It’s hard to imagine the Alberta Liberal Party surviving the existential crisis of its past few days

Posted on March 31, 2017, 1:41 am
6 mins

PHOTOS: Is this the new face of the Alberta Liberal Party? Would-be candidate Jacob Huffman, photo grabbed from his Facebook account. Below: Candidates David Khan and Kerry Cundal, plus non-candidate Nolan Crouse.

About the kindest thing you can say about the Alberta Liberal Party right now is that it’s facing an existential crisis.

The day before yesterday the sole known candidate to lead the once-important party quit the race without explanation.

The deadline for nominations is 5 p.m. this afternoon. Up until St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse pulled the plug with a vague email, it wasn’t really expected any other serious candidates would surface. And actually, with only a single candidate, you couldn’t even properly call what was going on a race.

About all Mr. Crouse had to say was that “while many may wonder the reason(s) for this decision, the reasons will be kept private and I will provide ‘no comment’ as to these varied questions and associated speculation.”

With the apparently completely unexpected departure of Mr. Crouse, a party with a pedigree that includes large majorities in the early years of the 20th Century and a recent high-water mark of 32 seats under Laurence Decore in 1993 seems to have essentially imploded.

Whatever you think about Crouse, he’s an undeniably energetic retail politician and as such probably the best hope for a seemingly all-but-moribund political entity. But in less than 48 hours, thanks to Mr. Crouse’s unexplained last-minute withdrawal, the Alberta Liberals have gone from the spring of hope to the winter of despair.

The backstory: After spells under the leadership of such worthies as Principal Group executive Grant Mitchell, now a Senator, former Tory minister Nancy MacBeth, University of Alberta professor Kevin Taft (perhaps still the best premier Alberta never had) and Calgary physician David Swann, the Liberals have been on a pretty steady downhill slide.

Things really went sour for the party after former Progressive Conservative cabinet secretary Raj Sherman won an anyone-can-vote leadership contest in September 2011. The erratic Dr. Sherman had defeated two solid Liberal MLAs – Hugh MacDonald and Laurie Blakeman – either of whom could have found a way to keep the party alive, if not exactly thriving.

Having steered the party onto the rocks, and even briefly renamed it the Liberalberta Party, Dr. Sherman abandoned the helm in January 2015. He didn’t bother running for re-election that May in the election that would bring an NDP majority to power under Premier Rachel Notley.

Nowadays, Dr. Sherman is occasionally spotted tending the sick and the wounded in a couple of Edmonton hospital Emergency Rooms, a job that by all accounts the Edmonton physician is quite good at.

Dr. Swann returned as interim leader in 2015, emerging from the wreckage after the May 5 election as the party’s only MLA. At 67, though, he would very much like to retire at the end of his current term as MLA for Calgary-Mountain View.

The downward-trending Liberal seat count since the 1993 general election suggests a party in terminal decline: 18 in 1997 under Mr. Mitchell, seven in 2001 under Ms. MacBeth, 16 in 2004 under Dr. Taft, nine in 2008 under Dr. Taft, five in 2012 under Dr. Sherman and one in 2015 with Dr. Swann left holding Dr. Sherman’s medical bag.

Which brings us back to where we started. The party was badly shaken by the flighty flight of Mr. Crouse, in whom many supporters had invested high hopes.

After hints dropped on social media, a rumour surfaced yesterday that another St. Albert resident – former PC deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk – was about to run. Alas for the Liberals, it was not to be. Mr. Lukaszuk had denied everything by mid-day, noting, “there will be better opportunities.” (Viz., leadership of the Alberta Party, which Mr. Lukaszuk is also reputed to be interested in.)

Also yesterday, the CBC reported the party had confirmed “two last-minute candidates.” David Khan and Kerry Cundal, both human rights lawyers from Calgary and both former candidates, he provincial and she federal, were “vying” to enter the race, the CBC said. Vying? Dragged kicking and screaming, more like.

Not so long ago, at least, Mr. Khan was telling folks he liked his legal work too much to give it up to try to rebuild a foundering party.

