This Week in Alberta – Liberal Leadership

After a look at the PC leadership contenders last week, I turn to the Liberal field.

The last three Liberal leaders have all come from within caucus, so any conversation about the next leader should start there.

Despite initially musing about running for the Liberal or Alberta Party leadership, Laurie Blakeman is this contest’s first declared candidate. Blakeman is a polished and seasoned politician; she is probably the most “job ready” of the candidates, which is an important consideration with the next election around the corner. Blakeman would solidify the party’s base, especially in Edmonton, but does have a reputation for being a bit to the left, despite where she places the Liberal fruit in this video:

Former PEIslander and current mustache enthusiast Hugh MacDonald also appears likely to run. MacDonald would bring a lot to the table – he has 14 years of experience in the legislature, and spent 20 years in the petroleum industry prior to that. Although he sometimes gets carried away with his pet issues, MacDonald is likely the Liberal MLA most able to connect to average Albertans. Most importantly, he’s got fire in his belly and is fiercely Liberal, at a time when the troops need rallying.

Down in Calgary, Kent Hehr is the other name often mentioned as a possible candidate. I profiled Kent during his aborted run for mayor last summer. As I said then, the man is incredibly likable – he also strikes me as the caucus member most able to expand the Liberals beyond their base and cut down the Alberta Party in its tracks.

All three bring something to the table, but none of them jump out at you as a premier-in-waiting. And remember, for various reasons all three passed on the job three years ago.

So the real question is whether any outsiders will toss their hat into the ring. While you hate to throw a rookie in with the election a year away, a lot of Liberals will certainly be looking to shake up a party in need of a shake up.

To date, there hasn’t been a lot of chatter about potential “outsider” candidates. Rick Miller has reportedly said he won’t run. Dave Bronconnier, quite obviously, won’t. Likely Calgary Varsity candidate Bruce Payne sounds like a long shot. There are rumblings about Karyn Decore, but that’s probably just because of her last name.

So, with no obvious outsider candidate, who should jump in? Here’s my wish list:

1. Someone with passion and energy: The PCs have healthy riding associations across the province and a donation pipeline flowing steadily from big business. The Liberals do not. Because of this, the Liberal leader’s job description includes organizational tasks that will have him or her cris-crossing the province every week. They need someone willing and able to put the time in.

2. Someone who connects with Albertans: They don’t need to write a cheesy theme song or look good in a cowboy hat. But the Liberals need someone who’s able to relate to the problems facing Albertans.

3. A good communicator: Ed Stelmach could succeed despite being one of the worst communicators in modern political history because he was backed by a powerful political machine. With the Alberta media still suffering from Danielle-mania, the Liberals will need to fight to get their message out next campaign – they’ll need someone able to deliver a clear narrative and sound good doing it.

4. Someone with political smarts: Or at the very least, someone willing to take advice from people who know what they’re talking about. With the next election a year out, there’s not a lot of time to learn on the job and there’s very little room for mistakes.

5. Someone who can manage the ALP caucus and bring the party together: It’s no secret the ALP caucus is as dysfunctional as the Jersey Shore household. The last thing the party needs is another Dave Taylor situation. Throw in the defection of many long time volunteers to the Alberta Party, and the biggest challenge of the next leader may be motivating and uniting the party.

Does such a person exist? Beats me. Probably.

The more relevant question is if such a person is willing to take on the leadership of a party in turmoil, with an election just around the corner.

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 and online at the National Post.

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