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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

david swann meets ed stelmach, and faces challenges from inside the liberal caucus.

Liberal Opposition leader David Swann and PC Premier Ed Stelmach met yesterday to discuss niceties and the upcoming provincial budget. This is a positive step for both party leaders, and I hope that for Albertans sake, some semblance of civility can be preserved between the two men.

Swann's challenge will be to balance the 'spirit of cooperation' while actually providing an effective opposition to the governing PCs in the Legislature (and this is probably as difficult as it sounds). It remains to be seen if the toxically partisan environment in the Legislative Assembly will allow any civility between the two party leaders to survive when the Legislature begins sitting in February. Up until the Fall 2008 Session of the Legislature, the tension between Stelmach and former Liberal leader Kevin Taft had gotten so heated that Stelmach would frequently accuse Taft of being a Red Menace.

He must also be weary of not taking a route too close to the one taken by former Liberal leader Ken Nicol. When replacing defeated leader Nancy MacBeth in 2001, then-Lethbridge-East MLA Nicol's quiet and polite tone made it easy for the Klein PCs to railroad over the Legislative opposition and the Raj Pannu-led NDP to garner much of the media attention, leaving the newly reduced Liberal caucus (7 MLAs elected in 2001, down from 18 in 1997) in their weakest position in over a decade.

While striking a conciliatory tone with Premier Stelmach may be a productive start, Swann is likely aware of the challenges he faces within his caucus.

Managing Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald and Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor are likely going to be key challenges in keeping the rag-tag caucus together. MacDonald, who appears to have become almost obsessed with unearthing PC scandals, has fine-tuned the exercise of crying wolf, diluting the opposition Liberals' position on many issues. As Swann's former leadership challenger, Taylor holds some forceful opinions on the direction of the opposition and the Liberal Party which clash with some of Swann's ideas (not that I believe a different name will solve the Liberal Party's organizational and psychological problems, but more on that later).

If Swann is to lead an effective opposition in the Legislature, his caucus will need to reign in wild card Hugh MacDonald, while managing Dave Taylor's recently bruised ego.


Alberta Centrist said...

(not that I believe a different name will solve the Liberal Party's organizational and psychological problems, but more on that later).

Oh come on Dave....more on it now! Please???

Anonymous said...

The graphics are pretty B-league, but this is the sort of exercise the Liberals should be coordinating.

Stop being part of the Stelmach problem (this means you Hugh MacDonald) and start showing people an alternate solution.

The Liberals biggest flaw is no one believes they are ready to step into the province's governing role. That perception has less to do with seat counts than some people think, and is almost entirely based on actions.

Robert G. Harvie, Q.C. said...

Anonymous's post refers to the NDP page.. which asks Albertans the following very inciteful questions:

- What types of investments should the Alberta government make to ensure the success of you and your family?
- What innovative ideas do you have to build a new green economy?
- What programs must be protected in tough times?
- How would spending cuts in tough economic times impact you and your family?

In other words, in what manner would you like the government to wipe your nose? Problem is, in Alberta, most of us would rather wipe our own nose and have the government step off.. if the Liberals want to follow a similar plan, good luck. That might play in the land of entitlement, Quebec or Ontario, I don't think it will play here..

P.S. - the notion that Ken Nicol wasn't a good leader was perhaps the Liberal's biggest mistake of all time in this Province.. he was a good man, which, in time, would have been appreciated by centrist Albertans..

Justin said...

C'mon Dave, give us something that will really get the fur flying.

Dave Taylor is bummed out about the loss and Hugh MacDonald is hunting for tory skeletons? Next you're going to tell me Edmonton is cold in the winter and Dustin Penner in overpaid!

Seriously, what do you think is the solution, or a least a step towards the solution, to the problem of our withered democracy and the inept groupthinkers on the government side coupled with the well intentioned ineffectiveness of the opposition parties.

Matt Grant said...

Ha, Justin's comment is essentially what I've been struggling to write for a bit now after reading this post.

But what about

Both you and Justin supported Dr. Swann in the ALP leadership, so I'm assuming the process he's put in place is something you'll both be involved with? I hope so.

Anonymous said...

