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After the Big Zero, the Alberta Party awaits the Big Goodbye

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Former Alberta Party MLA Dave Taylor

While it's true former Alberta Party MLA Dave Taylor never crossed a bridge he couldn't burn, the political experiment he was part of is likely finished all on its own without his incendiary assistance.

Alberta Party adherents saw their party as a bold experiment in centrist policy making, conceived in hope and steeped in coffee, that was careful to take its time to listen to everyone.

It's not nearly so clear Taylor, a former talk radio host with an overpowering voice, ever listened very hard to anyone. He was always an awkward fit for the idealistic Alberta Party -- ending up in its ranks more because he was accidentally available while conveniently the owner of a seat in the Alberta Legislature than because he shared the party's commitment to paying attention.

Either way, Taylor will likely go down in history as the party's only MLA.

As for the party -- which began its coruscating trajectory across the Alberta political firmament with an exercise in home coffee and policy-building meetings in 2010 that it called "The Big Listen" and pretty much ended it on Saturday with a party for supporters in Edmonton it dubbed "The Big Thank You" -- it is surely only weeks away from "The Big Goodbye."

The reason is simple: whether or not it could have if it had done things very differently, the Alberta Party failed to capture the imagination of Alberta voters and, on April 23 this year, its total seat tally in the provincial general election added up to a Big Zero. While it's message captivated Alberta's chattering classes, its presence never polled above the single digits with Alberta voters.

For those Alberta Party supporters who say, "We're not dead yet," we can only borrow a line from Monty Python and respond, "You'll be stone dead in a moment! … You're not fooling anyone, you know…"

Taylor's latest bridge burning took the form of a harshly worded website commentary last week that said the party might as well just give up. He wrote: "We need a good, honest, adult conversation about whether there is a place or a purpose for the Alberta Party in Alison Redford's Alberta." His proposition, disputed by some, was that "the Alberta Party's values are now the Redford PC Government's values. They stand for everything we stand for -- and they're in power. Who needs us?"

Redford, he added, "would have made an ideal Alberta Party member."

After complaining that the party's adherents wanted Saturday's "shindig to be sunshine and lollipops, rainbows and puppies," Taylor rambled a little before announcing he wouldn't be there anyway, having more pressing business in Seattle.

Well, he spoke the truth, sure enough, though it might have been more diplomatic to leave it to the blogosphere to write finis on the Alberta Party's efforts. But then, notwithstanding the genteel sensibilities of his party, that was never Taylor's style.

Taylor was elected as MLA for Calgary-Currie in 2004 as an Alberta Liberal. After the Liberals' loss of seven seats in the 2008 Alberta election, which for a tantalizing moment before the vote the Liberals had seemed like possible winners, leader Kevin Taft resigned. Taylor then ran for the Liberal leadership and lost to Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann.

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it's safe to say Taylor would have been a more effective Liberal leader than Swann -- who was a fine and thoughtful person but almost totally lacking in charisma or any clue about how to lead the party, which was then the official Opposition.

But Taylor didn't have the patience to wait for Swann to give up the political ghost, and in April 2010 exploded in frustration with Swann's leadership and stormed off to sit as an Independent, the bridge to the Liberals aflame behind him. (As a result, Taylor wasn't available when Swann quit in 2011, one of the factors resulting in the election of former Tory Raj Sherman as Liberal leader a year ago.)

In January 2011, Taylor joined the Alberta Party, becoming its only MLA, rather halfheartedly proclaiming, "I can be very comfortable with these people." But he could also read the handwriting on the wall, and chose not to seek re-election in 2012.

Taylor was not the only mistake made by the Alberta Party, or even the only one named Taylor.

At a party convention in May 2011, delegates elected Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor as leader. As a successful municipal politician, the former New Democrat and elected union official looked like just what the doctor ordered for the Alberta Party, a real campaigner who understood the nitty-gritty of electoral politics.

But from Day 1, the leadership of Glenn Taylor (no relation to Dave Taylor) was strangely disengaged. He didn't even give up his day job as Hinton Mayor until January 2012. When the election finally came in April, he couldn't carry the huge but sparsely populated riding in which Hinton is the principal town.

Before that, in October 2010, the party also lost its most promising and engaging potential leaders when Naheed Nenshi was elected mayor of Calgary. In addition to Nenshi himself, identified as an early supporter of the party, it cost the party Calgary lawyer Chima Nkemdirim, who instead of running for leader as many had hoped left to become Nenshi's chief of staff.

But as Dave Taylor observed, the coup de grace was the election a year later of Redford as leader of the Progressive Conservatives. Redford's success, as was observed in this space in December 2011, "moved the governing Progressive Conservative Party into precisely the political space the Alberta Party was created to occupy."

Nor did it help that the far-right Wildrose Party -- now the Opposition in the Legislature -- polled so well in the weeks leading up to the April 23 election that potential Alberta Party supporters were driven to vote strategically for Redford's apparently still faintly Progressive Conservatives.

Now Taylor has recognized that fact as well, and even if it takes other supporters of the Alberta Party a little longer, it is hard to imagine that the party is not finished.

That said, the party's excellent name -- once owned by fringe parties of the far right and later the environmental movement -- remains a viable commodity, so it is likely to enjoy a lingering half life, still capable for a time of fogging film if not actually appearing in sharp focus.

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

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