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Two bright lights in Alberta politics announce their departure

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Retiring Alberta Liberal leader David Khan. Image: David J. Climenhaga

Two prominent Alberta politicians have taken the traditional Canadian walk in the snow and announced their planned departures from their current political roles.

Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan, 46, one of the most influential provincial politicians in Alberta without a seat in the legislature, made his announcement on Sunday. Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, 42, made his yesterday morning.

Mr. Khan, a Calgary lawyer with a practice in aboriginal and environmental law, said in a news release sent out Sunday evening that he will be taking up a new employment opportunity in the law.

He must feel, though, as if a burden has finally been lifted from his shoulders.

Getting to lead the Alberta Liberals must have felt like being captain pro tempore of the Titanic after someone else had steered it into the ice. Mr. Khan took the job in 2017 when then-MLA David Swann, the last Liberal in the legislature, retired.

That year another leadership candidate, former St. Albert mayor Nolan Crouse, had been widely expected to win the resulting race. But when that competent retail politician suffered last-minute cold feet for reasons that are still unexplained, Mr. Khan and Kerry Cundal, a Calgary immigration lawyer, stepped into the breach.

Mr. Khan won the vote, which by then must have seemed like a booby prize, two months later.

He must have known it was pretty much a lost cause, with progressive and conservative voters clustered around the Alberta New Democratic and United Conservative parties respectively, the Alberta party sucking up a lot of oxygen in the media but not among voters, and the Alberta Liberals a mess thanks to Raj Sherman's short but disruptive spell at the party's helm from 2011 until 2015.

The estimable Dr. Swann, a former medical officer of health in southern Alberta who served in the legislature from 2004 until his retirement, took the job on an interim basis after the mercurial Dr. Sherman, a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, had retreated from office.

Brave and kind enough to keep smiling through it all, Mr. Khan was always an ideas guy. He rarely offered a criticism without also suggesting a policy solution. And his solutions were often more progressive than the NDP's, especially when that party was in power.

It was that willingness to offer thoughtful policy ideas that made Mr. Khan as influential as he was, despite being weighed down by his own party. It may also have been why he wasn't successful getting elected.

He could have played an important role in the legislature, even leading a caucus of one. But a polarized electorate left progressive voters with little choice but to vote NDP if they wanted block the UCP.

As a result, when he ran for Dr. Swann's old Calgary-Mountainview seat in 2019, one of the most promising politicians to offer his services to Alberta finished in an embarrassing fourth place, trailing even the Alberta party's candidate.

Mr. Khan has a science degree from the University of British Columbia and a law degree from the University of Toronto. He was the first openly gay leader of a political party in Alberta.

It will be difficult for the Alberta Liberals to find anyone of Mr. Khan's stature willing to take on such a hopeless job.

Meanwhile, the next morning under the heading "Dear Edmontonians," Mr. Iveson announced his decision not to seek reelection on his website, a year before the next Alberta municipal election.

"This complex, ever-evolving work demands thoughtful, compassionate and constructive civic leadership," Mr. Iveson wrote. "Which is why next fall's election will be pivotal and why I feel it's important to give people who may be considering a run, time and notice to make their plans."

A city councillor since 2007, the youthful and largely unknown Iveson that year ran an insurgent campaign that emphasized "smart growth" and "politics in full sentences," recalled political logger Dave Cournoyer, a friend and informal advisor of the mayor, this morning.

Mr. Iveson was re-elected to Edmonton city council in 2010, and ran for mayor after three-term chief magistrate Stephen Mandel exited municipal politics in 2013. Mr. Iveson was re-elected with a commanding lead in 2017.

He likely could have contemplated easy re-election this year, but the thought of another term trying to hold one of Canada's major cities together in the face of the Kenney government's wrecking crew was probably too much to ask of anyone.

Or maybe he just needed a break. He's got a young family. He may want to spend some time with them.

"After a healthy break, he will return to politics," Mr. Cournoyer confidently predicted yesterday. "Premier Don Iveson sounds good to me."

Alberta reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, but still no sign of premier

Another day, another 1,549 new COVID-19 cases.

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw compared the situation to "a snowball rolling down a hill, growing bigger and faster."

Other than that, her daily COVID-19 briefing yesterday contained little news and still no sign of Alberta's lately seldom-seen premier, Jason Kenney.

She left the 2 p.m. virtual news conference in a hurry after only 15 minutes to make her recommendations on what to do about COVID's rampage through Alberta to cabinet.

Reporters who used their limited time with her to mostly ask the same question over and over -- what are you going to advise cabinet? -- got short shrift. She advises, they decide, she kept insisting.

Dr. Hinshaw did not look happy -- whether with the media's poor use of its limited time or the response she expected from cabinet was not clear.

As for what cabinet decides to do, we'll find out today, presumably. If its decision seems a day late and a dollar short -- as it has been up to now -- it's probably safe to guess the ministers didn't take Dr. Hinshaw's advice. 

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image: David J. Climenhaga

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