For the Alberta Liberal Party, no news is probably bad news. 

Yesterday afternoon at 5 p.m. nominations closed for the party that not long ago could be seriously called Alberta’s government in waiting.

David Khan, left, and David Swann, the Alberta Liberals’ last two leaders (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

As far as anyone could tell when the clock struck midnight, no candidate had stepped forward to lead the Alberta Liberals.

Maybe it was the $6,000 nomination fee, $4,000 of which was not refundable. That was a lot less than it cost to get into the United Conservative Party leadership race, sure, but you have to admit the stakes are quite a bit lower. 

Whatever the reason, surely this suggests the sun has set on the first Alberta political party to form a government, in 1905, the year this place became a province. 

The Liberals remained in power until 1921, 101 years ago, when the United Farmers of Alberta formed government. 

Former leader Kevin Taft contemplates events at the 2011 Liberal leadership vote (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

And while there hasn’t been a Liberal government in Alberta since that year, Liberals knocked at the door of the Legislature in 1993. Led by former Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore, they captured 32 seats to 51 for the Progressive Conservatives led by Ralph Klein. 

Liberals formed Alberta’s Official Opposition from ’93 to 2012.

They certainly still looked like a credible political party in 1997 under Grant Mitchell, later a member of the Canadian Senate, and in 2004 under the scholarly Kevin Taft.

Dr. Taft was replaced by physician and environmentalist David Swann, who served from December 2008 to September 2011. 

The serious decline of the Liberals began in 2011 when the party executive made the disastrous error of allowing non-party members to vote in its leadership election with the catastrophic result that former PC MLA Raj Sherman was chosen. 

Raj Sherman in 2011 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The mercurial Dr. Sherman, by all accounts a fine Emergency Room physician, led the party into the wilderness, where it has remained. 

When Dr. Sherman recently tried to run to replace Alberta Premier Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party, the UCP sent him packing – among the few sensible things they’ve done this summer!

Two capable and experienced Liberal MLAs, Laurie Blakeman and Hugh MacDonald were passed over by the voters in the 2011 Liberal leadership election. Had either been chosen on Sept. 10 that year, the Liberals would probably still be a going concern. 

After Dr. Sherman resigned in April 2012, Dr. Swann returned as interim leader. He was the last Liberal to sit in the Alberta Legislature. 

MLA Laurie Blakeman, the woman who could have saved the Alberta Liberals but didn’t get the chance (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Environmental lawyer David Khan, pressed into service into service during a similar leadership crisis in 2017, managed to keep the red flag flying, as it were, without a seat in the Legislature. In 2020, he moved on.

Around 9 p.m. last night, political blogger Dave Cournoyer tweeted that there was no sign the Alberta Liberals had accepted any nominations for leader. 

“The party has removed the ‘Leadership’ section from its website drop down menu,” he noted. “No public statements yet.”

So it seems likely the best hope they have now is to find a temporary leader willing to try to keep the flame flickering a little longer. 

Perhaps John Roggeveen, who has been fulfilling that role since Mr. Khan quit to work for Ecojustice Canada, can be persuaded to hang on a little longer. Perhaps not. 


MLA Hugh MacDonald, the man who could have done the same thing and also didn’t get the chance (Photo: David J. Climenhaga). 

As Mr. Cournoyer pointed out in a post yesterday, like Mr. Khan, his challenger for the leadership in 2017, another Calgary lawyer named Kerry Cundal, is likewise no longer available. She’s been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate in Calgary Elbow. 

Political parties can survive a beating in a general election, or even several general elections in a row. 

As long as they have a core of believers willing to put some sweat equity and a significant amount of cash into their party, they can have a future despite a dearth of seats in the Legislature. 

In the 1993 election, the Alberta NDP was shut out of the Legislature. Between 1997 and 2012 the NDP never had more than four MLAs, although those four worked hard. Yet in 2015, the NDP formed a majority government. It’s the Opposition today and is within striking distance of another term in power. 

So political parties can come back from the brink. 

But not if no one is willing to lead them. 

It sure seems as if Alberta’s Liberals are done like dinner.