And then there’s Jacob Huffman, whose Facebook page says he’s a University of Calgary student. Since “the only person running dropped out today,” Mr. Huffman Facebooked, “I’m for filling my democratic duty and running for leader of the Alberta liberal party.”

There’s only one problem: “I cannot afford to pay the fees required.”

Mr. Huffman’s enthusiasm notwithstanding, it’s hard to imagine the Alberta Liberal Party surviving the setbacks of the past few days.

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11 Comments to: It’s hard to imagine the Alberta Liberal Party surviving the existential crisis of its past few days

  1. Chris

    March 31st, 2017

    Was Ken Nicol that forgettable? He did serve as leader for 3 years between MacBeth and Taft.

    • David Climenhaga

      March 31st, 2017

      Not forgettable. I remember him well. Indeed, he had a pair of black cowboy boots I admired so much I had a similar pair made by the Alberta Boot Company! However, he didn’t contest an election while he was Liberal leader between 2001 and 2004, which is why I left him off the list, whether or not that was a good reason. Nor did Don Massey, briefly the interim leader after Mr. Nicol, left off for the same reason, which may be flawed, but I have to do something to control my natural tendency to prolixity! DJC

  2. Edwin Mundt

    March 31st, 2017

    Cundal was at the Alberta Party Calgary event last night. Threw money into the hat.

    • David Climenhaga

      March 31st, 2017

      Here’s the photo from the CBC story headed “Greg Clark pushes Alberta Party message over beers at pub night.” As readers will see, a smiling Ms. Cundal is clearly visible in the background.Greg Clark & Supporters

  3. David

    March 31st, 2017

    The Liberal party is struggling, but I think the small group remaining are die hards. The party may not be as relevant as it once was, but I suspect it will continue in some fashion.

    Like most parties, success significantly depends on having a good leader who also appeals to voters. Some of the leaders have been fairly competent, but not as appealing and some vice versa but seldom strong in both aspects and some strong in neither. It would also be helpful to have someone with elected experience and a profile in their community so they could at least have a good shot at electing one MLA so it is too bad for them that for whatever reason the Mayor of St. Albert decided not to run.

    I wouldn’t totally dismiss the capability of university students, after all one got elected as an MLA in the last provincial election and seems to be doing ok. However, going from student to party leader seems a stretch and perhaps more importantly is a sign that the party is currently having difficulty in finding leadership candidates with experience.

    In the 70’s and 80’s the Liberals were in the political wilderness for a long time. They are a hardly bunch and are used to political set backs. Perhaps they might be in the wilderness again for a while over the next several years, but I don’t think they will completely disappear.

    • Alfredo Louro

      March 31st, 2017

      If the Liberal Party can’t get anywhere with people like David Swann or Laurie Blakeman in their ranks, they have no hope.

  4. March 31st, 2017

    More than 1 NDP MLA was a student before getting elected. I can think of at least 4. The student – Mr. Huffman, has a very politically involved mum – in the PCAA.

    • Tauras

      July 22nd, 2017

      In the pcaa?

  5. Maryinga

    April 1st, 2017

    While this is an admittedly partisan take, I find it hard to imagine any Albertan of progressive inclination even considering voting in the next election for any party but the governing NDP.

    I remember David Swann almost begging people, at town halls I attended prior to the 2015 election, to ‘defeat this government’. As a very conscientious and engaged MLA, he likely knew better than most, the mess we were in as a province………and the degree of corruption that had developed over 44 years of one party rule.

    That citizens who want a prosperous future and who are political enough to be watching what the Notley government is actually doing, would consider putting energy into dividing the left just now….is hard to fathom.

    Yes. the Liberal brand is a tough one, and likely won’t go away…but for the immediate future, uniting whatever is meant by the left would seem the essence of smart politics.

    Please. Just say no to Kenny.

    • Val

      April 2nd, 2017

      can you be more specific about “what the Notley government is actually doing”
      positive enough for majority of voters, to re-elect them in 2019?

  6. brett

    April 2nd, 2017

    No more reason for this Party to exist. The Notley NDP has essentially taken their ground.

    The Notley NDP party has essentially become the Liberal Party of Alberta.

    I suspect many party members and potential leadership candidates have come to realize this.


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