Former Liberal MLA seeking Alberta Party nomination

Former Liberal MLA seeking Alberta Party nomination

A former Alberta Liberal MLA who hasn't held office for a decade wants to run in the next year's provincial election, but not for his old party.

Instead, Mo Elsalhy is seeking the Alberta Party nomination in Edmonton-South West.

"I just feel the Alberta Party has a lot of potential and a lot of opportunity in 2019, and I am hoping to put my energy where there might be an outcome," Elsalhy said in an interview Thursday with CBC News.

"I can run for the Liberals and go fight the good fight … but I don't want to see an effort, a group effort by many volunteers, go to waste."

Elsalhy was elected in Edmonton-McClung in 2004, when he unseated Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Mark Norris.

Out of office since 2008

He lost his seat to PC David Xiao in 2008, when the Tories under then-premier Ed Stelmach won 72  of 83 seats. In 2008, Elsalhy was a candidate in the Liberal leadership race to replace Kevin Taft, which was ultimately won by David Swann.

Elsalhy ran for the Liberals in 2012 but again lost to Xiao. Since then, he has stayed out of the public eye, running his pharmacy in southeast Edmonton.

But with the 2019 election just nine months away, Elsalhy wants to get back in the game. His children are older and he said he has the blessing of his wife. He is frustrated by the what he sees as the polarization of the UCP and NDP, and thinks the Alberta Party offers a centrist option that would be appealing to voters. 

Like many candidates attracted to the new party, Elsalhy was encouraged to run by party leader Stephen Mandel, who is running in Elsalhy's old riding of Edmonton-McClung. Elsahly called the former Edmonton mayor a good friend, and expressed admiration for his energy and drive to build the party. 

Current Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan was not available for an interview Thursday. A party spokesman said Khan was tied up with work at his legal practice and sent a written statement instead.

"Albertans are free to run as candidates for whatever political party they choose," the statement said. "That is what a democracy is all about. It even allows candidates to hop from one party to another.

"Mo Elsalhy has not been a Liberal MLA for more than 10 years, after serving just one term from 2004 to 2008. The Alberta Liberal Party is moving forward recruiting candidates for the next Alberta provincial election. We are preparing to run a full slate of 87 candidates when the writ is dropped."

Do Liberals need to rebrand?​

Elsalhy's switch can be read as yet another sign of the fading fortunes of the Alberta Liberal party. When Elsalhy was elected in 2004, the party was Alberta's Official Opposition, with 16 of 83 seats. Today, it has a single MLA in Swann, who represents Calgary-Mountain View.

Swann isn't running next year, so Khan is vying for his seat, where he will face NDP candidate Kathleen Ganley, the province's justice minister. The UCP candidate has yet to be nominated.

When Elsalhy was still involved with the Liberals, he led a committee that looked for ways to renew the party, which lost seven seats in the 2008 election.

Elsalhy said the report suggested looking at a possible merger with other parties but he said the findings were ignored by subsequent party leaders

"It was ignored because people are too proud," he said, noting that pride didn't stop Alberta conservatives from abandoning their affiliations with the former Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties to form the UCP.

"They need to decide — do we just cling on to a name that is not getting us anywhere? Or do we reinvent ourselves?"

Elsalhy isn't the only former MLA seeking an Alberta Party nomination. Former PC MLA Dave Quest, who lost to the NDP's Estefania Cortes-Vargas in 2015, wants to run for the Alberta Party in his old riding of Strathcona-Sherwood Park.