2011 ALP leadership race

The Alberta Test Drive

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No surprise, as Raj Sherman wins the Alberta Liberal leadership race on the first ballot:

Raj Sherman: 54% (4684 votes)
Hugh MacDonald: 26% (2239 votes)
Laurie Blakeman: 9% (854 votes)
Bill Harvey: 7% (626 votes)
Bruce Payne: 2% (197 votes)

As I wrote on Friday, this leadership race deserved watching, even outside Alberta, since it was the first in Canada to be run on a supporter system. The vote was open to all Liberal supporters, not just party members.

So how did the test drive go?

The number most will look at is 8,640 – the number of Albertans who voted, nearly double the total in the 2008 race. Of course, you take Sherman out of the equation and we’re back to 2008 levels. I have anecdotal evidence to suggest some supporters wouldn’t have taken out memberships, but if we’re being honest about it, the new system clearly didn’t lead to a stampede of interest in the Alberta grits.

What it did do was get the party contact information for 27,000 Albertans. Even if only a fraction take lawnsigns, volunteer, or donate money in the next election, that’s a win.

But the most telling number in this little primary experiment is probably 626 – the number of votes Bill Harvey collected. Whenever I pitch the supporter system to Ontario Liberals, their biggest concern is that right-wing special interest groups will take over the party. I never really understood this, since there’s nothing to stop them from paying $5 or $10 a head for memberships now. If anything, the primary system makes a takeover more difficult because it means more votes are needed to win. But the fear exists and, up until yesterday, there wasn’t a good case study to dispute it.

Harvey was endorsed by Craig Chandler’s PGIB group, yet he was a non-factor in this contest. If a sickly provincial Liberal Party had no problem fighting off a right-wing insurgency in Alberta, it seems clear the federal grits have little to fear from a supporter system.

No, this wouldn’t solve all that plagues the LPC, because a lot of problems plague the LPC. But the Alberta test-drive shows it works, with little downside.

This Week in Alberta – The Liberals Pick a Leader

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It will be a busy fall politically, with provincial elections in Ontario, Saskatchewan, PEI, Newfoundland, and Manitoba. Although we likely won’t see an Alberta vote until 2012, the province will get a new Premier, thanks to Ed Stelmach’s surprise resignation in January. The first round of voting takes place on September 17th, and assuming no one gets the coveted 50% + 1, the three finalists will square off in a steer wrassling contest on October 1st to determine the winner.

Alberta’s official opposition also finds itself in a leadership contest, with the winner being crowned tomorrow from the following list of candidates:

Laurie Blakeman: website, profile
Bill Harvey: website, profile
Hugh MacDonald: website, profile
Bruce Payne: website, profile
Raj Sherman: website, profile

The announcement likely won’t get a ton of media coverage – after all, if media reports are to be believed, former PC MLA Raj Sherman is heading for an easy first ballot victory. And let’s be honest, Alberta Liberal leadership contests usually turn out to be about as important in the scheme of things as Bloc Quebecois nomination meetings in Mount Royal.

But I’ll still be watching the results tomorrow with interest, for a few reasons:

1. Despite the high number of supporters Sherman signed up, it remains to be seen how many will actually vote and how many will actually vote for him. Wednesday’s bizarre tweet from Sherman only confirms this:

2. This is the first trial run of a primary-style “supporter system” in Canada, so politicos will be watching to see how many supporters actually take the time to vote. The Alberta Grits drew 4,500 votes when they picked a leader in 2008 – if they can triple that number, support for the system could pick up outside Alberta.

3. With Craig Chandler’s ultra-Conservative PGIB backing Bill Harvey, the supporter system is getting a real test on just how “takeover proof” it is. If Harvey wins or comes close to the top, federal grits wouldn’t dream of touching the system for at least a decade.

4. The ALP caucus is notorious for internal feuds, so it will be interesting to see whether or not the defeated candidates take their loss in stride. Hugh MacDonald has already raised doubts about the supporter list (without offering any proof) – if the defeated can’t rally behind the winner, they might all find themselves out of work a year from now.

5. Finally, although a Liberal victory in Alberta seems far fetched, fanciful, ridiculous, or any synonym of your choosing, with the divided right the Alberta Liberals will be relevant in the next election. Their level of relevancy remains to be seen, but in an unpredictable election that might very well result in a minority government, it would be foolish not to pay attention to a party almost certain to pick up 20% to 30% of the vote.

I can’t say I have a horse in this race. All five candidates bring their own unique set of skills and liabilities to the table. But I’ll certainly be watching the result with interest tomorrow.

