Thursday, July 24, 2008

Laurie, Davey, and Mo?

Nation, it's no secret that one of the most thankless jobs in Canadian politics is the leadership of the Alberta Liberals.

This isn't because the voters are mean, or spiteful, or stupid... it's because the Alberta Liberal party is resistant to change. Don't get me wrong - they change with the times. But, much like the Catholic Church, they long ago decided what it is they're going to believe in, and heaven help the poor soul - grassroots member or leader - who dares question Dogma. Because of this, Liberal support - much like attendance in Catholic parishes - is down.

The question, then, begs to be answered: Does it even MATTER who leads the Alberta Liberals? If the policies and values are going to be the same, unwavering and never changing, can anyone lead this party to an electoral victory? The party, much like the Church, sits there and expects people to come to them. Well, not to mix my religious metaphors, but the mountain that is Alberta's electorate isn't going to come to Mohammad - so Mohammad (the Alberta Liberals) are going to have to go to the mountain.

Shockingly... Dave Taylor gets it.

Taylor, of course, announced his candidacy for the leadership of Alberta's Official Opposition yesterday, to little fanfare (us political nerds aside). Other rumoured candidates include current MLA Laurie Blakeman, and former MLA Mo Elsalhy, who recently launched a blog with fellow-ex-MLA and first-ever recipient of the Enlightened Savage "Never Release Something You Wrote Angry on a Friday Night Directed At Your Political Adversaries That The Public Won't Give a Crap About Except To Laugh At You" award, Maurice Tougas.

Elsalhy may attract some of the younger crowd, while fire-breathing True Believers will flock to Blakeman, who symbolically represents the "the problem isn't within the party, the problem is the voters" bloc of the Alberta Liberals. Taylor, however, is the wildcard.

Let's get this out of the way: I like Dave Taylor. I thought he was a great talk radio host, and I was a frequent caller to his show. He was consistent, called it how he saw it, accepted no B.S. from you whether you started off agreeing or disagreeing with him, and flew the straight-and-narrow. When I heard he was getting involved in provincial politics, I wanted him to do well, regardless of party affiliation - and he has. Good, principled people who want to serve the public should be empowered to do so, and Taylor has been. The role he has served for the Alberta Liberals has been a little grating at times, as the unofficial "attack dog" of the caucus under Dr. Taft. In reality, though, Taylor has been one of the opposition members least prone to histrionics and hyperbole. Once they peeled Blakeman off the ceiling, Taylor would step up and ask an intelligent and biting question.

Our question NOW needs to be, can Taylor give the Liberals what they need?

In a word: "Yes". In 6 more: "But the membership won't LET him".

Dave Taylor is a centrist. So are most Albertans. He moved here, from somewhere else. So did most Albertans. He calls a spade a spade, and is a realist. Just like most of us. He's a likable person, provided you either a) agree with his point of view, or b) have no vested interest in losing the argument. Even if you DO have a vested interest, if you enjoy a spirited debate, Dave's a good egg. So where's the problem?

The problem is that Dave Taylor IS a realist. That he doesn't have his head planted in the sand, and sees that the Liberal party in Alberta needs to evolve or die. Yesterday, he admitted that they deserved to lose the election.


True-Red supporters of the Liberals view such proclamations as treasonous. "Did Taylor actually suggest that the party might have to change its policies and views to reflect the plurality of Albertans whom elect a government every 4 years or so? Ridiculous! We are, after all, Liberals. The party of Laurier. The party that formed this province, under Rutherford. Our views are static, our policies timeless, our values above reproach."

The problem for the Liberals is that the values of Albertans have changed. Their views are fluid. The policies for which they pine have evolved. And the Liberals refuse to either accept it, or follow suit. To win office, they'll need to do both, or wait for the whole province to shift back to their side - for the mountain to come to Mohammad.

Taylor knows you can't move the mountain. He'd lead the party to a shift to the right (where most Albertan voters are), EVER so slightly left of the PC's, and work on policies that typical Albertans will care about, rather than cracking open the book of Liberal dogma to determine policy.

And that's why the ideologues and dogmatics in the party won't let him win - and if he DOES win, won't follow where he leads.

