After the Big Zero, the Alberta Party awaits the Big Goodbye

Your blogger with Dave Taylor, back in 2010. Below: Glenn Taylor, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Chima Nkemdirim.

While it’s true former Alberta Party MLA Dave Taylor never crossed a bridge he couldn’t burn, the political experiment he was part of is likely finished all on its own without his incendiary assistance.

Alberta Party adherents saw their party as a bold experiment in centrist policy making, conceived in hope and steeped in coffee, that was careful to take its time to listen to everyone.

It’s not nearly so clear Mr. Taylor, a former talk radio host with an overpowering voice, ever listened very hard to anyone. He was always an awkward fit for the idealistic Alberta Party – ending up in its ranks more because he was accidentally available while conveniently the owner of a seat in the Alberta Legislature than because he shared the party’s commitment to paying attention.

Either way, Mr. Taylor will likely go down in history as the party’s only MLA.

As for the party – which began its coruscating trajectory across the Alberta political firmament with an exercise in home coffee and policy-building meetings in 2010 that it called “The Big Listen” and pretty much ended it on Saturday with a party for supporters in Edmonton it dubbed “The Big Thank You” – it is surely only weeks away from “The Big Goodbye.”

The reason is simple: whether or not it could have if it had done things very differently, the Alberta Party failed to capture the imagination of Alberta voters and, on April 23 this year, its total seat tally in the provincial general election added up to a Big Zero. While it’s message captivated Alberta’s chattering classes, its presence never polled above the single digits with Alberta voters.

For those Alberta Party supporters who say, “We’re not dead yet,” we can only borrow a line from Monty Python and respond, “You’ll be stone dead in a moment! … You’re not fooling anyone, you know…”

Mr. Taylor’s latest bridge burning took the form of a harshly worded website commentary last week that said the party might as well just give up. He wrote: “We need a good, honest, adult conversation about whether there is a place or a purpose for the Alberta Party in Alison Redford’s Alberta.” His proposition, disputed by some, was that “the Alberta Party’s values are now the Redford PC Government’s values. They stand for everything we stand for – and they’re in power. Who needs us?”

Ms. Redford, he added, “would have made an ideal Alberta Party member.”

After complaining that the party’s adherents wanted Saturday’s “shindig to be sunshine and lollipops, rainbows and puppies,” Mr. Taylor rambled a little before announcing he wouldn’t be there anyway, having more pressing business in Seattle.

Well, he spoke the truth, sure enough, though it might have been more diplomatic to leave it to the blogosphere to write finis on the Alberta Party’s efforts. But then, notwithstanding the genteel sensibilities of his party, that was never Mr. Taylor’s style.

Mr. Taylor was elected as MLA for Calgary-Currie in 2004 as an Alberta Liberal. After the Liberals’ loss of seven seats in the 2008 Alberta election, which for a tantalizing moment before the vote the Liberals had seemed like possible winners, leader Kevin Taft resigned. Mr. Taylor then ran for the Liberal leadership and lost to Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann.

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it’s safe to say Mr. Taylor would have been a more effective Liberal leader than Dr. Swann – who was a fine and thoughtful person but almost totally lacking in charisma or any clue about how to lead the party, which was then the official Opposition.

But Mr. Taylor didn’t have the patience to wait for Dr. Swann to give up the political ghost, and in April 2010 exploded in frustration with Dr. Swann’s leadership and stormed off to sit as an Independent, the bridge to the Liberals aflame behind him. (As a result, Mr. Taylor wasn’t available when Dr. Swann quit in 2011, one of the factors resulting in the election of former Tory Raj Sherman as Liberal leader a year ago.)

In January 2011, Mr. Taylor joined the Alberta Party, becoming its only MLA, rather halfheartedly proclaiming, “I can be very comfortable with these people.” But he could also read the handwriting on the wall, and chose not to seek re-election in 2012.

Mr. Taylor was not the only mistake made by the Alberta Party, or even the only one named Taylor.

At a party convention in May 2011, delegates elected Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor as leader. As a successful municipal politician, the former New Democrat and elected union official looked like just what the doctor ordered for the Alberta Party, a real campaigner who understood the nitty-gritty of electoral politics.

