For months now, the motto of the Alberta Party seems to have been "Run Silent, Run Deep."
While party supporters were drinking coffee and Listening Big in kitchens across the province, it was pretty hard for an uninvolved observer like Yours Truly to figure out where the heck this was all supposed to lead, except possibly to more Capital Letters.
Somewhere, someday, we were told, it was going to result in a Big Policy that all Albertans could get behind, and when that day came, the Alberta Party would be ready to run a full slate of candidates in a general election.
Meanwhile, as the Alberta Party engaged in what it called "the Big Listen," the rest of us pretty much heard nothing but the Big Echo. We knew the Alberta Party was out there somewhere, thrashing through the murk, but all we were getting back was the occasional sonar ping.
What's more, while this was going on, a lot of Alberta Party movers and shakers were more involved in a couple of municipal elections that had interesting results -- and potential impacts, good and bad, on the new political phenomenon.
But now the Alberta Party is about to surface, with a policy conference in Red Deer on the weekend, and we have all had a chance to take a peek at the policies it will be voting on, the products of all those endless cups of coffee.
Despite a lot of enthusiasm among certain Alberta-Party-connected Alberta bloggers, though, the question remains: Has anything changed?
Before we answer that, however, readers may require a short refresher on the Alberta Party phenomenon.
The Alberta Party got its start in the murky past as yet another right-wing prairie fringe party, but one whose founders had the foresight to register a terrific name. As a result, it seems to have been the target of two successful reverse takeovers -- first by a group of conservatively inclined Alberta Greens, and then earlier this year by a group of ambitious Blue Liberals and Red Tories.
The party as currently constituted covets centrist voters of the type that typically drift left toward the Alberta Liberals and right toward the Alberta Progressive Conservatives. Since Albertans have never really cottoned on to the Liberals and these days are so sick of the Conservatives they’re thinking seriously about voting for the far-right Wildrose Alliance, the Alberta Party might seem like a natural home for a lot of them.
Moreover, the party's approach to building a political movement -- the seemingly endless kaffeeklatsches -- was unorthodox enough that, while it has passed largely unnoticed among rank-and-file voters, it attracted lots of attention among the chattering classes. This includes two of Alberta's best-known political bloggers -- Dave Cournoyer and Ken Chapman -- who are Alberta Party partisans. It also includes the Conservatives of Premier Ed Stelmach, who recently announced their own version of the Big Listen.
OK, enough backstory. Has anything really changed, other than encouraging coffee futures to perk up?
Well, some prominent Alberta Party supporters have enjoyed significant successes in the campaigns of Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel and, especially, in the unexpected come-from-behind victory of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.
Among them, Calgary-based party President Chima Nkemdirim, a former Liberal associated with the Nenshi campaign, and Michael Walters, hired by the party as a full-time organizer in August, said to have helped the Mandel campaign. Speakers at the convention include Nkemdirim; Richard Einarson, also of the Nenshi campaign; Patricia Mitsuka of the Mandel campaign; Gayle Rondeel, a town councillor from Rimbey where the entire previous council was swept away in a wave of voter disgust; and Bill Given, the Mayor of Grande Prairie.
But whether this helps or hinders the Alberta Party is less clear. Some of these folks may land jobs with civic administrations, or transfer their enthusiasms to municipal politics. On the other hand, no doubt valuable lessons have been learned about organizing and campaigning.
The choice of convention speakers seems designed to give party supporters the impression their party is on the right track -- without acknowledging that municipal and provincial politics in Alberta can be very different fields indeed.
Also new, the party has finally released its policy resolutions for debate. Alas, these resolutions -- which surely will all be passed as written -- don't tell us much more about the Alberta Party than we knew back when it was still rigged for silent running. They are sweetly anodyne -- which is to say, mostly soothingly meaningless.
I mean, really folks, "Be it resolved that Alberta should be the best place in the world to earn a living -- no matter who you are, what you do or where you're from." Yeah, sure. I guess we can all go for that….
From the convention, presumably, the party's supporters expect to move on to what they call the Big Momentum, "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."
It's easy to unkindly dismiss all this as merely a Big Deal. But before we do so, one supposes, we should wait to see what really happens at the party's convention on the weekend.
Still, the agenda of this conference, and the wording of its resolutions, suggests an excess of caution and a focus on process, neither of which bodes well for a political movement that needs to capture the imaginations of those of us still numbered among the Great Unwashed.
While the jury remains out on whether the Alberta Party's efforts will yield meaningful results, the evidence to date suggests nothing much has changed.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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