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Veteran Alberta Liberal Hugh MacDonald prepares to pull the plug on politics

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Edmonton-Goldbar Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald

With wild-eyed Alberta Liberal party officials about to launch an unexpected search for a candidate in Edmonton-Goldbar, about the last safe Grit riding on the planet, it's a safe bet that blogger Daveberta got it right last week when he suggested Hugh MacDonald is about to pull the plug on his long political career.

As for MacDonald, the dogged MLA who was one of the hardest working members in the Legislature and surely the most loyal to the tattered and fading Liberal banner, so far he is saying nothing at all. But expect an announcement of his retirement from politics within a few days.

The four-term MLA is a trade unionist and a genuinely progressive guy, but raised as he was in the Liberal red soil of Prince Edward Island there was no way he could contemplate changing colours to NDP orange or the Alberta Party rainbow.

Faced with his decisive loss to the mercurial and impetuous former Tory Raj Sherman in the party's weird leadership campaign on Sept. 10 -- a race in which anyone was allowed to vote, whether or not they were a party member -- MacDonald didn't really have any choices other than quitting or knuckling under.

He'll do the sensible and honourable thing and make a dignified withdrawal with best wishes all round to what's left of the party. He is said to be contemplating a swift return to the oilpatch, or possibly to a role with his old union, the Boilermakers.

MacDonald could be gloomy, and he often disagreed with his own party's leadership, but he always stuck fast to the colours, true Grit that he was. His voice, raised in genuine outrage and evocative of his Island upbringing, will be missed by Albertans, whether they know it or not.

MacDonald was the type of politician who was always sincerely offended by dishonesty and self-interest in government. What's more, unlike most MLAs on either side of the Legislature, he was willing to do the hard work necessary to winkle out the government's shenanigans, and to hold them up to the light of day. In this province, that meant he was a busy MLA, and one who doubtless found the job distressing at times.

For the governing Tories -- in whose arrogant side he was a constant thorn -- he'll be missed like a toothache.

Truth be told, the new Liberal leader will probably not be that unhappy to see him go either, and will doubtless be quite untroubled by the suggestion his departure represents the beginning of the disintegration of the Alberta Liberals suggested in these pages and elsewhere.

For their part, what's left of the Liberals may find a candidate to replace him, but whoever it is will have trouble filling his shoes, not to mention getting elected.

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

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