But from Day 1, the leadership of Glenn Taylor (no relation to Dave Taylor) was strangely disengaged. He didn’t even give up his day job as Hinton Mayor until January 2012. When the election finally came in April, he couldn’t carry the huge but sparsely populated riding in which Hinton is the principal town.

Before that, in October 2010, the party also lost its most promising and engaging potential leaders when Naheed Nenshi was elected mayor of Calgary. In addition to Mr. Nenshi himself, identified as an early supporter of the party, it cost the party Calgary lawyer Chima Nkemdirim, who instead of running for leader as many had hoped left to become Mr. Nenshi’s chief of staff.

But as Dave Taylor observed, the coup de grace was the election a year later of Ms. Redford as leader of the Progressive Conservatives. Ms. Redford’s success, as was observed in this space in December 2011, “moved the governing Progressive Conservative Party into precisely the political space the Alberta Party was created to occupy.”

Nor did it help that the far-right Wildrose Party – now the Opposition in the Legislature – polled so well in the weeks leading up to the April 23 election that potential Alberta Party supporters were driven to vote strategically for Ms. Redford’s apparently still faintly Progressive Conservatives.

Now Mr. Taylor has recognized that fact as well, and even if it takes other supporters of the Alberta Party a little longer, it is hard to imagine that the party is not finished.

That said, the party’s excellent name – once owned by fringe parties of the far right and later the environmental movement – remains a viable commodity, so it is likely to enjoy a lingering half life, still capable for a time of fogging film if not actually appearing in sharp focus.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

9 Comments on "After the Big Zero, the Alberta Party awaits the Big Goodbye"

  1. Lou Arab says:

    Glenn Taylor did better running in West Yellowhead for the NDP in 1997 than he did under the Alberta Party banner. He should come home – he might actually get a seat in the Legislature.

  2. drbarry says:

    Sadly I agree entirely with both Dave Taylor's comments and yours David. It was a grand political experiment but a failed one. Not a single seat won. That fact speaks for itself and all the hand wringing in the world won't change the outcome of the election.

  3. Gerard MacLellan says:

    David, you are a fine writer and I truly enjoy most of your posts but I have to say I find your comments on the Alberta Party quite curious.

    Right from the get-go you were very critical of the effort and more than a little condescending. This I find odd from someone who clearly is no fan either the PCs or the Wildrose.

    As you know David, neither your beloved NDs nor the eternally floundering Liberals likely stand a chance of hitting the double-digit seat count again, ever. The Alberta Party was and hopefully still is a genuine alternative.
    It is very true that the PCs have temporarily saved themselves from the inevitable dust bid, although, as we saw in the spring, Albertans are restless and looking for a place to vote that is not the same forty-year ruling party. If it were not for a few poorly timed comments about "lakes of fire" and ridiculous denials of global warming etc (and by ill timed I mean perfectly timed :) )
    we would have Danielle and her team as our elected leaders (shudder).

    It is no surprise that the AB Party did not win seats in this election. The renewed party is so very new and these things take time, especially in the current environment where the spotlight has been on the PCs with their latest reincarnation as well as the Wildrose who are still quite likely a possible government-in-waiting.

    My point is I think you do the province a disservice by slagging the AB Party. We need more and better options than we currently have. The party may still be a significant part of our future. One that is less ideological than traditional parties. True prospects look tough at the moment but things chance quickly. Imagine for example if in a few years one current Calgary Mayor decides to make a switch to provincial politics. Nenshi or other high calibre contenders would likely prefer a party with a fresh start and a brand that will not forever limit them to small-opposition status like the Libs and NDs.

    Looking to the future, it would be beneficial for the Aberta Party to hang in there. Glenn Taylor has actually done a fine job despite the slow start. There are times to blame a leader but this isn't one of them.

    It won't be easy and it might not work, but here's hoping it does, because it should. There are hundreds of thousands of Albertans who will someday soon decide the PCs have had their turn and, respectfully, I believe the province would be better off with a moderate and progressive option as opposed to one currently offered by the Wildrose.

