The Alberta Test Drive
Raj Sherman: 54% (4684 votes)
Hugh MacDonald: 26% (2239 votes)
Laurie Blakeman: 9% (854 votes)
Bill Harvey: 7% (626 votes)
Bruce Payne: 2% (197 votes)
As I wrote on Friday, this leadership race deserved watching, even outside Alberta, since it was the first in Canada to be run on a supporter system. The vote was open to all Liberal supporters, not just party members.
So how did the test drive go?
The number most will look at is 8,640 - the number of Albertans who voted, nearly double the total in the 2008 race. Of course, you take Sherman out of the equation and we're back to 2008 levels. I have anecdotal evidence to suggest some supporters wouldn't have taken out memberships, but if we're being honest about it, the new system clearly didn't lead to a stampede of interest in the Alberta grits.
What it did do was get the party contact information for 27,000 Albertans. Even if only a fraction take lawnsigns, volunteer, or donate money in the next election, that's a win.
But the most telling number in this little primary experiment is probably 626 - the number of votes Bill Harvey collected. Whenever I pitch the supporter system to Ontario Liberals, their biggest concern is that right-wing special interest groups will take over the party. I never really understood this, since there's nothing to stop them from paying $5 or $10 a head for memberships now. If anything, the primary system makes a takeover more difficult because it means more votes are needed to win. But the fear exists and, up until yesterday, there wasn't a good case study to dispute it.
Harvey was endorsed by Craig Chandler's PGIB group, yet he was a non-factor in this contest. If a sickly provincial Liberal Party had no problem fighting off a right-wing insurgency in Alberta, it seems clear the federal grits have little to fear from a supporter system.
No, this wouldn't solve all that plagues the LPC, because a lot of problems plague the LPC. But the Alberta test-drive shows it works, with little downside.