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11 Comments

  1. The absence of a centrist political party in Alberta is a disturbing trend that appears to be the norm elsewhere. It’s disturbing for Alberta because it appears that the UCP has decided to become completely insane (Rather than just going off half-cocked most of the time) while the NDP appears to have shunned anything resembling the social-democratic tradition. (Btw, when socialism works, it works magnificently and improves everything.)

    The potential for an authentic centrist partisan option is going to fall on that inflatable weird toy called the Alberta Party, which has been more of a point of deflection than anything resembling anything that has any intention of presenting itself as a valid and credible option for voters. There’s no good reason for the ALP to perish while the AP is even permitted to exist.

  2. I really think the “Liberal” brand is too badly damaged by Oilberduh prejudice to come back. There’s too much fossilized hatred for “Liberals” in Ottawa that carries over to the provincial party. “Trudeau” is a curse word for too many people here, although–thankfully–you hardly ever hear anymore about the infamous National Energy Program. (Cue Con trolls and ominous music….)

    No, if there’s a space for another center-right party in Oilberduh, it’ll have to be under a different label. Best to reorganize the dregs of the old Liberal Party of Alberta and settle in for the long journey back to relevance.

    Or, since Notley’s party is right of center despite the name (and despite all the howling and gnashing of Con-troll teeth about “socialists”)–well, maybe the Liberals who remain should just walk away and support Notley for a couple of years. Defeating the UCP is more important than reminiscing about Liberal Party glory days…if any.

  3. The NDP are the only former party in power that still exists. Social Credit, Progressive Conservative, United Farmers and now Liberals. That says something about Alberta. And about the NDP.

  4. The fundraising numbers tell the tale. They struggle to raise any money & have not been not able to run full slates of candidates in Alberta’s most recent elections. They should either silently fold up their tents & fade away, or begin serious merger talks with the Alberta Party.

  5. To me this seems like good news. The provincial Liberal party in Alberta has been a rump party for a while now. Rump as in fringe. They should probably just fold their tent and do the NDP a favour.

    How many Albertans wasted their votes on these hopeless fringe parties in the last provincial election? Whatever that number is, it was enough to give the UCP a majority. That’s bad.

    There should only be two choices next May: Fascist UCP, or Social democrats NDP. You are either for us or against us. Stop wasting your votes on parties that have no chance of winning and leading Alberta.

    Albertans don’t have the luxury of boutique -type parties. The next election will decide whether we hold on to our public healthcare or we adopt a private system where only rich people get care. Old Albertans who support the Conservative/UCP/Wildrose parties should decide if they want to spend their life savings on medical care or whether they want to keep benefiting from public/socialized health care.

  6. It reminds me of the Social Credit Party when some of their former MLAs told me, that it was Peter Lougheed who destroyed their party. I still remember the statement “How can you be in opposition to Peter Lougheed when you agree with everything he is doing”. At least these were real men who were willing to admit Lougheed was doing a great job and not some idiotic Reformers making up some stupid comments to bash him, like we are seeing today. The stupidity they display is sickening. Watching Danielle Smith treating her senior supporters like morons and them letting her do it reminds me of Ralph Klein. I guess you could call them both great con-artists, because that what they are, but when your audiences are this stupid it makes it really easy. The Ralph Klein I knew lived to do it. I still recall some of his saying “I could tell these idiots anything and they would believe it”, and “Albertans aren’t smart enough to understand our plans for health care reform so we aren’t going to tell you what they are”. I think the last one was the one that got him kicked out. He should have been kicked out a lot sooner and members of his own family would agree.

  7. It will definitely be a very interesting provincial election in Alberta, in 2023. Fools have a habit of returning to their own folly, and there still will be Albertans who will justify voting for the pretend conservatives and Reformers in the UCP, despite the major damage they have done in just 4 years. Prior to the next provincial election in Alberta, it will be interesting to see who is chosen as the new leader of the UCP.

  8. Perhaps they can take out a leader wanted ad in the Edmonton Journal or the Calgary Herald, but I am not sure that would help. Their best bet is if the interim leader could be persuaded to stay on longer or someone else could be persuaded to be interim leader. Probably reducing the fee to a more nominal amount could help too.