"Change the policies? Change the approach? Change the NAME?!? Preposterous. If that's what it takes to win elections, then we're not interested."

Silly me... I thought that was the whole reason for political parties in the first place.

Good luck, Dave.


Anonymous said...

That's an interesting point of view. Perhaps Dave Taylor is a groundbreaking alternative to the Liberal hum drum. If so, I'm confused why he would endorse the New Liberal manifesto, which reinforces the need for old-school Liberal values and suggests that party members need to be liberals above all else. Something about embracing the liberal philosophy more, and not less....

calgarygrit said...


I think everyone in the party recognizes the need for change. If anything, I kind of thought Taylor was in the less extreme side of things.

If Taylor does shift the party in the direction you're talking about, I can't imagine the grass roots raising a stink - compared to changing the name or starting a new party, a philosophical shift isn't that dramatic (and some would argue the party already IS there on the spectrum, they're just not PERCEIVED to be there on the spectrum).

Anonymous said...

Interesting comment... and not just because I tend to agree with those points. I don't have an especially deep insight into the Alberta Liberal caucus, yet I can't imagine that a Taylor-led ("Taylor-made" :) Liberal opposition would be ideologically congruent with MacDonald, Blakeman, or Swann. MacDonald is NDP-lite with his labour background. And Blakeman is a devoted Taftian (my impression anyway) and probably will not take well to Taylor's admission that "the voters did not get it wrong, we did" (my paraphrasing). Swann and "business-friendly" does not compute. Hard to say that Syncrude and Suncor have a place in our economy while you are calling them environmental masters of disaster.

Interesting time indeed, if only for us political geeks.

P.S. The thing I find hardest to believe is that the infamous letter to the PC war-room is actually archived on the website. Wow. Why leave it there, if not to serve as an embarassing reminder to Tougas?

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, as per usual.

I love how Tougas entitled his letter "An Open Letter to the Million Dollar PC War Room."

They don't understand that the war room was run by volunteers (who also had full time jobs) in the basement of the PC building that smelt like sewer the whole election. These dedicated people came back everyday, regardless, during the election to help make sure they were successful. They don't understand that volunteers is what makes a campaign successful - you can't buy an election.

As the liberal party can't seem to even muster volunteers to go door to door, or make GOTV calls, or form a centralized campaign I am not surprised that this is their understanding of the PC War Room.

And I know/realize that they wanted their letter to be poignant and funny, or clever, but the real joke is on them. Not only did they lose the election, they will continue to lose elections until they inspire people - everyday Albertans - to help them to win.

It's all about the people.

Anonymous said...

Interesting take. Though, I'm not sure who in the ALP isn't aware of the need for change. I think "eh" raises a good point, endorsing the New Liberal initiative and then launching a campaign on the need for change is a bit of a contradiction. Anyway, it could be interesting to see what happens. Taylor brings (radio) personality, but it will be interesting to see what kind of substance he can bring.

Also, I guess this pokes the air out of your Taylor crossing the floor rumour?

Enlightened Savage said...

Thanks for the comments, all. It hasn't been easy to find time to write as late, and it's nice to know I'm being read. :)

Just a couple of quick points...

Regarding the point initially brought up by eh regarding the apparent incongruity between Taylor's support of the Manifesto and the approach I believe he may be looking at, the common theme in both approaches is change. In the absence of anything concrete to the contrary, I believe Taylor backed the Manifesto because it at least had the audacity to suggest, in writing, that the problem lies "not with our stars, but with ourselves". While many of the more pragmatic of my Liberal-inclined contacts, including many bloggers, embraced the concept of requisite internal party change whole-heartedly, I also heard from a lot of long-time Liberal supporters who wouldn't have supported a name change, a merger with the NDP (even under the Liberal banner), or anything that would admit that the problem of the Alberta Liberals was of their own making, as such actions would "admit defeat". I don't know if this myopic view is held by the majority of party members or not... but, for the party's sake, I hope not.

To Dave's point about the Taylor floor-crossing rumour - don't be so sure. I can recall another staunch, leading party member, not so long ago, who ran for the party leadership and lost, only to later switch parties. In Alberta, never say never. ;)