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St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse says no to a run for the Alberta Liberal leadership

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Nolan Crouse

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

If you didn't happen to know there was an Alberta Liberal leadership race that must be organized sometime very soon, St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse's announcement today would have sounded pretty mysterious.

"I wish to thank those who have approached and encouraged me to seek various provincial nominations in the coming days and weeks," Crouse wrote earlier today on his personal website.

"I appreciate the support and requests; however, I share that I do not plan to seek any nomination in the coming weeks for any party or any constituency at this time," he said, with an air of close-to-finality.

What? Someone asked him to run for the leadership of the Wildrose Party?

Unlikely. This one's got to be about the Liberals -- St. Albert being about the closest thing to a Liberal town in this province, even though it nowadays votes Progressive Conservative more often than not.

I can confirm that Mayor Crouse's name indeed has been mooted in Alberta Liberal circles the past few days as potential saviour for the foundering party.

Crouse is certainly a liberal, small-l, in temperament and policy, and for that he is a controversial figure in St. Albert, where he is mostly popular and respected but viscerally loathed by a noisy circle of anti-tax zealots who view everything except their own enthusiasms as expensive "special interests."

Mayor Crouse, I suspect, aroused their ire mainly by not meekly crumbling when they complained about his willingness to maintain a decent level of public services in the city of 65,000 northwest of Edmonton.

Well, if Crouse is indeed out of the running for the leadership, that’s pity for the Liberals.

Mayor of St. Albert since 2007 and a councillor since 2004, he is one of the best retail politicians you could ever hope to meet.

Crouse is absolutely tireless attending community functions. He's willing to talk and listen to any group -- although, like St. Albert resident and former Tory cabinet minister Thomas Lukaszuk, he's reputed to have been pretty blunt in some of his remarks to people who give him a hard time. And while he's instinctively pretty conservative, he stands for liberal values about government -- not mindless market fundamentalism.

The chief knock against Crouse by his vociferous opponents is St. Albert’s higher-than-average property taxes, a situation that does not rest in his hands alone.

A former timber and energy industry executive, company owner and successful junior hockey coach with an MBA, Crouse would have brought business experience and team-building skills to the job. He's also been chair of the Capital Regional Board since 2012.

In a riding that has elected Liberals in recent years and has a weak Tory MLA, Service Alberta Minister Stephen Khan, Crouse also would have had a real chance of winning a seat.

In other words, he is exactly what the Alberta Liberals need to repair the massive damage done to the once-proud party by the disastrous three-year leadership of Raj Sherman, an Emergency Room doctor elected as a Conservative in Edmonton-Meadowlark in 2008. The former junior cabinet minister fell out with premier Ed Stelmach and was kicked out of the Tory caucus in November 2010. In September 2011 he won the Liberal leadership in a flawed leadership race that allowed votes by party non-members.

The Liberals elected five MLAs in the 2012 general election. After that, out of tune with his own MLAs, beset by the rise of the Wildrose party as opposition, the NDP as potential opposition and the Alberta Party as an alternative liberal party, the Alberta Liberals have pretty well imploded under Sherman's leadership.

That said, he did the party no favours by quitting suddenly weeks before an expected early election call by the resurgent Progressive Conservatives led by Premier Jim Prentice -- who was chosen by the Tories last summer as the antidote to the catastrophic premiership of Alison Redford, another of the bad political choices of 2011.

Other potential Liberal leaders being gossiped about today include:

-    Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman, who ran in 2011 and was defeated by Sherman, and who has expressed a willingness to serve as interim leader

-    Former leader and Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann, who didn’t enjoy the job and is unlikely to want it now

-    Banff environmentalist and former federal and provincial Liberal candidate Harvey Locke

-    Alberta Liberal Party president Shelley Wark-Martyn, a former Ontario NDP MPP and cabinet minister

Factors than impacted Crouse's decision not to enter the Liberal leadership race likely included the sad sack state of the party, which is possibly too far gone to be revived by anyone; the need to deal with a disappointed and strategically placed Blakeman if he won; the mystery of how to revive the Liberal Party in Calgary when two MLAs, Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang, quit this year to run for the federal Liberals; and the mystery of how he would be paid until the next general election.

Had he run and lost, of course, that would also have damaged his prospects if he decided to seek re-election as St. Albert mayor in October 2017.

So Nolan Crouse's decision today undoubtedly makes a lot of sense, but it's another sign of the unhappy state of the party he supports.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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