  4. Ronmac says:

    All political parties these days pretty much see themselves as a "bold experiment in centrist policy making."

    Not too many years ago the federal libs were the living embodiment of it. I would call Obama the "Great Centrist."

    Maybe the Alberta Party should a ran on a platform of banning chuck wagon races.

  5. Tradesguy says:

    Dave Taylor was caught up in the long term malaise in the Liberals created by Kevin Taft and Laurie Blakeman. These two knifed the previous leader before Taft mercilessly and contrived to limit organization so their positions and leg sinecures would be secure. In Taft's tenure, conventions were kept to below 150 hand-picked members and there were few accountability measures.

    Outside forces, especially the Alberta Building Trades, and King Ralph's arrogance helped Taft/Blakeman do well in 2004 and this also brought in Dave Taylor and David Swann. Taft squandered the opportunity and a lacklustre Ed Stelmach still wiped the floor with him in 2008.

    Taylor stuck it out for this second election but it was clear that if he was to do anything constructive in growing the center left it would have to be after Taft.

    Swann was always a Taft sycophant with a core of idealistic green supporters who gave him the leadership. Taylor left after years of frustration of dealing with a leadership that always should have done much better but was satisfied with not organizing.

  6. Mark McCourt says:

    The Alberta Party’s name is as excellent as the Liberal Party’s name is toxic in our province. The two parties should merge under the excellent name without further delay, and the leader of the new, merged party probably should not be named Taylor or Sherman (although Blakeman has a nice ring to it).

  7. Ivan Bromke says:

    "Maybe the Alberta Party should a ran on a platform of banning chuck wagon races." — Ronmac

    Perhaps they should have. That would at least have been taking a stand on an issue, rather than mouthing platitudes.

    Their platform was vapid, vacant and platitudinous. What did it mean when they said "We will develop policy with meaningful citizen engagement and transform the role of MLAs to ensure that they are connected to their constituents" or "Stronger communities are the key to a better quality of life for our families, including our children and our seniors?"

    Basically their policy platform document looked like it was woven out of blandishments.

  8. Berry Farmer says:

    David,

    Thanks for your comments. What I found curious about Dave Taylor's post was his intimation about the Alberta Party not having the courage to ask the question of our relevance. We have never shied away from rigorous and open debates. The problem for Dave Taylor is that he never joined them or really got to know many of us. His lot (it always seemed to me) was more important than rubbing shoulders with us Alberta Partiers at the bottom of the pile.

    Well, Dave Taylor is right about the Alberta Party needing to address the very disappointing results. We started doing that on Saturday and Sunday. But many of us to began the (new version) of the party, still see opportunities. The Liberals lost 100,000 votes. The PCs won support out of fear of extremism and will take their win to a total of 45 years of majority. Sure… Alison Redford is a more progressive leader than we have seen in this province for many years, and that gives many people great hope. If, however, she cannot become 'all the things she points at' the Alberta Party may yet have life in it.

    That life may have to take on a new direction and look for different ways to capture the imagination of Albertans… but let's be honest, David… the Alberta Liberal Party hasn't captured anyone's imagination for nearly 100 years (head nod to Laurence Decore), and this province is very unlikely to cause a provincial orange wave. The Wildrose, I believe has shown itself as an undesirable option… and unless it undergoes huge change and moderation, it will never challenge the progressive heart of Albertans.

    We boast a great name. We're willing to address tough questions. We've just suffered serious disappointment… but we're not giving up just yet. We sure wouldn't be worth much if we did.

  9. Sam Gunsch says:

    @Ivan Bromke said…

    Their platform was vapid, vacant and platitudinous. What did it mean when they said "We will develop policy with meaningful citizen engagement and transform the role of MLAs to ensure that they are connected to their constituents"

    1. wow…committing to 'meaningful citizen engagement' has no meaning to you?

    2) And if I recall correctly Preston Manning had a little bit of success with this aspect of the Reform platform: "…transform the role of MLAs to ensure that they are connected to their constituents…"

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