ALP Leadership Candidate Profiles: Everyone Take a Step to the Right

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The Alberta Liberals will be selecting a new leader on September 10th, from among 5 candidates: Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald, Raj Sherman, Bruce Payne, and Bill Harvey.

Today, the final part of a series profiling the candidates. (Previously: Bruce Payne, Raj Sherman, Hugh MacDonald, Laurie Blakeman)


Background: Harvey was a Campaign Coordinator for Laurence Decore’s leadership bid in 1988, and dropped Decore’s name nine times in the open letter declaring his candidacy. So for those of you trying to design an ALP leadership debate drinking game, you’re welcome.

Harvey ran as a Liberal candidate in both the 2004 and 2008 elections, and made history the second time, becoming the first Liberal to be ever endorsed by Craig Chandler’s ultra-conservative PGIB group (for those unfamiliar with Chandler, here’s some delightful background about him).

In the real world, Harvey works in Calgary, in the Financial Services Industry.

Video: Harvey wasn’t a declared candidate at this May’s ALP convention, so I didn’t get a chance to interview him. However, you can view a video of Bill on his website.

Online: Harvey has the basics and a functional website, but has a modest online presence. Follow the links to see his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Can he win? Harvey is the biggest wild card in this contest – and that’s saying a lot about a leadership race that includes Raj Sherman. While Harvey’s PGIB connection may hurt him among some Liberals, it’s impossible to deny Chandler’s organization has the ability to sign up hundreds, if not thousands, of supporters in Calgary if they put their mind to it. I have no way of knowing if they’re heeding Craig’s call to support Harvey – after all, most PGIB members would sooner listen to “Friday” on repeat in the 5th corner of hell before being even remotely associated with the Liberal Party…but it would be presumptuous to rule out Harvey as an also-ran.

My Take: Harvey is the only candidate I haven’t met, so there’s only so much I can say about him. He does, however, appear to be a capable speaker from what I’ve seen online.

As you’ve no doubt figured out by now, Harvey has made no secret about his rightward leanings. Included in his policy platform is “creating a provincial police force, a freeze and review on bureaucracy spending, tossing corporate welfare programs, more charter schools, defending the oil and gas industry, and tough new child pornography laws”. Some of these are certainly valid proposals, but they’re not exactly the kinds of things you’ll hear from Laurie Blakeman’s platform.

So if you think the ALP needs to take a giant step to the right, Harvey is probably your man. Personally, I think the Alberta Liberals need to break the perception they’re a tax and spend party (when they’re clearly not), but Harvey’s PGIB connection and rhetoric worries me. That’s probably unfair to Bill – after all, he’s been an active supporter of the ALP for over 20 years and has been approved as a candidate by the party establishment twice. And perhaps a rightward shift is the only way the Liberals will ever form government.

But without knowing more about him, he’d most likely rank 5th on my phantom ballot.

ALP Leadership Candidate Profiles: Laurie 4 Leader

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The Alberta Liberals will be selecting a new leader on September 10th, from among 5 candidates: Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald, Raj Sherman, Bruce Payne, and Bill Harvey.

Today, the fourth part of a series profiling the candidates. (Previously: Bruce Payne, Raj Sherman, Hugh MacDonald)


Background: Like Hugh MacDonald, Blakeman has sat as a Liberal MLA since 1997, holding an impressive collection of portfolios. She has been a strong critic of the Tories, gaining prominence in 2004 when she asked Ralph Klein to provide travel receipts from recent trips and Ralph went off the rails, asking her over a dozen times if she was calling him a liar.

The former actress is still quite involved with arts and culture groups in Edmonton, and is married to city councillor Ben Henderson. She has been a strong proponent of encouraging women to get involved in politics.

Video: Clips from my interview with Laurie in May.

Online: Blakeman has gone as purple as can be on her website, trying to capitalize on Nenshi-mania. Although she only signed up for Twitter at the start of the contest (like most of the candidates), Blakeman has made an effort to engage Albertans online in the past, with a fairly active Facebook account and over 400 videos on her constituency YouTube channel.

Can she win? Blakeman has been around long enough to have a following inside the party, and she has no doubt been able to sign up a large number supporters from left-leaning organizations. However, I get the sense her support is concentrated in downtown Edmonton – the new rules giving ridings a maximum of 500 points in leadership contests will hurt her more than anyone else.

My Take: I do like Laurie – she’s a great MLA, and she fights passionately for issues that myself, and all Liberals, care deeply about. She is experienced, having served as Deputy Leader under both Kevin Taft and David Swann, and is the most polished candidate in this field.

