Alberta Party, provincial Liberals look to escape political wilderness

·3 min read

After spending the last year and half in the political wilderness, the Alberta Party and the Alberta Liberals are hoping leadership races in 2021 will help refocus attention on their platforms and set the stage for the next election.

The two parties lost their MLAs in the April 2019 election, meaning seats in the legislature are split between 63 for the governing United Conservative Part and 24 for the opposition NDP.

They are also without permanent leaders.

After three years as Liberal leader, David Khan announced his resignation last month. The Calgary lawyer left in order to pursue a new job opportunity.

Former Progressive Conservative MLA Jacquie Fenske has served as the Alberta Party interim leader following Stephen Mandel's resignation in June 2019.

Troy Wason, the Alberta Party interim executive director, said getting a new leader is the party's top priority for 2021 in order to be ready for the 2023 provincial election.

"It's imperative that the new leader get to have at least a year and a half to two years to make the party their own," he said.

Wason said the Alberta Party board is making final decisions on the details of the leadership contest. Fenske and party president Conrad Guay are already talking to potential candidates, he added.

The Alberta Liberals will appoint an interim leader early in 2021, said executive director Gwyneth Midgley.

While the details for the upcoming contest are being discussed at the board level, Midgley said the process won't likely start until the latter part of 2021, possibly even early 2022.

She said the early part of next year isn't a good time to launch a leadership race.

Codie McLachlan/The Canadian Press
Codie McLachlan/The Canadian Press

"I think we're heading into a difficult few months with COVID," Midgely said.

"I don't think anybody's particularly keen to do meet and greets with the leadership candidates,

"They won't be able to do it in person. And we all feel that face-to-face is very important when you want to vote for somebody."

Divisive political climate

Both Midgley and Wason feel there is room for their respective parties in the Alberta political landscape.

The UCP and NDP represent opposite sides of the political spectrum with observers having decried the bitter and divisive tone of the legislature and social discourse over the last two years.

Polls suggest the Alberta Party still has the support of about 9 to 10 per cent of the Alberta electorate, which Wason says is a good base to build on.

"You've got really a lot of potential going up," he said.

"Without a leader, without the legislature and we're still getting the message out."

Wason added the leadership race will bring attention back to the party and remind voters there is an alternative to the UCP and the NDP.

The Alberta Liberals have a higher hill to climb. The party has gradually lost MLAs with each election ever since its heyday in the 1990s under former leader Laurence Decore.

The retirement of David Swann, the party's former leader and long-term Calgary MLA, in 2019, the Liberals' inability to keep the seat, means the Liberals have no one in the house.

Still Midgely remains optimistic. The federal Liberals spent billions of dollars to help individuals, businesses and provincial governments weather the impact of COVID-19.

She thinks that may help her own party's prospects in Alberta.

"When people look at how the federal Liberal government has handled this pandemic and compare it to how the UCP has handled the pandemic here, they'll say, 'well Liberals actually can get things done.'"