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Notes from the 'New West' -- Electrical storm brews in premier's riding; Alberta Party makes a move

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What could turn out to be a significant political development in Alberta took place last evening, when the leaders of all three opposition parties with seats in the Legislature showed up in front of a large crowd of agitated rural landowners in the town of Vegreville, about 100 kilometres east of Edmonton along the Yellowhead Highway.

The 500 rural folks at the meeting are riled up about plans to build a high-voltage electrical line through many of their farms. Since there is more than one proposed route, no one is yet sure which farms will be affected -- magnifying the furor all the more.

So that noise you hear is the sound of rock-solid Tory voters from Vegreville, hitherto best known for its huge roadside Ukrainian egg, sticking their heads out their windows and yelling "I'm as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!"

The only party leader missing? Vegreville's MLA: Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach.

According to the Edmonton Journal, Stelmach skedaddled, claiming that facing the crowd in the Vegreville Social Centre could amount to a conflict of interest because … uh, like the other farmers, one of the proposed power line routes passes through his fields.

Oh dear! If Stelmach intends to run again -- and maybe this is evidence he doesn’t -- nothing good can come from his absence from the meeting, or the empty chair that sat mockingly at the front of the room throughout the evening.

Count on plenty of political fallout from this still developing story.

Meanwhile, as was predicted in this space a few weeks ago, the fledgling Alberta Party has now hired community organizer Michael Walters as its $70,000-per-year full-time organizer.

The party -- which thinks of itself less as right wing or left wing as middle-of-the-bird -- circulated a news release making the announcement Wednesday morning.

According to the release -- which interestingly has so far appeared neither on the party's Website nor in the local media, which was probably more interested in the premier's travails in Vegreville -- Walters "will focus on continuing the Alberta Party's community engagement and policy development campaign known as The Big Listen."

The Big Listen, for any of you who weren't listening, involves small groups of party supporters getting together in over coffee and cake in someone's home to ponder the Big Questions about Alberta's future.

Clearly, however, this seemly endless talkfest is finally about to morph into an effort to build a real political party, instead of a mere network of kaffeeklatsches. The release said that Walters "will be organizing constituency associations across the province as well as developing a Community Organizing training program for all Alberta Party candidates, campaign staff and volunteers."

It quotes Chima Nkemdirim, a Calgary lawyer who was one of the founders of Renew Alberta, the effort by a group pf ambitious Blue Liberals and Red Tories who engineered a reverse takeover earlier this year of the Alberta Party, which got its start as yet another Alberta party of the right-wing fringe in 1985. Nkemdirim was elevated to party president at the start of this month in an unsurprising restructuring that shuffled aside party officials leftover from its days on the loony-right fringe.

Nkemdirim lauded Walters as "a skilled and experienced community organizer with a great track record of engaging a wide range of citizens in political life." But that was just political news release boilerplate. More significantly, he said, "Michael will also play an instrumental role as co-chair of our policy development committee leading to our November policy convention."

Walters comes from the Greater Edmonton Alliance, a non-partisan faintly leftish group that has tried to bring together labour, religious, cultural and community groups to push for incremental change.

The chief knock against the GEA was that it's engaged in a lot of talk over its five-year history, but doesn't really have a lot of major successes to point to -- other than a huge potato giveaway in a field in northeast Edmonton in a quixotic effort to preserve urban farmland.

Nevertheless, Walters is a talented and ambitious character who grew up in rural Alberta and should bring some drive to the activities of the party.

And remember, if some people sniff at him for being a "community organizer" (say what?), remember that that guy in the White House started out in the same field, likewise influenced by the late Saul Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation.

Since the last prediction proved to be right, here's another one: Walters will not be satisfied with the back-room role of party organizer, and will seek the Alberta Party nomination in an Edmonton riding when the next provincial election comes to pass.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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