All that said, I probably wouldn’t rank her above 3rd or 4th on my ballot if I were voting. Blakeman is just seen as too left-wing to appeal to voters outside Edmonton and the biggest opportunity for the Liberals right now is on their right, not their left.

For more on Laurie, you can read her answers to CalgaryLiberal’s candidate questionnaire here.

ALP Leadership Candidate Profiles: Hugh Can Do It

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The Alberta Liberals will be selecting a new leader on September 10th, from among 5 candidates: Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald, Raj Sherman, Bruce Payne, and Bill Harvey.

Today, the third part of a series profiling the candidates. (Previously: Bruce Payne, Raj Sherman)


Background: First elected in 1997, Hugh has been the Alberta Liberal Party’s Ted Kennedy in recent years – unabashedly Liberal and unafraid to speak out. As Hugh’s bio points out, he has a perfect legislature attendance record during this time period, something Jack Layton would no doubt be proud of.

Prior to entering politics, MacDonald worked in the oil and gas industry.

Video: My interview with Hugh from May.

Online: MacDonald’s online presence is relatively modest, with around 140 Twitter followers, 60 Facebook likes (and 580 friends), and a bare bones website.

Can he win? Early on I discounted MacDonald as a 4th or 5th place finisher in this contest, feeling he didn’t have the organization in place to sign up many new members. But people I’ve talked to have been impressed with his campaign, and I’d guess his supporters, the staunchest of Liberals, will be the most likely to vote.

He has establishment support from the likes of Nick Taylor, Ken Nicol, and Debby Carlson, and his fiercely Liberal reputation may appeal to members who are worried about an outsider coming in. I doubt he’ll win, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him as high as second.

My Take: I’ve never really visualized MacDonald as a future ALP leader. I’ve always found him a bit too “scandal-obsessed” and he has a tendency to go off on weird tangents – at May’s leadership forum, he made putting the constituency name on party membership forms his flagship leadership plank. Maybe it’s a good idea, but it’s not exactly “Yes We Can” stuff.

That said, the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of MacDonald as the leader. He is, hands down, the best speaker in this field, and a bushy haired Maritimer from the oil industry would help break the party’s “university professor” imagine. MacDonald would fire up party loyalists, and his soundbyte attack dog style could help the ALP earn back some of the headlines they’ve lost to the Wildrose.

This Week in Alberta: 27,000 Alberta Grits

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The membership cut-off in the Alberta Liberal leadership race has passed, with the party registering over 27,000 voters as part of its new primary leadership system. As I’ve said before, this race makes for a fascinating case-study for the federal Liberals, who will most likely be debating a similar system at their January convention.

The vast majority on the ALP list (85%+) are registered as supporters rather than members, and there are basically two ways of looking at this:

1. If you don’t like the primary system, you’d argue the party left $200,000 in fees on the table.

2. If you’re a fan, you’ll tout that the party now has an extra 20,000+ names they can contact for signs, to volunteer, and to donate money.

The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle – some of the new supporters would have paid their fee and some wouldn’t have signed up under the old system. The party had 5500 votes cast during its 2008 leadership campaign – I can’t remember how many memberships were sold, but it likely wasn’t much over 10,000. Sure, it was a different race with fewer candidates, but it’s hard to argue the primary system hasn’t opened the party up and led to more supporters.

Daveberta lists the riding-by-riding numbers, commenting that it’s largely an urban affair. True enough, but the ALP still has over 100 names in virtually every riding in the province. Take a riding like Bonnyville for example – 3 members and 98 supporters. Yeah, 100 Liberals isn’t great, but the party has gone from being completely non-existent to at least having a base they can work with. Even if they turn 9 of those 98 supporters into active volunteers, that’s a step in the right direction.

Of course, whether or not these new supporters actually vote won’t be known until the winner is crowned on September 10th. For those among the 27,000 still wanting to know more about the contenders, I’ll be finishing off my candidate profile series on Monday (MacDonald), Wednesday (Blakeman), and Friday (Harvey) next week.

ALP Leadership Candidate Profiles: The Doctor is in

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The Alberta Liberals will be selecting a new leader on September 10th, from among 5 candidates: Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald, Raj Sherman, Bruce Payne, and Bill Harvey. To vote, simply register here as an ALP supporter by August 19th.

Today, the second part of a series profiling the candidates (previously – Bruce Payne).


