Alberta Liberals need to go back to the future with Kevin Taft

Your blogger with Kevin Taft, back in the day before Dr. Taft adopted that silly buzz cut…

This column ran in today’s edition of the Saint City News.

Kevin Taft is proof there’s some truth to the old saw about nice guys finishing last.

Back in March 2008, when the former University of Alberta professor was leader of the Alberta Liberals and opinion polls said dissatisfaction with Premier Ed Stelmach had voters thinking seriously about their options, it almost looked as if the brass ring was within Dr. Taft’s grasp.

It was not to be. Maybe it was those union TV ads attacking the premier – for which the Liberals got the blame, even though they had nothing to do with them. Maybe it was Dr. Taft’s stumble about oilsands development rules, which made it sound as if he wanted to slow job creation. Maybe it was just the snow that fell the night before the polls opened.

Whatever it was, farmer Stelmach’s Progressive Conservatives snatched a huge majority from the jaws of something less, and nice-guy Taft did “the right thing” and stepped aside as Opposition leader while remaining an MLA.

But that was then and this is now. Premier Stelmach’s popularity didn’t last. On the contrary, it crumbled. The doubts among voters that opinion polls were tracking before the election kept growing, and Conservative popularity declined accordingly. Had the capable and intellectually nimble Dr. Taft remained at the helm of the Liberals, a strong case can be made many of these votes would have switched to his party.

Meanwhile, the Liberals’ choice of a replacement was less than stellar. David Swann, an environmentalist and Calgary physician, is a fine man – kind, decent and sympathetic. He is so nice a person that it is almost painful to state this truth, but he clearly lacks the instincts required to succeed as Opposition leader. Under his lacklustre leadership, one prominent Liberal MLA has quit to sit as an independent, reducing the party caucus in the Legislature to eight, while another has announced he’s departing soon to run for mayor of Calgary. Support that could have gone to the Liberals went elsewhere.

Elsewhere turned out to be the far-right Wildrose Alliance under the leadership of the engaging former journalist Danielle Smith. Of course, this could be either good news or bad news for the Liberals. Some of those potential Wildrose votes most certainly belong to electors who would have supported the Liberals if Dr. Taft had stuck around. On the other hand, many ridings, like St. Albert, have strong Liberal voting traditions, and if the vote on the right splits evenly enough it could hand many constituencies to the Liberals.

But for that to happen, the Liberals need a strong leader, and Dr. Swann is simply not that person.

Now, the conventional wisdom among almost everyone who follows Alberta politics is that the Liberals require a new face. But there’s hardly enough time for the Liberals to come up with someone completely new before Premier Stelmach calls an election – even if he waits, as promised, until March 2012.

Realistically, there is only one place for the Liberals to go for an effective leader, and that is back to the future: Kevin Taft.

Dr. Swann needs to follow the great Canadian political tradition of taking a walk in the snow – or the spring dandelions, as the case may be – to ponder stepping aside for the good of his party and our province.

He deserves an important and influential role in government. But that is something he can only have if the Liberals have a leader who can get enough of them elected to form a government – even if that means co-operating with the NDP. Right now, the only Liberal who fills that bill is Kevin Taft.

Nice guys don’t have to finish last every time. Sometimes history gives them a second chance. If history smiles on Dr. Taft, he has the opportunity to be something more than the best premier Alberta never had.

If it doesn’t, maybe we should start getting used to the sound of Premier Danielle Smith!

A version of this post also appears on Rabble.ca.

6 Comments on "Alberta Liberals need to go back to the future with Kevin Taft"

  1. Anonymous says:

    ALberta Liberal party is just a fringe party with what? 7 seats?. Not sure anyone pays them any attention.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The lib.er.al party will never die. The party of tolerance and open mindedness will always carry a significant portion of the electorate. And there are historical connection and voting links like 'franco-Albertans'.The Lib.er.al party will become the party in waiting after the Reform Alliance splits the urban vote and captures several seats in rural Alberta. I foresee major shifts in the QEII corridor- Lacombe, Sylvan, Ponoka, Airdrie, Didsbury, Olds. The corridor is becoming an area of suburban shift. Many young families are leaving the larger urban communities and moving to the corridor. Why does Eddie continue to talk about the high speed transit link in the corridor?

    Kevin Taft is not the answer. During the 2008 election an informal survey of fellow trade unionists, progressive thinkers and friends, labour relations network colleagues and general anecdotal evidence confirmed that a 'policy wonk' is not the answer. The lib.er.al voter needs a leader with magnetism, charm, a divine gift to inspire and lead. There are several individuals that meet the criteria.
    Lastly success will not be defined by looking backwards. It will be defined by leaping into the future.
    So my first suggestion. Democratic reform. The lib.er.al leadership should approach the new dippers and agree not to run a candidate in Glenora. The first step must be taken.
    David Eggen is a creative, credible progressive person who can and will represent the progressive spectrum of political principle.
    So let the games begin.

  3. workeradvocate says:

    The lib.er.al party will never die. The party of tolerance and open mindedness will always carry a significant portion of the electorate. And there are historical connections and voting links like 'franco-Albertans'.The Lib.er.al party will become the party in waiting after the Reform Alliance splits the urban vote and captures several seats in rural Alberta. I foresee major shifts in the QEII corridor- Lacombe, Sylvan, Ponoka, Airdrie, Didsbury, Olds. The corridor is becoming an area of suburban shift. Many young families are leaving the larger urban communities and moving to the corridor. Why does Eddie continue to talk about the high speed transit link in the corridor?

    Kevin Taft is not the answer. During the 2008 election an informal survey of fellow trade unionists, progressive thinkers and friends, labour relations network colleagues and general anecdotal evidence confirmed that a 'policy wonk' is not the answer. The lib.er.al voter needs a leader with magnetism, charm, a divine gift to inspire and lead. There are several individuals that meet the criteria.
    Lastly success will not be defined by looking backwards. It will be defined by leaping into the future.
    So my first suggestion. Democratic reform. The lib.er.al leadership should approach the new dippers and agree not to run a candidate in Glenora. The first step must be taken.
    David Eggen is a creative, credible progressive person who can and will represent the progressive spectrum of political principle.
    So let the games begin.

  4. NLAR says:

    I find it interesting that the ALP has almost paid off their debit, which will be gone by the next election. To me this indicates something, but what?

    As far as those union Ads are concerned I think everybody loves a scape goat in Alberta politics and given the Ads effectiveness as demonstrated by the P.C. extra expenditure from their election warchest it was a good target to try and demonize so that nobody did it again.

    If I was Swann I would focus on "the team" and why it is that they would be ready to govern. I hope after their convention this weekend that they come out with a decent policy plank

  5. Weslyn Mather says:

    I think Kevin is reaching even a higher potential in his existing role and is an outstanding asset to the caucus and party. David is getting stronger and stronger and has resources that Kevin did not have. Now that the debt is gone, I am sure there are plans to increase those resources. The convention die result in good policy and reinforcement of Liberal open mindedness.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Workeradvocate posits that the Libs should defer to David Eggen in Glenora. This is an example of political naivite in that this type of manouver would ruin Eggen's political credibility. Eggen is perhaps one of three or four natural politcos in Alberta. If he were to win a seat due to the third party not running then he would be forever tarnished as being unable to win on his own. There would also be genuine concern about his actual party affiliation. Lets help Eggen win by getting out and supporting his campaign by knocking on doors and making cold calls.

    Also, I am not sure how this helps the libs to deal with their leadership deficit.

    Libs = 7 MLA's – no leader

    NDP = 2 MLA's and three leaders

Comment