Roblaw, just to clarify, Ken Nicol is a good man (still kicking, as far as I know). Too bad he didn't run for the Tories in 2008. You folks in Lethbridge East might have had an MLA in government.

Anonymous said...

Old Dave Taylor sure knows how to use the mic. He had quite the show on Qr77am in Calgary before moving on to Edmonton. He is the liberal Dave Rutherford. It would have been classic to see him as the least he knows how to get a sound bite.

Anonymous said...

Changing the name is merely a cosmetic change. What has to change is the way the party presents itself and communicates its messages to Albertans.

Taft, well-intentioned for sure, was incapable of doing that. Swann, also well-intentioned, and his initiative to approach Stelmach in this way is commendable, doesn't strike me as the type-A leadership personality either.

Part of the problem is framing. The Liberals have allowed themselves to be defined by the Tories (e.g., when Stelmach refers to them as socialists or something or when the Tories made people believe the Alberta Liberals had been behind the NEP).

The Grits must take charge of their own destiny and take control of how their party and what it stands for is framed in the general public debate in this province.

Anonymous said...

I've said this before. It's not the volume of the message that's the problem, it's the message itself. Albertans are uncertain that, if push came to shove between the ALP and the Liberal Party of Canada, that the provincial Liberals would stand up for Albertans. Cases in point: The Green Shift proposal was widely rejected in Alberta. More recently, the coalition proposal. This province voted Tory in the last federal election and the coalition would have taken that vote away. The provincial Liberals should have been front and centre raising concerns about the Green Shift and objecting to the coalition proposal - demonstrating that they put the interests of Albetans first. They didn't and people will remember that. As long as the ALP refuses to stand up against the LPC the Tories will always successfully label them as a lackey of the LPC.

Alberta Centrist said...

Oh please Darren, stop spewing repeats of Harper lies. You say the coalition would take away your vote? Please educate yourself, particularly on how the British Parliamentary system works. You obviously have no clue. And if you don't like it, no one is stopping you from leaving the country for more Republican pastures.

If the Alberta Liberals derided the 'Green Shift', just for the sake of getting elected, they would be no better than the PC's. Liberals, unlike the PC's, are principled people. Sometimes you have to stand up for the right thing, and not what's popular. The green shift was actually a very economically 'conservative' concept. It would have let the marketplace put pollution in it's place.

I think the ALP does have principled people who could have sold the Green Shift, but they were too busy with Captain Rodeo wasting time on frivolous things.

Anonymous said...

Dave, I think you're holding out on us. Either about MacDonald and Taylor, or about your own projects and motives.

You mentioned Hugh MacDonald and Dave Taylor at the end of your post as key challenges, and give some reasons why they COULD be, but that's not news.

This post may be a teaser for a much more explosive post, and in that case I'll eat my words.

But between you completely ignoring your reported role in a group aiming to build a new party and the smearing of the two most unapologetic big-L Liberals in caucus, my money is on you pretending to be objective but in reality spinning and framing any future story to suit your needs.

Which is fine, this isn't the NY Times. What isn't fine is being deceitful about it. Come clean, now.

Anonymous said...

Chester: Because the NY Times is such a bastion of "objectivity" and lack of spin; HAHAHA!

Dave can operate politically in any way he chooses, and I don't think he's ever claimed to be neutral.

AC: Your rant is exactly the attitude that ensures Alberta Liberals will never come close to being elected in this province. Keep it up, please! I insist! You deride Mr. Taft but are carrying on his tone-tradition.

And to clarify, you're incorrect about why the Alberta Libs should have objected to the "Green Shift" (as most I spoke with did and vehemently). I believe even the federal Alberta libs did so publicly during the election. It isn't about political expediency, but rather that they actually did seem to object to the policy.

Alberta Centrist said...

Yes, thankyou! I will keep it up. It's always better to be honest than tell convenient lies. It is people of your particular ilk that stain this province. You're not interested in analysing issues logically or rationally. You lack any sort of personal principle, probably because it helps you fit in. You don't know exactly why you hold the views you hold, but if your beer buddies say it, it must be true. Really quite sad.