Background: Sherman moved to Canada from India at a young age, and has lived in Edmonton since the 1980s, attending the U of A and then staying to practice as an emergency room doctor. According to his rateMDs reviews, he was a pretty good one (one review states “McDreamy is an understatement“). Sherman took the plunge into elected politics in 2008, riding the Stelmach wave across Edmonton and taking back Edmonton-Meadowlark for the PCs.

So how did the good doctor go from PC backbencher to ALP leadership frontrunner in under a year? Well, it all comes down to his very own Kai Nagata moment last November, when he fired off a late night e-mail to his entire address book slamming the Stelmach government’s Health Care record. Suffice to say, that was it for Raj in the PCs, and his move to the Liberals was a natural fit.

Video: I didn’t have a chance to video interview Raj during May’s ALP convention, but I include a mash-up of Sherman clips from the all-candidates debate conducted that weekend:

Online: Sherman has a fairly standard website, 570 Facebook supporters, and 2000 followers to what is a mostly mundane Twitter feed.

Can he win? I’d peg Raj as the front runner. Despite being a newcomer to the ALP, he has federal Liberal connections and has signed up a slew of new supporters. The big question for Sherman is how successful he’ll be outside of Edmonton and how he’ll place on the preferential ballot – after all, with 5 strong candidates, it’s unlikely this one will be decided on the first ballot.

My Take: I worked with Raj on the Gerard Kennedy campaign in 2006, and he’s certainly a likable chap. However, as his departure from PC caucus and subsequent claims of corruption, bribery, and cover-ups in the Health Care system show, Sherman is a loose cannon, prone to firing off in any direction if he gets worked up about an issue.

That, coupled with his lack of political experience, makes him a huge risk. At the same time, there’s something to do said for the ALP taking a risk and going with the wild card. Sherman would bring a jolt of energy to a moribund party, and has credibility on the province’s number one issue. Although some feel his Health Care focus makes him too one-dimensional, I honestly think Sherman should try to make it a single issue campaign about Health Care if he wins.

The Liberals have been out of power and largely irrelevant for close to a century, so there’s something to be said for taking a chance and going all in on the doctor.

ALP Leadership Candidate Profiles: All Aboard the Payne Train!

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The Alberta Liberals will be selecting a new leader on September 10th, from among 5 candidates: Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald, Raj Sherman, Bruce Payne, and Bill Harvey. To vote, simply register here as an ALP supporter by August 19th.

Today, the first of a five part series profiling the candidates.

I’m not supporting anyone in this race but, in the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that Bruce Payne is advertising on this blog.


Background: Even if you follow Alberta politics, you’ve probably never heard of Bruce Payne. He’s never held elected office, though he is the nominated Liberal candidate in Calgary Varsity, a riding currently held by retiring MLA Harry Chase.

Born in Alberta and a carpenter by trade, Payne has been a labour leader for many years prior to entering politics.


Online: Payne’s website is at 87strong.ca. No, he’s not a Sidney Crosby fan – the “87” in this instance refers to his focus on building 87 strong Liberal riding associations across Alberta.

Putting the focus on an idea rather than the candidate is a risky move in any leadership contest. But I like it as a strategy here. Payne will likely draw most of his support from ridings where the party is weaker, so this gives him an opportunity to use the idea (87 strong ridings) to help define him to ALP members who have never met him.

Can he win? Payne is a complete unknown, but I think he stands as good a chance as any of winning. Payne’s involvement in the labour movement will translate to votes, and unless Bill Harvey mounts a strong campaign, Calgary and rural Alberta is Payne’s for the taking, while the other three candidates fight over a finite number of Edmonton Liberals.

My Take: Using a sports analogy, choosing between Payne and more established names like Blakeman and MacDonald is akin to choosing between the hot prospect or the more established veterans. Sure, the raw potential is there, but it might take time for him to fully develop, and he could flame out. From what I saw at May’s leadership forum in Calgary, Payne’s still needs to work on his public speaking – both in terms of substance and delivery.

But the potential is certainly there. Payne looks like a leader and has a very welcoming smile and “aww shucks” sort of attitude, that makes him quite likable. If I were casting a Liberal Premier of Alberta in some kind of alternate-reality sci-fi movie, I’d get an actor who looked just like Bruce Payne (James Brolin?).

As a former carpenter and pastor from small-town Alberta, Payne is certainly the best candidate to shatter the party’s “downtown elitist” imagine and expand its base. And hey, given it will take a miracle of biblical proportions to get the Liberals into power, going with a pastor carpenter might not be a bad move.

