Whither Laurie Blakeman?
The more I think about Blakeman's offer just a week ago to lead the foundering post-Raj-Sherman Alberta Liberals if they'd let her try to negotiate a merger with the Alberta Party, the more it appears to me as if a sincere offer also came with a carefully thought out narrative that would allow the Edmonton-Centre MLA to abandon ship with her dignity and electability intact.
Blakeman had to know that the proposal would be a hard sell to what's left of the party's leadership, even in the dire straits Alberta's Liberals now find themselves after three years with the mercurial Dr. Sherman at the party's helm.
But it's hard not to speculate that she released her plan to the media and the public the way she did to ensure that if they didn’t take her up on her offer to try one last time to save the party that just doesn't seem to want to be saved she had an exit strategy.
Predictably enough (with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight) last Sunday the party board met in Calgary and appointed former leader and Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann as interim leader. As I wrote at the time, Dr. Swann is a fine person, but he has already proved he doesn't have what it takes to successfully lead the party and his chances of achieving much in the face of the Jim Prentice Progressive Conservative juggernaut are negligible at best.
Blakeman was graceful in defeat, congratulating Swann on his unenviable new position and acknowledging the party board's right to choose whom it liked.
But it's pretty obvious the board’s decision offers Blakeman, a five-term MLA with a sterling reputation among the voters of her downtown Edmonton riding, a graceful way to escape the threat to her electoral survival presented by the implosion of the once-proud opposition party she has championed through thick and thin since 1997.
She hinted at something like this on her Facebook page this week: "Dear Wonderful People, Thank you all so much for your concern, advice, support, cheers, & invitations to join various political parties. I am fine -- back at work in the fabulous constituency of Edmonton-Centre. I'm going to let a few days, or a week, pass before I make any decisions about my future. When I know, I'll let you know. xxoxoxo laurie.” (Emphasis added.)
On Sunday, of course, a week will have passed, and somehow I don't think it is at all unlikely that Blakeman will announce something then, and that it won’t be that she's about to sigh and run again as an Alberta Liberal.
Given her attitudes and the positions she has taken on a variety of issues, Blakeman would make an excellent New Democrat, but I think the history of the two parties in the Alberta Legislature would make such a switch very unlikely.
More likely, she will arrange her own personal merger with the Alberta Party.
As Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark wrote on that party's web page last Monday, he was prepared to enter into merger negotiations with Blakeman, as she proposed. Failing that, "the Alberta Party is busy putting together an impressive slate of candidates including past supporters of the Liberals, moderate Wildrose supporters."
Indeed, the Alberta Party recently hired Tim Grover, the Wildrose Party’s disappointing candidate in the Oct. 27 Edmonton-Whitemud by-election, as the party's executive director. ("During the by-elections it was clear Wildrose was trying to become more moderate, and Tim was a big part of that movement," wrote Clark, not necessarily persuasively.)
What do you want to bet that Blakeman is one of those past supporters of the Alberta Liberals who rallies to the Alberta Party's pastel banner?
I used to think that after Sherman's catastrophic helmsmanship, the best the Liberals could hope to survive with would be two seats -- Blakeman's and Swann’s. It may soon turn out that Swann is the party leader in the Legislature by default, because he's the only Liberal left there. Even that will be no sure thing in current circumstances.
Blakeman, on the contrary, could turn out to be the first Alberta Party MLA who got the job through an election, not by crossing the floor.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca
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