On Wednesday night, I went outside of my comfort zone (my house) to attend the Alberta Liberal Party all-candidates leadership forum at Grant MacEwan downtown. As a dues-paying member of the ALP (not just one of fair weather ‘supporters’ the party has signed up for the purposes of boosting interest in the leadership race), I admit to being torn on my choice. I thought seeing the candidates in action might clear things up.
It didn’t. I anything, I’m more confused than ever.
I easily eliminated the two Calgary candidates, Bruce Payne and Bill Harvey. Payne seemed sincere but unimpressive; when someone asked a question about the airport closure, he said he was under the impression that the public voted to keep it open, but the city decided to close it. That did not endear him to an Edmonton audience. (Note: would you airport people PLEASE give it up and move on?) Bill Harvey, who described himself as a salesman and who actually used the term “okey-dokey”, didn’t have a scrap of literature available. (His financial disclosure statement, posted online, shows zero dollars raised. I believe it.) A pretty poor sales job, I would say.
As expected, it really comes town to three: MLAs Hugh MacDonald, Laurie Blakeman, and Raj Sherman.
Hugh MacDonald jumped up a notch in my estimation. Hugh clearly really wants to win this thing. He looked poised, and spoke with his usual steely-eyed conviction. However, I wasn’t wild about one of Hughie’s “facts”. He rightly pointed out that the Legislature some time ago gave the province the OK to enter into lawsuits against Big Tobacco, but has done nothing about it since. He then went on to say all the wonderful things the province could do with the “$3 billion” we would get from Big Tobacco in a lawsuit. Where the hell did that number come from? I have heard of one person who was awarded $3 billion in a lawsuit against tobacco, which will no doubt be overturned. To suggest that Alberta is passing up on $3 billion in free money is vintage Hughie. Otherwise, Hugh impressed. He said he has sold (that’s sold, not given away) more than 1,000 memberships. His disclosure statement shows he has raised $15,000 from unions, which is impressive and shows he’s got credibility with union types. My experience with Hugh is that he was always a bit of a lone wolf, but I go the distinct feeling this lone wolf genuinely wants to lead the pack.
Laurie Blakeman is another strong contender, and with 14 years as an MLA, she certainly deserves serious consideration. Laurie was, as always, poised and articulate and never at a loss for an answer. Laurie is bursting with ideas, and most of them are solid. She told the crowd that it is insane for the party to keep doing what it has been doing for years, and I agree. (Exactly what the party could do differently is a topic for another blog.) She’s smart, knows a lot about just about everything in government, but lacks that common touch. Hugh made a joke about playing hockey, and how he plays centre and can pass to guys on the right wing or the left; sporting references like that might as well be in Swahili with Laurie. That’s not a fatal flaw in a leader, but it hurts.
And then there’s Raj, the wildest of the wild cards.
Raj can certainly be accused of being a one-trick pony — but, as he says, what a pony it is. He is the health care candidate, which is great if health care happens to be the dominant issue come election time, not so great if it’s not. But, he showed a greater depth of knowledge than I expected when answering some of the questions from the floor. However, his speaking style needs polishing. But there’s no questioning his energy, and he’s a guy with lots of ideas. But keeping him on message might be a chore for an entire army of political consultants. Raj was taken to task for voicing support for Wildrose Alliance MLA Guy Boutilier, a rookie mistake, as Hugh called it. (The Edmonton Journal played this up big, calling it a “blistering exchange”; blistering it was not.)
Unfortunately for me, the forum was not every enlightening. I’m not interested in the candidate’s views on the issues; realistically, there will be very little difference between them. Policy comes from the bottom up, not the top down. What I wanted to hear was some discussion on the party. Should the party run a candidate in all ridings (as Bruce Payne says) or concentrate on winnable ridings and quality candidates (as Blakeman says)? I want to know their ideas for building the party, raising the funds, all that boring old stuff that makes up the backbone of a political party. How would they build up the constituency associations? How would they recruit candidates? That’s the kind of stuff I wanted to hear.
So, two hours and one sore ass later (very uncomfortable chairs), I’m no closer to picking a favourite, or even the order of preference. I’m glad that, out of a field of five, there are three strong candidates with enough strengths and weaknesses to make it an interesting race.