In the desert. No one wants to lead the Alberta Liberal Party – daveberta.ca – Alberta Politics and Elections
“This leadership race is a great opportunity to build our party, brainstorm ideas, discuss strategy and reach out to Albertans,” Alberta Liberal Party President Helen Mcmenamin wrote in a June 13 statement on the party’s website.
“They are looking for leadership they can trust to tackle today’s problems and tomorrow’s challenges.”
Albertans may be looking for leadership to tackle today’s problems and tomorrow’s challenges, but they won’t find it from the Alberta Liberal Party, at least not right now.
Last Friday, the 5:00 p.m. deadline for leadership contestants came and went without any announcements. Everyone watching assumed that there were simply no candidates in the race.
This turned out to be the case.
Mcmenamin released another statement yesterday.
“As no candidate came forward, the leadership contest ended with no permanent leader selected,” she wrote.
This is a blow to an already very weak political party.
It’s not something I enjoy writing. It’s actually a bit sad.
Some current and former liberal activists I have contacted over the past few days report infighting and a party executive controlled by a small group of people. Some say the current group is too loyal to the old leader and not open to new ideas. Some say they will simply appoint a new interim leader of their choice.
The smaller the stakes, the bigger the fight, right?
The Liberals have no MPs and won less than 1% of the province-wide vote in 2019.
This is the party’s worst result since 1940, and even then they managed to elect 1 MP.
They have struggled to raise funds and have been without a permanent leader since the resignation of David Khan in 2020.
Being leader of the Alberta Liberal Party right now isn’t even a thankless job, it’s all there is after the thankless.
And the party has been really aimless for a while.
Not so long ago, the Liberal Party formed the Official Opposition in Alberta. It was the party of Nick Taylor, Laurence Decore, Grant Mitchell and Kevin Taft. And its MPs included Bettie Hewes, Sheldon Chumir, Mike Percy, Gary Dickson, Frank Bruseker, Howard Sapers and Laurie Blakeman – people whose impact on politics is still felt today.
The space occupied by liberals has changed significantly over the decades.
Decore’s Liberals enjoyed the party’s greatest success in 75 years when it nearly formed government in 1993. A record 32 Liberal MPs formed the largest Official Opposition in Alberta history.
But an informal alliance with socially conservative activists in the Reform Party and its deficit-fighting policies led to a delicate transition into an opponent of some of those same policies when they were implemented by Klein in the mid-1990s.
The party recalibrated under Mitchell in 1997 and was able to keep its seats in Edmonton, but 2001 was a blow when the party then led by Klein’s rival Nancy MacBeth was reduced to 7 MPs and grappling with a million dollar debt.
The party rebounded under the leadership of Kevin Taft in 2004 when it regained much of its support in Edmonton and made significant inroads in Calgary.
Albertans were tired of Klein and shopping.
Although they won a major by-election in Calgary-Elbow in 2007, the Liberals lost significant ground to Ed Stelmach’s Conservatives in 2008. Obama-themed “It’s About Time.”
Everything went downhill for the Liberals after this election.
By By this point, the Alberta Liberal Party had become less of a cohesive political party and more of a coalition of independent-minded, locally popular MPs.
Former PC MP turned Liberal leader Raj Sherman was ousted in 2012 in a two-way race between Alison Redford’s PC and Danielle Smith’s Wildrose.
Liberal voters flocked to the PC Party.
Then they flocked to the NDP in 2015’s Orange Wave.
Party leader David Swann survived on personal popularity, but the Liberals were eliminated.
And today, whatever political territory the Liberal Party once held is now held by Rachel Notley’s NDP and, to a much lesser extent, by the Alberta Party.
It’s hard to name any laws or policies passed by Notley’s NDP in government and now proposed in opposition that would be significantly different from what the Liberals (and in some cases, former Tories) would do.
And most federal Liberals in Alberta support Notley or have abandoned provincial politics altogether.
It’s hard to see how the Liberals can extricate themselves from their current hole, at least for the foreseeable future.
Maybe they are waiting for the NDP to collapse?
They may have to wait for a while, and each day they wait, they sink deeper into insignificance.
The Liberals are now in the desert.
To note: I was a member of the Liberal Party of Alberta from 1999 to 2009. I served on riding association boards, I organized fundraisers, I knocked on many gates and worked for the party in various roles, including as communications coordinator from 2006 to 2008. During the 2008 election, I worked with a group of MPs and former ministers who were preparing the transition plan of the Liberal Party to form the government (we were only optimists).