Rebuilding a fledgling party

Greg Clark wants to fulfil Alberta Party’s promise

It’s a good thing the next provincial election is two years away because the Alberta Party is going to need that time. In five years the party went from the “next best thing” with a trajectory on par with the Wildrose Party to near death. In the 2012 provincial election the Wildrose Party garnered 34 per cent of the popular vote and the once exciting Alberta Party only 1.3 per cent despite running 37 candidates. What happened?

“Alison Redford happened” says Greg Clark the Alberta Party’s leader as of September 2013.

“I ran against Alison in Elbow in 2012 and given the way everything went in the last 10 days of that election if it hadn’t been my name on the ballot I might have voted PC” says Clark.

He says Redford’s relatively centrist political discourse combined with the Wildrose Party’s last-minute ultra-rightist scare (see Lake of Fire) was enough to get even disgruntled Albertans to hold their nose and hand the Tories their 12th majority government rather than take a risk on an unknown quantity.

Alberta Party president William Munsey agrees.

“A lot of people… kind of quietly abandoned us in the hope Alison Redford would be the panacea for what ailed the PCs” Munsey says. He also says the party just wasn’t ready to compete in the big ring: “We had a lot of bold ideas and I say we put them in the blender and they never came out as bold as they ought to have been.”

After the 2012 election then Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor stepped down and the party went into hibernation.

“We said we’re going to spend effectively nothing. Keep the lights on keep the website going… and also deciding what we’re going to be” says Clark. Now Clark says party supporters have redoubled their interest in the post-partisan party and things are looking up.

Clark says the party has raised about $50000 is getting more press coverage than a party with no elected MLAs probably deserves and has established a dozen constituency associations across the province. Still that’s a far cry from its goal to lead Alberta by 2020.

“We need to continue to work really hard every day to get ourselves on the political radar to make people become aware of who we are what we stand for what our values are…. I have to remind myself that it’s really only about 10 weeks since I became leader [and] it is going to take us a very long time to become an overnight success” he says.

The Alberta Party is still notable in its dedication to the post-partisan party ideal and yo public consultation. It created a buzz in 2010 when it merged with the Renew Alberta party suspended its policies and engaged in the Big Listen a provincewide process of kitchen table meetings with Albertans to determine what people want from government and translating that into a centrist non-political platform.

That doesn’t mean the other parties haven’t noticed. Today all parties promote at least the concept of grassroots consultation with the Tories holding public input sessions for almost every policy they have formed since the last election. Whether those sessions include a true cross-section of Albertans or whether the government absorbs the public’s ideas is debatable. Moderate politics is also in vogue at least on the left.

“Most Albertans are in the sensible centre” says Alberta Liberal Party Leader Raj Sherman echoing Clark’s assertion that there is “a great rush to the middle from all sides.” Albertans want good policy not ideology. Sherman says the PCs and Wildrose Party are too far to the right for most Albertans while the NDP is on the extreme left.

“We’re not on the left” he says of his Liberals.

Clark says he has enough experience with the Liberal party to respect its members maybe even want them to cross the floor to join the Alberta Party as former MLA Dave Taylor did in 2011 but he has no hope of them ever forming government.

“My first job out of university was working for [former Alberta Liberal leader] Laurence Decore in ’93 to ’96 in the provincial legislature in communications and I quickly realized that that was no way to make a living” Clark says. “Whether it’s fair or not the provincial Liberal party has not captured the imagination of the people of Alberta…. I haven’t seen a winning mentality within the party. I think the biggest fundamental difference between the Alberta Party and the Liberals — the word is ‘optimism.’”

Clark believes the Alberta Party is the only one that can tap into Albertans’ faith in the province’s potential and promote policy ideas that can make it better without pretending everything is terrible now.

“I don’t think we’re getting the leadership that we need but you know not everything is terrible” he says.