Alternate Universe: 2012 effort to merge Alberta NDP and Liberals may have come closer than we thought

Posted on March 03, 2014, 1:09 am
8 mins

A poster we won’t be seeing any time soon! Below: Liberals Kent Hehr and Corey Hogan.

An effort to meld the Alberta New Democrats and the province’s Liberals into a single party may have come closer than many of us imagined in 2012, indeed it was “mind bogglingly close” one of the insiders from the Liberal side now says, but faltered fatally when Liberal Leader Raj Sherman realized he was unlikely to emerge as the leader of the new party.

Liberal participants in the talks say at one point the entire five-member Liberal caucus was willing to make the move to merge with the four-member NDP caucus in the Legislature if the new “Alberta Democratic Party” had emerged – even though the party would have looked more like the Alberta New Democrats than the Alberta Liberals.

“Raj was on board until he realized he wouldn’t be the leader,” said one Liberal insider.

Be that as it may, there were serious stumbling blocks on the NDP side as well. A key one was the demand by the Liberals pushing the proposed merger that a way must be found to ensure members of the new ADP did not also have to be members of the federal NDP, as is now the case with provincial NDP members.

Despite many similarities in their platforms over the years, this idea would have been a hard sell to many leaders and activists in both parties, each of which has its own traditions, positions and longstanding and at times deep distrust of the other.

The proposed merger agreement drafted by former Liberal party executive director Corey Hogan that was circulated among the leadership of both provincial parties would have allowed members of the new party who did not specifically opt out of membership in the federal NDP to continue to be part of a section of the federal party. Mr. Hogan, now a Calgary-based account director with the Hill & Knowlton PR company, has acknowledged he drafted the proposal.

Needless to say, the federal NDP might have had something to say about this particular idea.

The proposal also included a way for members of the Alberta Party and the Alberta Greens to join the new political entity with full voting rights by trading in their old party cards.

It would also have significantly altered the traditional NDP ban on members also holding memberships in other political parties.

In addition, it called for agreement by the Liberals to permanently dissolve their party under the terms of the Election Finances and Disclosures Act and under the Societies Act. Directors would also agree not to authorize the reregistration of the Liberal Party under that name.

This proposal would seem to tacitly acknowledge that even many Liberals recognize the Liberal brand is deeply damaged in Alberta and the orange banner may be a better way forward.

Talk in 2012 of the need to merge the two parties was associated with Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr, who in December that year wrote a “guest post” on Dave Cournoyer’s Daveberta.ca blog in which he called the Alberta NDP and Liberals “a distinction without a difference.”

In the post, Mr. Hehr argued that by joining forces, the Liberals, NDP, Alberta Party and Greens could at least hope to form the opposition, if not to topple the then-still-mighty PC government.

“What keeps us apart is rugged tribalism that leads to infighting between us and keeps our guns pointed squarely at each other instead of focusing our fire on the right-wing in this province,” Mr. Hehr wrote in that piece. “I’m putting down my gun, and am open to all conversations with no preconditions.”

“We need to figure out how we can come together in a big tent party,” he added. “Otherwise, we are wasting our time. It’s math.”

In February 2013, he began to acknowledge the idea wasn’t going to fly, telling the Calgary Herald “the various, I guess, fiefdoms have begun to dig in their heels in the sense this is a difficult and painful task, despite 70 to 80 per cent of our voters wanting to do it.”

Now, however, Mr. Hehr is not admitting he had anything to do with the effort – “I didn’t propose nothing!

Anyway, he told me last week, if you’re going to contemplate any change like that, it has to be done early in the ruling party’s mandate – “and that ship has sailed for this election.”

All progressive Alberta voters can or should do now is pick the progressive party they favour in their riding and vote for it, Mr. Hehr said. In other words, they should not be persuaded to vote for one conservative party or the other in the hopes it’ll somehow turn out to be the lesser of two evils.

Regardless of his role, however, in December 2012 Mr. Hehr was the target of a bizarre and strongly worded news release by the president of his own party, Todd Van Vliet.

“Liberal bylaws state that membership in the party is open to those who ‘subscribe to the principles, aims and objectives of the party,’” Mr. Van Vliet wrote in his Dec. 11, 2012, release, firing a shot across Mr. Hehr’s metaphorical bow. “Mr. Hehr, more than anyone, should understand that eliminating this party through a merger would not be within the objectives of the party.”

This would seem to lay the merger dream to rest – even if, as some NDP insiders feared, the Liberal MLA was trying to create the conditions for a “Hehr Nation” campaign to lead the new party, something he tried and failed to do in his short-lived 2010 campaign to contest the Calgary mayoral election.

Then again, who knows? New leadership will come to both parties one of these days, just as a new right-wing government may soon come to Alberta, and the pros and cons of “uniting the left” are bound to continue to provoke interest and argument in both Liberal and NDP circles.

I expect to be on the road a lot this week, so readers will forgive me, I hope, if I am slower than usual to post comments. This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

13 Comments to: Alternate Universe: 2012 effort to merge Alberta NDP and Liberals may have come closer than we thought

  1. Kashahi

    March 3rd, 2014

    You forgot that Brian Mason has been opposed to merger at every point of every discussion, David.

