberta Liberals lost eight seats in the Edmonton region last week. With three seats in Edmonton, one in Lethbridge, and five in Calgary (where they actually increased their seats from four to five), the Alberta Liberals can take solace in that they are probably in a better position to grow than when they were decimated down to 7 seats in 2001. Though I'm sure the financial situation situation of the party isn't pretty, a leaner opposition will force the Alberta Liberals to do some soul searching in the meantime.

Having the majority of their seats in Calgary is a changing dynamic that the Alberta Liberals haven't seen in recent memory, which suggests that the Calgary Alberta Liberal caucus will have more influence on opposition politics than they had before the election.

In terms of Kevin Taft's leadership, my advice to the party is to not rush any decisions. Internal stability is something that will be very important in the process of preparing for the next election and leadership is something the Alberta Liberals need to be smart about. Holding a leadership race now would be fool hearted and would most likely not draw the types of contenders that the Alberta Liberals would need to lead them into the next election. There's no rush, so wait a year and let Ed Stelmach's Tories stumble, then if a leadership race needs to be held, you'll see more people stepping up to the plate.

Over the next four years, the Alberta Liberals need to take a critical look 'outside the box' and decide what kind of party they want to be, including abandoning the traditional party structure and mentality. Everything should be on the table, including more than just a name-change.

Official Opposition MLAs
Kevin Taft, Edmonton-Riverview
Laurie Blakeman, Edmonton-Centre
Harry Chase, Calgary-Varsity
Kent Hehr, Calgary-Buffalo
Darshan Kang, Calgary-McCall
Hugh MacDonald, Edmonton-Gold Bar
Bridget Pastoor, Lethbridge-East
David Swann, Calgary-Mountain View
Dave Taylor, Calgary-Currie

The loss of David Eggen in Edmonton-Calder and Ray Martin in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview means that the New Democrats have lost their official party status in the Alberta Legislature. Also, much like the Alberta Liberals, I'm sure their financial situation isn't pretty.

With leader Brian Mason's only caucus mate being rookie Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, it's pretty clear who the favorite to replace Mason will be. This said, even though I've never warmed up to Mason, I think that him handing over the reigns to Notley too early after the election could be a bad move for his party.

As a rookie MLA, Notley should be given some time to learn the ropes and decide whether or not she actually likes being an MLA. As much as some New Democrats I've spoken with want Mason to hit the road as soon as possible, putting Notley into the leader's chair this early could be a risky move (but with only two seats in the Legislature, what do the New Democrats really have to lose?).

It is also probably overdue for the New Democrats take a critical look at the advantages and disadvantages of its joint-at-the-hip relationship with some of Alberta's big labour unions. Does its close ties to the Alberta Federation of Labour do more harm than good? What does this relationship mean for the New Democrats claim to being a voice for progressives in Alberta?

(Also, for a New Democrat point of view, Shannon Phillips has some interesting post-Eday thoughts on the election in Edmonton and Edmonton-Calder.)

New Democrat MLAs
Brian Mason, Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
Rachel Notley, Edmonton-Strathcona


Anonymous said...

Another big difference between 2008 and 2001 is that in 2001 the Liberal front bench was wiped out (including leader Nancy MacBeth). In 2008 the Liberals have Kevin Taft, Laurie Blakeman, David Swann, Hugh MacDonald and Dave Taylor to keep the beating on the PCs in the Leg. Mix that with Rachel Notley and the opposition of 11 will feel a lot bigger after the tories nurse their bruises.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

What, no advice for the Wild Rose Alliance?

daveberta said...

IP, I guess I should have been clear. I'm going to do a post for the Greens and Wild Rose Alliance in the next bit. I have it written, but it would have been pretty long to have included it with the Liberal and New Democrat posting.

No opinion on my comments?

Anonymous said...

Regardless of what the article says I still say a name change is priority #1. Just get it over with, why have the federal albatross always hanging around your necks?

As much as I don't like when parties eat their leader after losing an election I do think Taft has to go, the guy just doesn't have any charisma and comes off as kinda creepy. I personally can't stand the guy but you should take a serious look at Dave Taylor. Taylor is well known from his radio days (at least in Calgary) plus he is articulate and well spoken.

They also need to look at their policies, you can't just campaign on a big city aganda and hope to form a government in Alberta. They need to broaden their policies to appeal to a wider range keeping in mind that most Albertans are fiscally conservative. Lastly a strong environmental platform is a good thing but you need to balance it out with economic realities. Attacking the oil industry is not a good campaign tactic, a large percentage of folks are directly or indirectly employed because of the energy industry.

I'm a Tory supporter but these massive majorities don't make for good government. I would personally like to see the opposition with about 35 seats, that's not going to happen without some changes.

Anonymous said...

Forgot to add that I agree the Libs should wait a year before replacing the leader.

As for the NDP, who really cares?

