The Alberta Test Drive

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.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 ALP leadership race

About CalgaryGrit

A former Calgary Liberal, now living in Toronto. My writings on politics can be found at www.calgarygrit.ca and online at the National Post.

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