Anonymous said...

tjk, replace NY Times with any other paper you want that you hold in higher esteem. The point is that Dave doesn't have to hold to the standards of journalism, and as I said, that's fine. He can have any agenda he wants, we all know he's not neutral. This is a blog.

But there's a difference between having an agenda and feigned neutrality/duplicitousness. I'm getting fed up with all the hidden agendas in this party, and its incredibly disingenuous for Dave to hint at MLAs having them when there's good cause for suspicion that he has one too.

Anonymous said...

I'm fully aware of how the parliamentary system works. I'm also aware of how a province - after years of being on the outside looking in at federal governance - might react after having their voice in government taken away by a coalition which includes a separatist organization. There was considerable anger among Albertans regarding the coalition. That's not Harper's lies, that's the opinions of many people I talked to - people who voted Tory and people who earn a living from the oil and gas industry.
And your defence of the Green Shift tells me that you don't work in the oil and gas industry, probably in some sector that is government funded and somewhat insulated from industrial-sector economic downturns. I could be wrong about that, it's possible. Your comments also do nothing to counter the notion of the snooty, arrogant Liberal as there are more of me and my "beer buddies" (nice dismissive label smear, by the way, very Reid-esque)than there are of you - demonstrated quite well by the results of the most recent provincial election.

Party of One said...

Darren, I'm curious. Do you really beleive the Alberta tail of 27 MPs should wag the federal dog of 146 Mps in the Conservative Party?

If so, I think you're going to be disappointed. Those who argue that Alberta "deserves" a larger voice in Confederation (why, 'coz we have money?) are fundamentally non-democratic. Until Alberta matches the population of Ontario or even Quebec, we're not going to have the influence that these provinces do. That's how democracy works. Majority rules with hopefully some attention paid to the minorities to prevent "the tyranny of the majority".

Anonymous said...

AC - you obviously didn't understand what I was saying at all, so I'll just move on. Draw those conclusions you have; I love being underestimated. Pragmatism, logic and reason are 3 of the most important things to me and to analyzing anything at all; if you believe people would waste their time behaving otherwise, go ahead.

...And keep throwing around words like stain. It doesn't reflect on me when you do that. It's all about a tone you refuse to cease and don't understand.

Chester - I see what you're saying, was just surprised you went at it that way. I think Dave will decide and say where he's headed all in good time. Until then, what he knows about it is nobody's business but his.

Good luck getting a coherent message and party together going forward. I mean that. It would certainly help push my party to be its best. Good competition is and should be appreciated. Does it guarantee seats? Nope. But I hope there's a realization that the tone of AC's doesn't resonate in, nor reflect, the people of Alberta. That's the other road. It works electorally but doesn't help my party better itself or add to the governance of this province.

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying Alberta should be able to dictate terms but having a voice in government - even if it isn't the majority voice - is still important to Albertans. Which is why the coalition generated such a backlash here. The ALP should have recognized that. As for population, Alberta and BC together have the same population as Quebec. By your logic, together we should then have the same number of seats as Quebec. Together, we should have the same ability to set the national agenda as Quebec does. Do we?

If the ALP wants to break free of the labelling that the Tories have saddled them with, one of the most visible ways is to do what the labelling says you wouldn't do. Push for greater fiscal responsibility and restraint. Push for increased savings and prudent spending. We have a budget that is completely unsustainable, if the Tories aren't going to be the party of fiscal restraint and responsibility then maybe the Liberals should be.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick point: no one that posts on this thread can claim to know the political bent of Alberta, as a majority of its citizens have remained politically silent for the past eight years. We do not know how many "beer buddies" there are, nor can we point with certainty to any tone that reflects - or resonates with - a majority of Albertans.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, all of the provincial parties have failed to connect with a majority of Albertans in a meaningful way, and this has been reflected in the widespread political apathy that permeates this province.

Everyone has an opinion; it is folly to think that yours is shared by a plurality of Marthas or Henrys.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to read what Albertans will write about Ontario and Quebec. I wonder how many of them have actually lived and worked in those places. This idea of "entitlement" works both ways. For some reason, Alberta has felt entitled to extract the dirtiest form of oil on the planet and enjoy the enormous wealth as a result, and sadly, other provinces have felt entitled to spend some of that money in the form of transfer payments. All of Canada must wean itself off of oil ASAP or face ruin.