Craig Chandler Supports the Liberals

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This week’s sign of the apocalypse – an e-mail sent out today by Craig Chandler to all PGIB members:

From: “PGIB Head Office”
Date: Mon, 1 Aug 2011 11:33:02 -0600
To: Craig Chandler

ReplyTo: “PGIB Head Office”
Subject: A Serious Leadership Message For Albertans! – This Email Is URGENT In Nature – NOW

Seriously! This Is NOT A Joke!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dear Friends,

I know when you read the words above you almost had a heart attack and were scared, been there, done that. I actually threw up about the whole situation. Folks, you know me and I am as solidly small ‘c’ conservative as they come, thus, I am asking for your trust. After the initial shock of seeing a Progressive Group for Independent Business (PGIB) logo promoting that you take part in a Liberal leadership race and actually read this letter, you will understand.


However, the main reason for our letter to you is because we think we need to hedge our bets. With the Alberta Progressive Conservative and the Wildrose Alliance Parties splitting each others vote, this forces us to have a well thought out strategy for the upcoming election. If the wrong person becomes leader of the Alberta Liberal Party and the party manages to crawl up the middle and form government, we are in serious, serious trouble as a province!

That is why we are asking you to register to support Bill Harvey who is seeking to become leader of the Alberta Liberal Party. I know what you are thinking, but, keep reading as this is really, really important for the future of this province. You do not have to be a member of the Alberta Liberal Party to vote so this is a real opportunity for the movement.

Bill Harvey is a long time PGIB member and his views are Classical Liberal in flavour or as what we refer to in the modern day as small ‘c’ conservative. Bill Harvey’s policies of less government, lower taxes and political accountability are of the fiscally responsible Laurence Decore era. His view on eliminating Section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights Commission show that he values freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Bill Harvey’s policies on putting Alberta first with an Alberta Provincial Police force, controlling our own immigration to his promotion of a Triple E Senate and defense of our oil & gas industry show that he will be a defender of the west.

What is also refreshing about Bill Harvey is that he is NOT a federa l Liberal! How anyone could be supporter of a party that is the enemy of this province is beyond me?

For those not familiar with Alberta politics, Craig Chandler is a colourful fellow who does things like organize fundraisers where you can shoot your gun at Liberal logos. In 2007, he was stripped of his PC nomination in Calgary Egmont in response to comments where he basically said Albertans should either “adapt” and vote Conservative, or leave the province. You can read a good recap of that saga here. These days, Craig runs the PGIB – the Progressive Group of Independent Business who are basically against everything progressive.

Well, it appears Craig himself has adapted, and is now supporting the Liberals and urging PGIB members to do likewise, in a bid to elect Bill Harvey ALP leader.

We’ll find out in September how effective they’ve been, but this will make for an excellent case study in the impact of the primary system. As you’ll recall, the ALP opened their doors to all Albertans in May, switching to a system where you didn’t need a party membership to vote for the leader, or nominate candidates.

Many federal Liberals have been musing about this idea, and it seems likely the question will come to a vote at the January convention. I’m a huge proponent of open primaries, but detractors almost all point to the potential for takeover from right wing groups as the downside. If Harvey wins in Alberta or comes close, that would pretty much kill the idea of a primary system federally. However, if an organizationally weak Alberta Liberal Party can withstand the PGIB assault in Conservative heartland, it would be a clear sign that the federal Liberals have nothing to fear from opening their doors to all Canadians.

Today in Totally Useless Polling

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Alberta PC Leadership Race, 2011 ALP leadership race | Leave a comment

The Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald have released polling information on the Alberta PC and Alberta Liberal leadership races, giving us valuable information about who is winning…among people who will not vote in the contest.

First, the numbers:


Mar 12%
Morton 8%
Redford 6%
Orman 4.7%
Horner 4.7%
Griffiths 1.5%


Sherman 9%
Blakeman 6.5%
MacDonald 5.4%
Harvey 2.6%
Payne 2.1%

While this is all very interesting, the reality is only 3% of Albertans voted in the last PC leadership race (which, in fairness, isn’t much below the province’s voter turnout rate in recent elections). For the Liberals? The number is 0.2%, and that’s only because I rounded it up.

So, of the 900 people who took part in this survey, there are probably under 30 who will vote in the PC race…and maybe 1 who will take the time to vote for a new Grit boss.

That’s not to say we should completely ignore what the general public thinks. After all, despite what some recent decisions might lead you to believe, most parties try to pick leaders who will appeal to the public at large. So a survey measuring how familiar voters are with the candidates and what they think of them isn’t a complete waste of space.

But there’s absolutely zero benefit in using something like this to try and figure out who is leading.

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