The Liberal leadership: Apocalypse next?

According to a front page story in the Journal Sunday, written by hyperbole-prone reporter Karen Kleiss, the Alberta Liberals are facing a “do or die decision” in selecting its next leader.

Choosing a leader is important for any party, but to categorize this election as one that will “perhaps even determine whether the 106-year-old organization will survive the next election” is overstating the case.

Consider this sentence, which sets up the rest of the story: “The party is plagued by internal fissures over controversial new voting rules, and strained by a fractious leadership contest.”  Kleiss offers up no proof of either claim, no anonymous insiders, no highly placed sources, nothing. Then comes the kicker: “As a result, many experts and insiders agree: Saturday’s vote is a question of survival.”

Kleiss comes up to exactly two political “experts” to back up this statement, which is not “many” by any calculation.

One of them is the ubiquitous Chaldeans Mensah, of Grant MacEwan. Mensah has become the go-to guy for the media on provincial matters. (I admit I used him in a story for SEE magazine, but only after I found the U of A communications people utterly useless. Mensah, on the other hand, is always available.) Mensah is used so often on TV news, I suspect the local channels have a camera stationed in his office. (I saw him on CFRN news yesterday… even on a holiday, the guy is available.)

Most of the time, Mensah is bland enough to be inoffensive, while sounding authoritative. But he was flat out wrong in his assessment of the Liberal party. According to the story, Mensah called the Liberals “an ideological party pursuing policies that are not in touch with most Albertans’s political preferences.”

Whaaa??? There is nothing strikingly ideological about Liberal policy. It’s consistently centrist and financially conservative. I would like to see Mensah provide proof of any ALP policy that is so far out in left field that it alienates Albertans. They simply do not exist.

Jim Lightbody from the U of A is much more accurate in his assessment.

“You can’t convince people to vote for you if you can’t convince them to listen to you,” Lightbody said. He’s right about that. The biggest problem facing the Liberals has been that is has never been able to convince Albertans that it is a government in waiting.

But Lightbody goes off track as well. He predicts the Wildrose will become the No. 2 party after the next election (could be), reducing the Liberals to No. 3. “If you’re a third party in a two-party house, it’s very, very difficult to be taken seriously, and very difficult to get people to listen to you,” Lightbody is quoted. Well, the NDP is the third party in a two-party house, and with just two members has had no trouble being heard.

I was most disturbed by comments by leadership candidate Laurie Blakeman, who painted an apocalyptic vision of the party, presumably if she isn’t elected.

“I think the party’s survival is on this leadership race,” Blakeman was quoted. “If we can’t offer people a big opportunity that is different, then I think we’re done. I think those few people that are left will go to the Alberta Party.”

I assume Blakeman is speaking of the party without her at the helm. I think this is bad form, to be honest. While I agree the Liberals have to do things differently, I don’t see anything in Blakeman’s leadership proposals that are particularly groundbreaking. And I don’t think she’s going to make any friends by agreeing with critics that the party is finished (without her at the helm, anyway). And suggesting that the Liberal party will fade away, and it’s few remaining members will go to the still-in-diapers Alberta Party gives the Alberta Party far more credibility than it deserves.

I agree with Hugh MacDonald, that predicting the demise of the Liberal party has been a cottage industry in Alberta. There are problems with the party, to be sure. I still think the name is its biggest problem, and its chronic changing of leadership has done nothing to gain public support. Support has been ebbing away over the last few elections, but the party still has the support of 250,000 voters.  You can’t just throw away 100 years of history and hundreds of thousands of voters.

Problems? Of course. Is this leadership vote important? That goes without saying. Is the party doomed if the wrong person (whoever that is) is elected? Only the next election will tell.

One thought on “The Liberal leadership: Apocalypse next?

  1. I agree with your assessment of most of the players listed in this post, but you can’t deny the fact that the last two public opinion polls have put the ALP at 13 and 11 percent – less than half of what we got in 2008 – a campaign in which we lost half our seats. Survival as a party may continue after this election, but survival of our presence at the Alberta Legislature is very much up in the air.

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