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Tangled Alberta Party tale continues: Big Listen, Big Momentum...Big Deal?

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OK, the fledgling Alberta Party says it's moving onward and upward from meeting, greeting and eating in kitchens and living rooms throughout the province, and that now is the time for Momentum-with-a-Capital-M. Big Momentum.

And certainly newsworthy things are finally beginning to happen with the new political group, which got its start in the murky past as yet another right-wing prairie fringe party but which after a reverse takeover earlier this year by a group of ambitious Blue Liberals and Red Tories now styles itself as the newest player in Alberta's increasingly crowded political mainstream.

However, the jury remains out on the proposition that the Alberta Party's unorthodox approach to politics in Alberta will yield meaningful results.

Nevertheless, on July 20, the party announced that its seemingly endless consultation process -- dubbed "The Big Listen" -- was about to evolve.

The Big Listen, if you happen to be one of the few Albertans who missed this opportunity to be heard, seems to have involved getting together in small groups over coffee and cake in someone's home and being asked, "What pressures are you feeling?" and "What is your hope for the future?" This was often served up with a side course of discussion about urban planning.

If this reminds you of the early days of the Social Credit movement, you'd be right -- but, hey, who's still around from the 1930s to point that out? From The Big Listen was supposed to come a party platform, and eventually maybe it will.

In the mean time, though, there must be momentum. That is, The Big Momentum, which the party's Website describes as "the vehicle we will use to drive the evolution of our party into a real contender." The BM, says the party, is "a multi-pronged strategy with email, website, social media, personal, and mail components, driven by the relationships and networks we're developing through our conversations with Albertans."

But those multiple prongs notwithstanding, the key one seems to be a plan to hire an organizer at $70,000 a year to lead … uh, more listening.

The organizer in question is likely to be Michael Walters, late of the Greater Edmonton Alliance, a non-partisan leftish group that has tried to bring together labour, religious, cultural and community groups to push for incremental change. While the GEA has encouraged a lot of talk itself over its five-year history, its accomplishments have involved more consensus building -- talk, in other words -- than actual change.

Walters -- like some better-known politicians, influenced by the late Saul Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation -- has been active in the Alberta Party for several months, so this move hardly seems like a surprise.

Meanwhile, the Alberta Party has been able to announce a substantial donation -- $15,000 from a Calgary couple -- and replacement of the party president, a relic of the party's far-right past.

The new president is Chima Nkemdirim, a Calgary lawyer who was one of the founders of Renew Alberta, the Blue-Liberal-Red-Tory effort that engineered the takeover of the Alberta Party. Up until then, the party was drifting with a great name but only a few dozen members. Some were remnants of the party's distant past and others disgruntled survivors of the right fringe of Alberta's Green Party, which dissolved in the summer of 2009.

Nkemdirim, meanwhile, is a top contender to emerge as the Alberta Party's political leader when the current leader, uncharismatic former Alberta Greens president Edwin Erickson, steps aside, as seems increasingly likely.

So this leaves us where, exactly?

Well, the party promises to run a full slate of candidates in the next provincial election. It will likely hold some sort of convention in the fall. And the Big Listen -- under whatever name -- will likely continue with Walters as organizer.

In other words, the Alberta Party will continue to bypass the steps that every successful Canadian political movement hitherto has taken, to wit: finding a common philosophy, recruiting like-thinking volunteers, creating a party from the ground up, building constituency associations, developing a specific platform and testing those ideas in an election campaign.

This group hopes to vault over the hard work and arrive without breaking into a sweat at a point where they are challengers for power -- presumably within two years or less. Well, stranger things have happened, one supposes, but it still remains an unlikely scenario for political success.

Alberta voters, at any rate, have a right to remain skeptical as long as the Alberta Party -- its great name notwithstanding -- lacks a credible leader, on-the-ground party organization and a party platform that consists of more than vague suggestions and the delicious scent of coffee and fresh-baked cookies.

Above all, it needs a real leader -- perhaps someone like Independent Calgary MLA and former Liberal leadership contender Dave Taylor -- who could engage and motivate Albertans, or at least distract them from their blossoming love affair with the right-wing Wildrose Alliance.

Without that, the Alberta Party seems destined to move from Big Listen to Big Momentum to … Big Deal.

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

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