Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Swann Song


There used to be a time when you could tune out Alberta politics for a decade and not miss much. Now, every day brings a new bombshell.

The latest comes from the Alberta Liberals, with David Swann resigning before even fighting his first election as leader. Although the news is surprising, it likely shouldn't be - since taking over, Swann has faced internal party disent and defections. With the ALP down in the polls and unable to gain traction in the press, the pressure built. Something had to give.

While the Liberals may fare better under a new leader, Swann's departure is still disheartening. After all, David Swann is exactly the type of person politics needs more of. A lifelong Albertan, Swann has spent his life trying to make the world a better place - he worked at a mission hospital in Africa for three years and has been a passionate advocate on issues like Darfur and the environment. It was the latter that drove him into politics in 2002, when the government fired him from his position as an Alberta Health Office for speaking out in favour of the Kyoto Accord.

I first met David Swann shortly after that. It was at a backyard Liberal barbecue, and we talked about his motivations for entering politics. Although soft spoken, Swann showed passion and clearly wanted to make a difference. In all my years in politics, I've never met anyone as genuine as Dr. Swann.

And I wasn't the only one who felt that way. I door knocked for him a few times in the 2004 election and was amazed by his ability to bring in supporters and volunteers from outside the party. They certainly weren't there for the campaign food, which was usually some variant of an organic humus-like substance. No, these people saw a candidate who cared about the issues they cared about, and wanted to help him make a difference. So did voters - he won the riding in a 3,000 vote landslide. As a Liberal in Calgary, that's no small miracle.

In 2008, Swann tossed his hat into the ring for the Alberta Liberal leadership. Once again, he did what David Swann does best - he got people who don't care to care. He was up against a slick sound byte machine by the name of Dave Taylor. Taylor had an exceptionally well run campaign and led in media coverage and membership sales. But people who signed up for David Swann truly respected the man and believed in him - they voted, and Swann won. Score one for the "little guy".

Sadly, from there things turned out the way they always seem to when people like David Swann become party leaders. The party turned on him. The media ignored him. Things fell apart. Although the situation is obviously different, it's hard not to draw parallels with Ed Stelmach. Both Ed and David are honest, genuine men, in politics for all the right reasons - yet pundits, partisans, and politicos throw those descriptions around as if they were tragic flaws making them unsuitable to hold office.

When good people fail in politics, you can't help feeling bad for them. But this wasn't even a case of good people failing. All Ed Stelmach did was win 8 times as many seats as the second place party in his one election. All David Swann did was win convincingly in every election he ever ran in. Then as leader, he eliminated the ALP debt which had hung around the party's neck like an albatross. I'll be the first to admit I didn't have high hopes for Swann in the next election - but surely a man who made a habit of proving critics wrong deserved a chance.

Yes, when good people fail in politics, you can't help feeling bad for them. But when good people do nothing but succeed and are still forced out of the game? You can't help feeling bad about politics.

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