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Tweet! Character counts in Alberta Party leadership race, and not just the way you're thinking...

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Hinton, Alberta, Mayor Glenn Taylor

OK, people, if Tweets can win an election, maybe Glenn Taylor will be the next premier of Alberta.

"Glen Who," you wonder?

@TWEET: "You know, Glenn Taylor, the Mayor of Hinton… He's running for the leadership of the new Alberta Party!" (85 characters)

"Oh, I thought he would. He's already their only MLA…"

@TWEET: "No! Wait! Not that Taylor. That's Dave Taylor, old style politician the Alberta Party had to hook up with to start getting counted in the polls. This is different." (135 characters)

"Uh… OK?"

@TWEET: "This is Glenn Taylor, mayor of the mining and mill town by the Jasper Park gate, a new style politician committed to doing things a new way for a new day!" (123 characters)

(Faintly.) "Oh. OK. That Taylor…"

@TWEET: "You bet! You’re going to be reading a lot about him, mostly in 140 characters or less!" (70 characters)

That's enough twittery levity. Let's get down to business. The important thing from the media's perspective -- and fair enough -- is that Taylor, the one who's the mayor of Hinton, that is, as of Tuesday is the first official candidate for the leadership of the new Alberta Party. That rates a good news hit.

The Alberta Party, as alert readers will recall, is the new political movement, or something, that insists it will practice politics in a new way, is determinedly attempting to occupy the space the 48-year-old Taylor defines as "the vast territory between extreme left and extreme right" and which has made quite a splash among Alberta's chattering classes.

The problem, Alberta Party doubters are bound to point out, is that while the province's political cognoscenti may be chattering about the new party that's not interested in "the politics of yesterday," nobody else is. Indeed, as the most recent poll of Albertans' voting intentions shows, the party hasn't even registered as a blip on the provincial radar.

Well, never mind that, says blogger Ken Chapman, the party's most avid supporter, and now Taylor's too, by the sound of it.

Chapman is a principal author of the party's Tweet-your-way-to-power strategy and surely the most enthusiastic participant in social media among Canadians over 55, present company included! As he said of the poll in question in a comment on this blog earlier this week, "it is pretty useless now given it was done before Dave Taylor joined the Alberta Party, Ed Stelmach announced he was quitting as Premier and David Swann took a dive too."

Well, maybe. But that's among the key questions in this whole affair. Can an essentially unknown party become a contender for power virtually overnight led by a basically unknown candidate (say, a mayor from Hinton)? Even if everything has changed, which ain't necessarily so? If it can, can it do it on the basis of Tweets and other social media, rather than hard work in the traditional political trenches?

Alberta Party supporters are sure to point to the successful campaign by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, in which a relatively unknown candidate came to prominence almost overnight, and which used social media creatively.

We'll see, one supposes. But a mayoral campaign in one municipality, even a big one, is a different creature than a political campaign throughout a province in which large numbers of voters are tied in and loyal to particular political parties. What's more, Nenshi was a remarkable campaigner, and there was more to his adequately financed campaign than just Tweets. It is true, however, that he drew some talent from Alberta Party ranks and will no doubt return the favour.

But the jury remains out on all these questions, as it is on the question of what the Alberta Party really stands for. You can only get so far on saying you’re neither left nor right before voters start asking probing questions about what the heck that means when it comes to specific policies.

And will the Alberta Party's new-fangled, social-media-reactive supporters have the patience to stick around and plug on if their first provincial campaign fails to produce results?

Finally, there is the matter of Taylor -- both Messrs Taylor, actually -- who sounds suspiciously like an old-style politician who does politics in the old-style way.

He's a small-town mayor, after all. He's a former New Democratic Party candidate and trade union official. None of these are bad things, obviously -- but not one of them is conducive the idea of doing politics in startling new ways that resist ever being pinned down to specific policies or positions. Savvy old-style voters wouldn't stand for it.

Indeed, there are those who say Taylor has modelled his career on the old-style success story of Robin Campbell, the former United Mine Workers local president turned Conservative MLA and party whip who is now MLA for West Yellowhead, the provincial riding that includes Hinton.

It's fair to assume Taylor is moving on to new approaches because he feels the old approaches didn't work. But it will be interesting to see how the Alberta Party's supporters take to Taylor's blue-collar mill-and-mining town background, which is sure to assert itself at some point.

In the mean time, however, Taylor's boosters are certain to do their best to elevate him to the Tweetheart of the social media set.

So stand by for plenty of Tweets about this! (4,400 characters)

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

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