    It’s also sad you continue to Liberal-bash.

    And it’d be called the Democrats likely because most Albertans view themselves as Obama-styled Democrats. 57% of Albertans would have voted for Obama in 2012, according to this article in the National Post. I think you’ve drank the NDP koolaid for too long.

    Dr. K.

    Reply
  2. jerrymacgp

    March 3rd, 2014

    I want to challenge the assertion that the Liberals and NDP are close in ideology; they differ dramatically in a number of areas. For example, on bread and butter issues like the economy, jobs and taxation, Liberals have always campaigned from the left and governed from the right. In government, Liberals across the country, in every province as well as in Ottawa, have been just as free-market, corporatist, pro-free-trade, and unfriendly to workers as all flavours of Conservatives (PCs, HarperCons, Reformers, etc.). Of course, no one alive, as far as I know, has ever seen a Liberal government in Alberta (the last one fell in 1919), so we cannot be 100% certain of why an Alberta Liberal government would do in office, but across the country, and at the federal level, we do know.

    I will grant, however, that on non-economic, non-fiscal issues, there may be more common ground between the Liberals and the NDP; certainly, both parties want nothing to do with the social conservatism of that brand of the right. But voters first and foremost make their choices on bread and butter issues, and if they were to vote Liberal, they would not be voting for change, but for more of the same.

    It is for this reason that most (no, not all) card-carrying New Democrats oppose any truck or trade with the Liberals: they are nowhere nearly as “progressive” as the mainstream media (all of whom are incredibly corporatist and right-wing in their perspectives anyway) claim.

    Reply
  3. Trevor Zimmerman

    March 3rd, 2014

    Close? Really? Perhaps some history is needed:

    2008: ANDP convention overwhelmingly votes against electoral co-operation with the Liberals in the next election.
    2009: ditto, only the vote in opposition is larger.
    2011 Federal NDP Convention: the Alberta section of the NDP nearly votes as a block in favour of a resolution to rule out merger or electoral co-operation with the Liberals.
    2012: a resolution passes at ANDP provincial council calling not only to rule out electoral co-op for the next election, but always.

    Whoever thought this proposal would fly with the ANDP membership had been asleep at least since 2008.

    Reply
  4. Pogo

    March 3rd, 2014

    The whole conservative show pony has jumped the shark with the Ukraine thing. Now is the time for a leader from the left to act! In Alberta!!111 Oh…. Ok k ehh. Im get it. sorry. we’re just hosers eh.

    Reply
  5. Pogo

    March 3rd, 2014

    Brian Mason and the NDP dogma combined with the AUPE and UNA are what will destroy populist socialism.

    Reply
  6. Alvin Finkel

    March 3rd, 2014

    Jerry seems unaware that, as the Calder NDP indicated in a resolution at the 2012 provincial convention, the Alberta NDP ran on a provincial platform to the right of the Liberals on such key issues as taxation and tuition fees. He may also be unaware that NDP provincial governments can generally be accused of having campaigned on the left and governed on the right–Roy Romanow and Darrell Dexter and Bob Rae all ran governments that fit the bill. And a few provincial Liberal governments have been progressive, including the current one in Ontario which has tons of union support. As for the federal Liberals, they are responsible for most of our social legislation in Canada. Yes, most of this happened when they had minorities and were dependent on NDP support. But the Tories, when they were in the same position, have largely ignored the NDP. The point is that the Liberals and NDP, when they work together, have actually produced some decent programs. And in Alberta, if they can’t work together, all they will produce is continued flatulence.

    The Manitoba NDP offers a solution to the problem that the Liberals and NDP could not work out with regards to their federal parties. It separates provincial and federal membership completely and has done so for years. Larry Desjardins, who was Minister of Health (and a darned good one) in the Howard Pawley years, was openly a federal Liberal. The Manitoba leadership was pressing a friend of mine to run in the last provincial election with the possibility of a Cabinet position in the full knowledge that he was a provincial New Democrat and federal Liberal. If 4 of 5 provincial Liberals were willing to join the NDP caucus and that caucus was unwilling to have them because they did not want to be members of the federal NDP, something is very wrong in the strategic thinking of those who run the provincial NDP. It seems particularly ironic at a time when relations between the provincial NDP leader and the federal leader are, to say, the least, frosty. Mulcair had promised to campaign in our provincial election in 2012, but in the end, he was persona non grata and Olivia Chow performed the duty of showing the federal party flag. Brian Mason kept lambasting Mulcair for the latter’s completely defensible statements about Dutch disease.

    A Leger poll in today’s Journal shows that Wildrose is in front with about 38 percent of the vote. But the Tories are second with 25 percent. The Liberals have 16, NDP 15, and Alberta Party, 3 percent, that is they remain also rans. Days before the election in 2013, the Liberals and NDP had around 13 percent of the vote each in polls. That dropped below 10 percent on election day as many voters decided that they had to choose between the Tories and Wildrose. It will happen again in 2016 unless the 3 also-rans combine in a Coalition (or merge, which at this point, would make just as much sense since Brian Mason repeats ad nauseum that the NDP is now a centrist party, not a socialist party). The 34 percent that they now have together could rise to a clear majority when the 25 percent who prefer the Conservatives at the moment recognize that they have become the third horse in the race.