I lived in Alberta 18 years, I've now lived in Quebec for about 2. Thus far, I've found a stronger work ethic and more pride to build for the future here than back in Wild Rose Country. This is far from a perfect place, but perhaps those that are quickest to knock it should come check it out before deriding it without reason.

As for the Alberta Liberals, having also saddled my fate with theirs for almost four years, I would say simply articulate a coherent vision for the future and let the chips fall where they may. On oil and so many issues, most Albertans -- at least those that voted -- have thus far chosen short term profit and selfishness over longterm prosperity and environmental sustainability. Times are changing. Be on the right side of the debate and the public will respect you for it. Don't try and beat the Tories at their own game, no matter how many more seats they may have.

Hugh MacDonald is an honourable and intelligent MLA. There is a reason he's won every election he's ever been in.

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Anonymous said...

JT - You're making a mistake in that sentiment according to many of the political scientists Dave and I studied from. I know that both of us to some extent disagree; but these people all said that those who didn't vote have been shown to hold almost wholly the same view and electoral preferences as those that do vote.

Starting from an assumption that everyone would vote were they engaged by ideas could be a fairly flawed assumption.

Anonymous said...

Never did I say that "everyone would vote were they engaged by ideas". Rather, I made a connection between low voter turnout rates and the uninspired nature of Alberta politics. It is not necessary that 100% of the people vote in every election.

I would like to know which political scientists at the U of A have influenced your opinion. Alberta politics are hardly a hot topic at the U of A, and a statement such as "many of the political scientists" seems to employ the same hyperbole used by others in this thread who have used generalizations as a justification.

While it may be likely that most Albertans maintain a quasi-conservative viewpoint, this by no means entails a direct correlation in opinion between those who vote and those who do not. My point was simply that we cannot know with absolute certainty the political opinions of hundreds of thousands of people who have not volunteered - or been asked - their political viewpoints since the beginning of the 21st century.

It seems that if everyone were onboard with Party X or Y, then voter turnout rates would be far higher. Considering that a minority of Albertans ushered in the ruling political party in 2008, I believe that the rest of Albertans take issue with either democratic principles or the lacklustre nature of Alberta politics. I hope, for all our sakes, that it is the latter and not the former.

Anonymous said...

Political parties don't have to engage all of the population in elections. Just enough of them to win.

Party of One said...

Darren, you said:

"I'm not saying Alberta should be able to dictate terms but having a voice in government - even if it isn't the majority voice - is still important to Albertans."

Oh really? Then why have they refused to vote in a significant number of Liberals over the years? Anybody in Anne McClellan's old ridings saw the real benefit of doing so.

I've lived in Alberta for 31 years, and I have to say that Albertan voters have not displayed a high degree of political sophistication in that time.

Provincially, they vote in massive majority after massive majority, thereby giving the PC's carte blanche to become arrogant and complacent...and imcompetant. The alternative would be to elect a viable opposition, thereby holding the governing party's feet to the fire, which strikes me at least as a way to ensure better accountability.

Federally, they are continually cowed by cynical Conservatives who raise the spectre of the NEP (an event 30 years in the past, and agreed to at the time by their "messiah" Peter Lougheed) as a justification for not voting Liberal, as if nothing has happened in the interim, as if the economy hasn't changed significantly, as if the Liberals have never learned from their policy mistakes...being Conservative should be about values in changing times, not sticking your head in the sand, plugging one's ears and singing "la la la, I can't hear you, or clinging desperately to a distorted mythology with little basis in fact.

If Albertans can't demonstrate a little political sophistication at the polls, is it any wonder that they're not taken as seriously as they should be? If the Conservatives don't even campaign here anymore and take the Alberta vote for granted, how can that be seen as a good thing?

If Albertans, through their voting patterns, refuse to hold Conservative politicians accountable, how can they complain about politicians not being accountable? It's ridiculous.

And the only thing possibly more absurd is that the Liberals, both provincial and federal, have done little of the necessary legwork and policy development to present themselves as a viable alternative.

Anonymous said...

irony - def'n: "Party of One" pronouncing the PC's 'incompetant' while mispelling the word.