Chima Nkemdirim, former Alberta Party official now chief of staff to Calgary's mayor

The two worst things that have happened to the Alberta Party are, in this order, Naheed Nenshi and Alison Redford.

This is not to say either the mayor of Calgary or the premier of Alberta is personally responsible for the Alberta Party‘s troubles.

On the contrary, a case can be made both support the goals of the political phenomenon that briefly captured the attention of Alberta’s chattering classes — that is, to encourage the rise of a government and economy that might be described, with apologies to Alexander Dubcek, as “capitalism with a human face.”

But Nenshi’s success in October 2010 stole away the Alberta Party’s most promising and engaging leader before the party could even pique the public’s interest, and Redford’s success a year later has moved the governing Progressive Conservative Party into precisely the political space the Alberta Party was created to occupy.

As a result, a political movement conceived in hope and steeped in coffee has languished for months and is now teetering on the edge of irrelevance. Ignored not only by the public, but by its own leadership cadre, the prognosis is not good for the survival of the Alberta Party.

For those of you who may not have noticed — and that would include a lot of Albertans — the Alberta Party was essentially an attempt to cobble together a coalition of Red Tories and Blue Liberals to create a new centrist political force in Alberta. The name had been around for a while, used by a variety of groups on the far right and the green fringe, but in 2009 ended up traded like a commodity into the hands of the group that now runs it.

In 2009 and 2010, the party streaked across the Alberta firmament, briefly attracting the attention of anyone who happened to be looking up at the time. Its movers and shakers launched an effort called “the Big Listen” at which they attempted to draft policy based on what they heard at dozens of kaffeeklatsches in the homes of supporters throughout the province.

It was a peculiar time, when Alberta’s naturally governing Tory party appeared to have lost its way under the shaky leadership of then-premier Ed Stelmach, and the Opposition Liberals appeared equally lost with the unsteady hand of leader David Swann on the tiller. A new centrist party with an appealingly generic new name seemed like the answer.

Blogger and long-time Alberta Party supporter Dave Cournoyer has correctly identified the first setback that struck the party in an insightful deconstruction of its decline that reflects the analysis of the party’s former stalwarts. Nenshi’s election, he argues, “created an unexpected energy drain on the Alberta Party.” Specifically, 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.

“A young, dynamic, well-spoken, and thoughtful individual, Mr. Nkemdirim embodies the future of politics in Alberta. The Alberta Party would have benefited greatly if he had run for the leadership and won, as I suspect he would have,” Cournoyer wrote. “Mr. Nkemdirim’s choice not to run, and the decision by other leading Alberta Party organizers to sit out the contest, contributed to a vacuum of talent in the leadership contest held in early 2011.”

The party’s sole MLA, Dave Taylor, was a former Liberal leadership candidate who left that party in disgust in April 2010 to sit as an independent, then joined the Alberta Party last January. His performance is best described as fatigued and he will not run again in the next general election. The leader chosen last May, Glenn Taylor (no relation), has also been less than stellar — virtually disappearing from the public eye, presumably to carry on his duties as the mayor of Hinton.

Glenn Taylor continues to promise big things soon, but with an election growing ever closer, success seems likely to elude him. At the moment, the party has only eight candidates nominated.

The other factor, unnoted by the Alberta Party faithful, is the rise of Redford — the perfect Alberta Party Premier.

As long as Gary Mar, the former Ralph Klein era minister and Alberta’s chief lobbyist in Washington, was the front-runner in the race to replace Stelmach — as he was through the long spring and summer of 2011 — the Alberta Party could hold out some hope of survival. While only 49, Mar was the scion of the party’s old boy network, the people who supported Stelmach and resisted the leadership of a new generation.

But when Redford deftly outmanoeuvred Mar to win the premier’s job, the handwriting was on the wall for more than the Tory party relics who are now drifting toward the exits. The poorly led Alberta Party, philosophically committed to exactly the kind of Alberta Redford more energetically articulated, was finished.

Really, how could they succeed when Redford has stolen the ground right out from under them?

The party’s few remaining supporters, naturally, will dispute this, and point to minor differences in their proposals. But just read the party’s statement of principles. In addition to the customary anodyne affirmations of democracy and quality of life, it calls for private enterprise and entrepreneurship, fiscal responsibility, social responsibility and sustainability. This sounds precisely like the territory Redford has successfully staked out.

Indeed, with the pre-election changes now under way within the PC Party, it could be argued that the Conservative Class of 2011 proposes to bring the province its first Alberta Party government.

The Alberta Liberals have troubles of their own, which stem from terminal disappointment among their party’s core supporters, the loss of a generation of leaders with few prospects to replace them and the election of an unsuitable party leader this year in former Conservative Raj Sherman. But that will have to be the topic for another day.

It is said here that at the moment only three parties remain viable on the Alberta political scene: the Progressive Conservatives, the New Democrats to their left, and the Wildrose Party to their right.

Alberta will likely elect its Alberta Party government. It’s just that it will be led by Alison Redford and be called by a different name.

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

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...