Friday, June 27, 2008

Alberta Liberal Leadership Hopefuls Line Up On the Left.

The line up of the touted and taunted for the leadership of the Alberta Liberal party so far is pretty much aligned (or maligned) on the left. The touted are Edmonton candidates Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald balanced off by Calgary’s David Swann and Dave Taylor.

Those being taunted, but not biting, are former Deputy Prime Minister of Anne McLennan and current Calgary Mayor Bronconnier. Given the past and present accomplishments of Anne and Dave one would be hard pressed to come up with a convincing reason for them to jump into this political pot-boiler.

There are others toying with the idea – there always are. They don't usually have a hope to win but campaigns matter and they often add spice to the event. They get to say some things in campaigns that the self-possessed front runners may think but don’t dare say. Amongst those wild cards I would keep an eye out for former Edmonton McClung MLA Mo Elsalhy.

Ideally we would see a youthful refreshing idealistic candidate emerge to make some noise. Not Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson but someone like him who can run a modern successful Web 2.0 political campaign to prove you don't have to spend a million dollars to be successful.

They definitely need a rural candidate or two stepping forward as well. I don’t have any names yet but if someone out there in rural Alberta is kicking the tires, let me know. So who have we got in the hopper (or the blender) so far?

Laurie Blakeman has experience and she has proven political skills. But she is much closer to being a Sheila Copps than a Bette Hewes. That is a big bonus if you like butting heads, like a Sheila Copps, rather than building a province, like a Bette Hewes. Not sure if she could handle the economic and geo-political issues emerging in Alberta. She seems to totally urban in outlook and may be perceived as too Edmonton-centric. If the Libs only want to select a Leader of the Opposition - Blakeman is the best choice.

Hugh MacDonald is the Rodney Dangerfield of the group. He is an accomplished journeyman politician and a strong constituency guy who is chronically nice. Unfortunately he has no royal jelly and therefore will not become the provincial party leader. He would be the farthest left leaning candidate and could easily philosophically pinch hit for Brian Mason of the NDP. At the end of the day Hugh is a salt-of-the-earth guy and will be called upon to patch up the party if the race gets brutal. You don’t have to be a candidate to play that role but it usually helps.

David Swann is the most interesting potential candidate so far. Like Taft he is a reluctant politician who got into politics because he was personally offended by the power structure in the province in the Klein era. Swann was fired as a medical health officer in a now defunct southern Alberta health authority. I believe he was fired for pure political reasons, like supporting the Kyoto Accord I believe. A Calgary MLA in his second term Swann is openly questioning how to get past what some see as the perpetual one-party state called Alberta. His thoughts range from revitalizing the Liberal party to working on a brand new progressive political movement. It will be interesting to see if he runs, which way he goes and what he does and says as a candidate.

Dave Taylor is the quintessential Calgary guy who will be in this race for sure. He is like a Ralph Klein but without a Rod Love to “execute” (every pun intended). Alberta has already done a Ralph Klein and I am not sure we are ready for another one any time soon. Taylor is very media savvy, highly quotable and a “quip thinker.” But that seems to be the extent of his political talent. Populist are fun for the media but they are dangerous in times of uncertainty and serious social change.

Change and uncertainty in the face of abundance is the new Alberta reality. Out of control growth pressures that are creating social problems everywhere along with an emerging urgency over ecological concerns means we need statesmanship in our governing institutions more than ever.

For my money you can keep your charismatic politicians as leaders. They create more problems than they resolve. I want a thoughtful solid citizen with a compassionate sensibility who can handle uncertainty and complexity. I want an intelligent and curious leader with a pragmatic long view of politics. I want a leader who see themselves as a servant-leader and not as some paternalistic authority figure with a hunger for for personal power. If the Alberta Liberals can find that kind leader they might have a chance.