They peaked at 4 seats.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

I agree with most of it. However, I still think that the most immediate threat to eternal Tory domination is a right-wing party giving the Tories competition from that angle. Hence my question.

Anonymous said...

Both Taft and Mason need to go before the next election but I agree that there is no rush. I would like to see more groups like Public Interest Alberta step up to the plate and fill the void that will be left while the opposition parties try to figure out what they did wrong and how to learn from their mistakes.

Creating a strong progressive urban alternative to the Conservatives is the only way that the Liberals or NDP will defeat them. The Liberals and NDP should dump their names and become a new party.

Anonymous said...

"but you should take a serious look at Dave Taylor. Taylor is well known from his radio days (at least in Calgary) plus he is articulate and well spoken."

He's also the laziest MLA in the entire Ledge (and considering the quality of the PC backbench, that's saying something). And he couldn't organize a two-car parade. What else do you want to know about him?

I'm surprised nobody has identified the media as being a major culprit in this debacle. They have allowed themselves to be bitchslapped around by Olsen and Stanway, and their scared of covering the opposition fairly for fear of reprisals from the Public Affairs Bureau and the Premier's Office.

I mean, if Jason Markusoff is the cream of the crop when it comes to political reporting in this province, we are in deep, deep trouble.

Anonymous said...

"He's also the laziest MLA in the entire Ledge (and considering the quality of the PC backbench, that's saying something). And he couldn't organize a two-car parade. What else do you want to know about him?"

I don't know much elso about him, I have only a passing interest in any Lib MLA. My point was that he is well known, well liked and speaks well, those are all strong leader attributes.

As for your blame the media theory, fill your boots. It's not going to get you anywhere but you may feel better.

Anonymous said...

Count me in the group that says Taft has to go, but not right away. I've never seen someone do so well for the first 8 minutes of a debate, then look so bad for the rest. The only time he seemed interested was when he was going at it with Mason. Anyway, if I had to guess I would say both Taft and Mason are gone before the next election, although I could see Mason hanging around for one more.

Anonymous said...

We have to look to establish an Opposition who thinks of itself as part of the governing assembly of Albertans, not the angry gaggle that will return to this edition of the legislature.

Since the days of Laurence Decore and Grant Notley, we have seen opposition leaders that do not give nor, as a result, garner respect of the man on the street. The individuals in those roles continually point to the failures of the voters to elect their particular stripe without providing valid, practical, pragmatic alternative policy directions.

As for leadership options for the Liberals (call them what you will), Harry B. Chase is marshalling his forces. With the support of the Friends of Medicare and the depth of support in the ranks of educators, could they ask for more?

Anonymous said...

"But don't you think that the most obvious change to make to promote that would be to the voting system?"

I wouldn't be totally against the idea. The thing I don't like about MMP is that it tends to create strictly minority governments. Minorities tend to kick out watered down legislation and the ruling party is forced to work with small fringe groups to get enough support. This gives a disproportionate amount of power to the 4-5 seat parties that hold the balance of power.

As the situation stands we would still have a weak majority and that would be favorable but that situation could and probably would change in the coming years. Look at the circus we have in Ottawa right now, who needs more of that?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Actually, it's a myth that proportional voting systems lead to minority governments. Most countries that use proportional voting systems have majority governments made up of more than one party--minority governments are actually quite rare. I wrote a post about this before, if you're interested (it's federal-specific, but I'm sure you can easily extrapolate to how it would work for Alberta if a single party couldn't get more than 50% of the vote).

The new system also wouldn't have to be MMP, by the way. The system Alberta used to use is STV, which is also the system recommended by the B.C. citizens' assembly. I actually think STV is a more likely system for Canada, at this point.

Anyway, I'd love to talk to you more about this, if you're interested. How about coming out to the Fair Vote Alberta event next week and finding out what this is all about? I think you'd fit in really well--we're very colourful and multipartisan. And you don't have to be an already-convinced electoral reformer to come to the event.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the invite but I'm not going to drive all the way to Edmonton to attend. Careful what you wish for though since the most likely coalition governemnt in Alberta would be PC-Alliance. That would be far more right wing than what we currently have :)

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I didn't realize you weren't in Edmonton--shouldn't have assumed.

In any case, I'd be okay with a PC-WRA government if that's what the voters of Alberta actually voted for. I may be a lefty, but I'm first and foremost a democrat, and having a fair, solid democracy is more important to me than having a government I personally agree with. This isn't about partisanship or ideology, it's about giving the voters what they actually ask for. We're not doing that right now, not even close.

Anyway, email me if you're ever interested in learning more: idealisticpragmatist at gmail dot com.

Feynman and Coulter's Love Child said...

As much as some New Democrats I've spoken with want Mason to hit the road as soon as possible, putting Notley into the leader's chair this early could be a risky move (but with only two seats in the Legislature, what do the New Democrats really have to lose?).

Do you even have to ask?