    Parties do ebb and flow in Alberta. Social Credit is gone in name, but the United Farmers of Alberta who governed after the Liberals and before the Social Credit live on. You can’t vote for them any more, but you can get farm supplies and gas from their stores in rural Alberta. With the price of gas these days, perhaps that was a more lucrative decision.

    Conservatives languished for most of Alberta’s first half of its provincial history and then the PC’s governed for much of its second half. So, you never know, parties can revive after a long hibernation. However, it does not seem to be the time for the Alberta Liberals and one wonders if it ever will be again.

    Will they just end with a whimper, unable to find any willing or credible leader? They were lucky to have the well off and persistent Nick Taylor to lead them through the long drought for them in the 70’s and 80’s and for a popular Edmonton mayor to then take over as they started to revive. However, lately their leadership luck has not been as good.

    It does matter who parties choose to lead them, sometimes even more than they realize, it can be existential. For instance, if the PC’s chose Mar instead of Redford, they might still be in power today. Sometimes they choose wisely, sometimes not.

  9. David, you have written a compelling argument about what the Liberal Party did to bring on their own demise. I think it is ironic that allowing everyone (ie non-members) to vote in the 2011 leadership race led to the demise of the Alberta Liberal Party, when allowing non-members to vote in the upcoming CPC & UCP leadership races could prevent those two parties from selecting a leader that will surely lead them to oblivion.

    Another element that has to be considered when thinking about the demise of the ALP is the emergence of Rachel Notley. I consider myself a progressive voter; as such, for years I bounced between Liberal and ND candidates, trying to choose the one with the best chance of prevailing over the PC candidate. I know I am not the only one, as we saw the emergence of websites like Alvin Finkel’s Change Alberta, that attempted to determine which candidate, Liberal or NDP, had the best chance of winning in each individual riding. Rachel Notley took away that uncertainty, and progressives flocked to the NDP.

    In other words, people chose the NDP rather than abandoned the Liberals.

  10. The party’s wind-worn grey shingle, hanging askew for many years, now swings its last as the remaining rusted eye-hook parts from the weathered telegraph pole’s cross-arm and it flutters down into a puff of roadside dust, soon to be marked only by the tracks of field mice and tumbleweeds passing unconcerned above until the big sky is covered under darkness.

    It seems Alberta’s first governing party should have been accorded more in passing but it has been too long redacted from the province’s history in politically liberal philosophical terms, too long mythologized as the central government bogeymen in federal terms, and recently too demonized in partisan terms by both levels of divided loyalty.

    Some long for a centrist casting —probably too late for the Liberals, now—yet only because the 30-year arc of neo-rightism, trending towards far-right extremism for the last decade, has made such a hash of both governing and federal cooperation: after nearly four generations of right-wing governments, Albertans haven’t quite got the swing of discerning exactly where that middle ground might be or which party might win it.

    Like the SoCons’ Biblical Book of Genesis —which rather skips over creation so fantastically that, “In the beginning,” humankind is introduced as already enserfed and taking orders in the irrigated urbs of the walled city state— the ‘creation story’ of newly confederated Alberta, the original, federal-Liberal party-affiliated government and its subsequent defeat by the agrarian-socialist United Farmers party— has been relegated to a sort of antediluvian fairytale with little subsequent relevance to the province’s own political ethos, almost as if none of it ever really happened—except insofar as Euhemerus’ Olympian gods hint at an original account of real human affairs which were eventually buried and obscured by myth.

    In politically partisan terms, the Liberal and United Farmers’ governments served their purposes, respectively, to fit the geographic coincidence of Alberta’s interceding territory into the Canadian federation (at the time preoccupied with its National Policy to secure and develop commerce between Central Canada and the West Coast), and to protest federal control over the province’s natural resources and unfair railway freight rates for prairie grain. Once these were sorted out in the early 30s, Alberta settled into a virtual one-party—or even, as some would call it, a “no-party” jurisdiction for nearly four decades— and, by the early 70s, into a broadly progressive, or “Red Tory,” regime for most of the next forty years. Remembering those first politically active years quickly became as unnecessary as speculating on the limits of nature or notions that humankind could ever affect something as big and eternal as the climate. As luck would have it, ten years lost to the Great Depression and WW II was followed by the big oil strike and Albertans got too busy availing boom times to trouble themselves much about partisan politics: elections were rote rubber-stamps. And so it was that the era of the province’s first governing party and its subsequent nemesis were forgotten.

