When people look back on it, Stelmach’s crushing win on March 3rd, may prove to be a blessing a disguise, if only because it has made those in opposition serious about forming government (and, to a lesser extent, the NDP), take a long, hard look inwards. And because of that, we’re seeing a lot of talk about the future of the Alberta Liberal Party.
The latest proposal to be put forward is the “New Liberal” document and this one deserves closer scrutiny than a lot of other ideas out there because it's being pushed by a major ALP leadership contender.
The “New Liberal” proposal, despite recognizing a need for change, rejects what they call the “extreme options” – a merger with the NDP, a name change, or the creation of a new party. A lot of reasons, some valid and some a little puzzling, for opposing a name change are presented and I think I’ll save that topic for a post of it’s own on a slow summer news week (when, you know, we’re all tired of making fun of poor Maxime Bernier).
Instead, the idea is to copy the “New Labour” movement and re-brand the party as “New Liberals”. And, really, if you’re going to reject the “extreme” proposals, this definitely seems like the best alternative since it provides a clear impetus to change the party’s message and policy. And they even toss a bone to the radical reformers by agreeing to change the party colours, if not the name.
So what would the “new Liberal” party represent?
Well, on that topic, this plan is silent on specifics. That’s not a criticism, since I don’t think it’s the role of a document like this to outline a new platform and, as soon as you start talking about policy, you start to forget about the big picture stuff. The document does recognize the need to start from scratch, find out what Albertans want, and think long term. The idea is to be proactive rather than reactive.
So what do I think? Well, if the dramatic options are rejected, this seems like the best course of action. I really like the language in the document about changing the message, ending the “martyr complex”, listening to the will of Albertans, and not making excuses for the party’s failings. And regardless of whether or not the “new Liberal” approach is accepted, there are some really good organizational suggestions for party building that should be put into place. Really good. Common sense, but things any modern party wanting to form government should already be doing.
However, my biggest fear is that this movement could eventually peter out into “status-quo change” like so many well intentioned ideas often do. Rebranding is called the “final step” on the renewal process and the rebranding suggestion of trying to “out-Liberal” the federal Liberals is…well…I wouldn’t call it a recipe for disaster, but it sure has some of the ingredients of disaster in it. If the “New Liberal” movement actually takes a page from New Labour by morphing the ALP into a centre-right, fiscally conservative party that Progressive Conservatives are comfortable with, then it might just be the answer. However, if the party is reluctant to change platform and philosophy in order to appeal to a larger tent, then it won’t amount to much more than a new buzzword.
Labels: Alberta Liberal Party