Thursday, June 26, 2008

Taft Throws In the Towel.

So Kevin Taft makes it official and calls it quits as Alberta Liberal Leader after two elections and some five years of service. He will stay on as MLA for Edmonton Riverview and will still be making a political contribution to the public life of Alberta presumably for the next four years.

I wonder what will happen if an outsider wins the Alberta Liberal leadership. There may be some pressure on him to retire his seat then and force a by-election to give the new leaders a chance at a seat in the Legislature. Time will tell but Edmonton Riverview is by no means a safe Liberal seat. It will have to be won by a new leader should that be the case.

Kevin Taft was always a reluctant politician and even more reluctant as a party leader. But he was always ready, willing and able to learn both jobs and prepared to make the personal sacrifices and suffer all the other impositions of public political life. He was drawn into politics on a dare from Ralph Klein who once called him a “Communist” and suggested Taft run for office instead of criticizing from the sidelines. Taft responded to the taunt and took up the challenge, running successfully as the MLA for Edmonton Riverview.

He was thrust into the leadership role by and large because nobody else wanted the job after the former leader, Nancy McBeth lost an election and was replaced by Ken Nicol who was effectively an interim leader. Taft was an academic and learned party politics and political leadership on the job and mostly from a standing start. Regardless of his electoral success, one has to give him credit for being a quick study and staying the course.

Taft’s resignation will now give the Alberta Liberal Party a chance to reflect and reconsider its place and future in Alberta politics. I am hoping they take a page or two from the Progressive Conservative Party leadership process and improve on it around concerns about donation disclosures. But I encourage them to make their leadership process open to any Albertan who wants to buy an Alberta Liberal Party membership and have a say in the leader selection. After all we are talking about selecting someone who would be at least eligible to be Premier of our province. All Albertans should be interested in helping make that choice. It would be good for democracy and the Alberta Liberals too.

The Nervous Nellies in the Alberta Liberal brain trust will worry that PC’s might encourage their supporters to buy Liberal memberships just to select the weakest Liberal leadership candidate for reasons of pure political advantage. After all some believe that was what a number of Alberta Liberals did in the last PC leadership contest.

If that was ever actually happening, or even rumoured to be the case, I am pretty sure ordinary Albertans would engage actively in the Alberta Liberal leadership selection process to ensure that would not be the end result. Such a tactic would seriously devalue the level of trust and respect citizens would afford the PC Party I expect. Stelmach has 72 seats and all the power he needs to do anything he wants within the law, including making laws pretty quickly if he wishes.

The PCs do not need to undermine the Alberta Liberals by trying to hijack the leadership selection process. It would not be worth the risk to the PC party brand to engage in such shenanigans for such puerile political purposes. So I encourage the Alberta Liberals to open up their party and let ordinary Albertans in to participate in who might lead Alberta's Loyal Opposition.

With Taft’s resignation decision the party leadership transition in all of Alberta's significant political parties is complete. Ralph Klein, Raj Pannu and now Kevin Taft are all gone or going. The Alberta they knew is pretty much history too. Alberta has become a very different place since those leaders came on the political scene.

Albertans are ready to move on to the next stage of being an Albertan. I sense that the engaged Albertan wants real changes and real choices and clearly defined alternatives in its politics going forward. They want political leadership with personal character qualities they can trust and respect. We want political leadership that is competent and capable to actually envisage, design and deliver the next Alberta in a local, provincial, national, continental - and now in a global context.

I wonder if we Albertans will be engaged enough as citizens to make such demands of the Alberta Liberal Party during the leadership process. Or are we simply so cynical as citizens that we will just disengage and ignore this opportunity to have a say about how we are to be governed and by whom…even if it is only about our opposition party leadership.

My next post will be some thoughts on the likely suspects who have indicated interest in succeeding Taft. I will speculate a bit on others who may want to seek the Alberta Liberal leadership job and who might be checking out their support levels to see if they stand a chance of winning.