    Indeed, the Liberals never formed Alberta’s government again. When the ProgCon regime began its decline under Klein—that is, way rightward— the Liberals seemed to assume the classical mantle of the centre as Loyal Opposition. Yet, as the ProgCon/Wildrose proto-FrankenParty staggered up onto its burning windmill, it was the NDP which provided the coup de grace instead: it had taken the centre and occupied it for its single four-year term. That’s how type-cast as something other than the centre and more like “The Other” the Liberals had become. Ask Adam West how that works out.

    Liberals —who had few to fewer seats in either federal or provincial ridings in Alberta—were instead recast into another role in the canon of right-wing theology. While Reformers cultivated bigotry towards Quebec, ostensibly because of its separatist politics but also because of its influence in Ottawa vis a vis the Liberal party and governments, Stephen Harper rather arcanely cultivated the notion that Canada should do without its “Natural Governing Party.” In fact, he was simply availing the Liberals’ own internal power struggle to claim his new CPC had slain the supposed centrist party so that partisan contests would thence be polarized between left and right alone, a situation supposed to favour the right which, at the time, was morphing into the neo-right—or neoliberal usurpers traditional conservative parties—and fantasizing about the “End of History.”

    But as neither Biblical creationism nor climate-change denial could maintain credibility in the face of increasingly refuting challenges, as history failed to end and lock-in the desired phase of corporate privilege, and as the federal Liberals not only refused to stay dead but actually returned from the grave to defeat the HarperCons, the stage was set in Alberta, now the national redoubt of the neo-right, to redact the Liberals out of any historical or philosophical context altogether and recast the federal party purely in terms of ultimate evil and enmity.

    The prospects for the Alberta Liberals simply drowned to death in this hyper-polarized narrative. Heck, even the BC Liberals (who were always a far-right party which never was affiliated with the federal Liberals) are entertaining a name-change because of the “L-word”. But, then again, BC voters have always been aware of partisan contention in historical, philosophical, and federal terms—like Alberta hasn’t: everybody in BC knows—too well— what the BC Liberals are all about, in spite of their name, so they can call themselves whatever they want and BC will still know what they are. Albertans probably never did know what the Liberals were—at least, not since The Flood.

    But Canadians everywhere cleave to the centre: even when they don’t always agree what or where that is, and sometimes make mistakes that are allowed and expected in a healthy democracy, they always veer back to the middle of the road. Inured to political forgetfulness, many Albertans probably don’t consider conservatism to be a kind of centrist, or centre-right, philosophy, but that’s exactly what Alberta had before the Ralph decline. That’s quite what Rachel Notley’s NDP provided, too. And we know by the UCP’s maiden term that that’s what many of its own voters long for, too.

    But it’s a work in progress, a long way back to the fork in the road missed, many bad habits—including the Macondo-like forgetfulness (qv Gabriel Garcia Marquez) or selective redacting of history and willful, hallucinatory foresight. For example, Albertans might have already forgotten that their election of the NDP was not based on any historical or partisan calculus, or on some longing desire for the centre: rather it was the most poignant way to punish the ProgCon dynasty which had disappointed them—that is, by disturbing the static, unhistorical, no-party cosmos which, for a time, laid so many golden eggs. Voters are still a bit wary of surprising themselves—and after the UCP disaster, who can blame them? But, then, who else is there to blame? The Liberals? Sorry: you won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore…

    In the end, the Alberta Liberals have become unnecessary in the political exams citizens are studying for right now. It’s as if, when one gets to the Armageddon part of the Bible, chi asks, “Adam who?”

    Are there Cole’s Notes for that? Or is cramming with a six-pack of Otrivin still in vogue? And then, there’s always cheat-sheets. Alas, not anymore for the first party ever to govern the great province of Alberta.

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