    But this is all too rational and won’t happen. The small group of people willing to be party members, whose views don’t match those of their parties’ voters, are determined to keep the Right in power forever in Alberta and unless others flock to those parties and overwhelm the grouplets who now run them, we are guaranteed to have right-wing governments in Alberta forever. In fact, the longer we perpetuate those right-wing governments, the less important an eventual win by a “left” party or set of parties will be because all of the family jewellery will have been sold off.

    Reply
  7. LiterateAlbertan

    March 4th, 2014

    I and every single person I know in the Education/journalism/writing/publishing world held our noses to vote for Redford contra Smith. Since then, we’ve been p–d on from a great height. With extreme prejudice. We weren’t expecting miracles, but this?
    The PCs, by wooing folks like me to a marriage of convenience and then dropping us like a stone after crossing the threshold, created an even (!) longer and deeper distrust than they realize. If this is the end it won’t be a short PC hiatus, it will be a Mulroney like debacle and the end of the party as it has existed.

    Reply
  8. Rod Olstad

    March 4th, 2014

    My understanding is that anyone who writes in to the Alberta NDP expressing support for political cooperation is being routinely ignored. Their letters and enquiries go unanswered.

    This is impolite at best and anti-democratic at worst. If a citizen is engaged enough to write a letter to the Alberta NDP about a particular policy proposal/direction, the democratic response is to encourage that person to join the Party to attempt to build support for their proposal. As it stands, anyone who brings this idea forward is treated as personae non grata. Case in point is my friend Alvin Finkel who was refused membership in the Party because of his support for tactical cooperation.

    I really wonder how is it that the Alberta NDP can squander the best intentions and efforts of citizens who are politically engaged enough to communicate with the Party to encourage political innovation and open dialogue?

    Reply
  9. Workeradvocate1913

    March 4th, 2014

    As an astute trade unionist once said, you can either be in the ‘candy store’ partaking in the handing out of the candy and even eating some of the candy yourself or you can stand on the sidewalk with your nose pressed against the window, observing, wishing and wanting!!

    Reply
  10. Stephen Anderson

    March 4th, 2014

    Interesting article, although having been very involved in working on cooperation there are a great deal of discrepancies.

    One thing I have noticed in my years involved with the NDP and running as a candidate, as well as trying to work with the Liberals to foster some sort of form of co-operation, is that there is often little discussion on real strategy needed to push forward policies (If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to attend both parties convention and see how useless they have become). Is it not being in a position to enact good policy the whole point of politics? Every election it seems it is the same old story, with the more or less the same old outcome. Am I the only progressive Albertan who realizes that both parties play into the PC’s hand time and time again. Every election both parties do the same old thing, perhaps with a change of colors or different slogans, but really it’s the same. How many times does it take to realize that if there is to be any real success, real change must take place, it is enacting good policy that matters and not flag waving tribalism, by the way the two tribe’s are getting almost to small to even have a POW WOW alone anymore:(

    I agree with LiterateAlbertan, As a school teacher I watched many of my colleague’s and even sadly family and friends buy into Redford’s message that it will be much worse with the Wildrose, now that the PC’s have once again showed their true colors, now would be a good time to capitalize on it by working together in some form, at least a change would happen, before there is no one left in the truly progressive tepee.

    P.S. I wish the PC’s would remember what the P stands for:(

    Reply
  11. Alvin Finkel

    March 4th, 2014

    Here’s a comment from Phil Burpee–Alberta rancher, author, and an NDP provincial candidate in 2008 (like Rod Olstad and Stephen Anderson who have contributed to this thread). Another person had commented that the behaviour of the Alberta Liberals and NDP reminded her of a Shakespearean tragedy. Phil, by contrast, was reminded of Gilbert and Sullivan.

    “For my military knowledge, though I’m plucky and adventury,
    Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
    But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
    I am the very model of a modern Major-General.”

    Well done indeed all those who have the ear of either media or the public on keeping this coalition precept afloat. The tin-pot, rubber ducky navies that bob around in the soupy brains of Messrs. Sherman and Mason expend their BB gun arsenals on one another while the mighty Battle Wagon of the Petro State trundles on oblivious.

    Party politics has value, but it is quickly undone when parochial brand identity subsumes historical trends. The Right coalesces with little fuss under corporatism, a co-opted State, and the dominance of wealth. The Left, having lost its anti-capitalist underpinnings, dithers grimly over nuance and political copyright. Pissing on forest fires.

    Reply
  12. Workeradvocate1913

    March 5th, 2014

    Too many people like being the big fish in a small sea!

    Reply
  13. April 7th, 2014

    This is why the Alberta Party was a great idea that unfortunately failed to launch. Let go of all the old baggage and start something new: a centrist, progressive party interested in good ideas. The barriers to merging the NDP and the Liberals are too high. With the right leadership the Alberta Party could still work.

    Reply

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