Monday, June 02, 2008

New Liberal

“In aiming to form government we should not reject who we are or what we believe in simply to win. We should not abandon the liberal philosophy as the foundation of our party. But our interpretation of that philosophy must change. Likewise, our organization must be made to be competitive. And our attitude both within the party and without entirely overhauled.”

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.



  • Interesting post and an interesting document.

    1) First paragraph still gets it out to a bad start. The idea that it was "supposed to be our year" always was a misnomer by any indicator. It should not have been a surprise, and truly wasn't to those in the know.

    2) A name change is an acknowledgment of public desire, not a capitulation to the PCs. The public has spoken for many years now, and that must be acknowledged. Is it acknowledged in this doc that Decore was the most successful because he tried to out-right us? That was the Decore-party more than anything. The current name has no value, and will always make a bad impression here. New or old. Its not about being desperate to win, its about being relevant to the discussion when they currently aren't.

    3. This is a sound acknowledgment, live by it: "Liberals in Alberta are a paradox. We manage to exude arrogance but no
    confidence – we come off as elitist but without having any of the
    answers. And we only have ourselves to blame."

    4. This is throwing a bone to the crazies and apologists; ditch it: "the Conservatives may have had nothing to do with it, and may even be working counter to it"

    5. The attempts to brand the PCs as "the Conservatives" in a negative sense are not going to work. Those of us who are more conservative (either libertarian-wise such as myself, or socially, even just fiscally) know that our party is truly large tent and houses an enormous variety of political opinion. This includes people more liberal than Ken Chapman, and more conservative than Ted Morton.

    6. "We want to
    remove the baggage of the NEP, of decades of federal Liberal
    governments that through the power of provincial mythology are
    portrayed as resource-grabbing Easterners." It is not provincial mythology. It is what people think. It is also how they vote in federal elections. Realize that.

    7. Staying committed to "Big-L Liberalism", which I would argue has never been the party's strength, will not get you anywhere in this province, regardless of what you call it. Realize that all modern parties ARE liberal. Right now, and especially in Alberta, classical liberalism is greatly preferred.

    8. "The Alberta Liberal Party can retain relevancy" In terms of winning, it needs to GAIN relevancy first.

    As I said, interesting. I've noted on Dave's blog that any kind of party, or shift, that is being bandied about, would need to result in both individuals such as he, and those such as myself, to at least be able to THINK about voting for whatever entity that may be. Right now, this is simply not the case. PC accessible numbers are so high, there is no chance for anyone else on the stage at the moment.

    This works for myself, but sure doesn't work for you guys.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:47 a.m.  

  • Good luck!

    By Blogger JimTan, at 11:48 a.m.  

  • There’s no shame in changing a poorly received brand name. Businesses, hospitals, organizations, and, even political parties, do it all the time. Most individuals vote on the overarching perception of a party rather than its platform and the Liberal brand name taints the perception of the Alberta Liberal Party.

    By not being willing to change the name or philosophy, Taylor and co are falling victim to the same mentality they criticize other Liberals for having – “people will like us if we just educate them enough”. The fact is people in Alberta do not like the Liberal philosophy which is why they haven’t formed government in forever.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:52 a.m.  

  • I'll take Dave Taylor seriously as a leadership contender if he can get his lazy ass out of bed before noon at least three days a week.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:56 a.m.  

  • Well, Mr Bastard, Liberal caucus meetings typically start at 10 am in Edmonton, and I would suggest being up in the morning fresh as a daisy has never been prerequisite to leadership in this province.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:06 p.m.  

  • I'm not sure if you really are engaging in fundamental change, if the ALP continues to represent the [sane] position that Alberta is not screwed by confederation.

    The mantra of the party should be Decore Decore Decore.

    By Blogger french wedding cat, at 12:19 p.m.  

  • Labour won by moving right. Decore (almost) won by moving right. That seems to be the answer.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:08 p.m.  

  • Decore almost won because of three things: Don Getty, Brian Mulroney and $10 a barrel oil.

    Sorry to burst your bubble.

    By Blogger Raymaker, at 1:28 p.m.  

  • Economic growth and manufacturing employment growth was robust in Alberta in both 1991-92 and 93/94. Eliminating the unpopular, corrupt Getty (the PC's surged, and led in the polls after Klein was nominated) successfully revitalized the PC's.

    Despite that Decore managed the best Liberal result since 1917, and his Edmonton popularity wiped out the NDP, making the Alberta Liberals Alberta's main opposition party (remember the ALP had 4 seats and was a clear third place party when Decore took over in 1988).

    By Blogger french wedding cat, at 4:02 p.m.  

  • Liberal is Liberal, regardless of what adjective you put in front of it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:18 p.m.  

  • a pc,

    I beg to differ:

    By Blogger french wedding cat, at 6:40 p.m.  

  • a pc,

    I beg to differ:

    By Blogger french wedding cat, at 6:40 p.m.  

  • While I'm not so hot on the "new" angle this does touch on a few thoughts I've had of my own.

    If Swann is with Taylor on these ideas, we could see a big shift in the Liberal party.

    By Blogger Dan McCarthy, at 7:30 p.m.  

  • Is there any concern among interested Liberals that it sounds a bit too much like 'neoliberal' for comfort?

    By Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist, at 6:43 a.m.  

  • "Well, on that topic, this plan is silent on specifics.... 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."

    Run away! Run away! Let me guess: Joe Volpe wrote this?

    By Blogger Paul Wells, at 1:28 p.m.  

  • I did my own reaction to the New Liberal report.

    By Blogger John Murney , at 10:41 p.m.  

  • I agree with TJK. The problem with this document is that it is written by Federal Liberals trying to keep the Liberal name alive without acknowledging that the name is a huge problem in the province. A new campaign to sell people on big L liberalism is probably the worst thing a revitalized ALP could do. If there were people in this province sold on the "liberal" philosophy (whatever that is, no mention in this doc) then they would have surfaced by now.
    The future is in a centrist party committed to economy, environment and social progress. It has to outflank the Tories on reigning in unecessary spending and provide a positive future outlook on the environment.
    About Swann and Taylor coming together, don't see it happening. Taylor is running with this idea and staking his leadership bid on it. Swann is more interested in engaging the grassroots of the province and bringing the party to the centre with a name change and an influx of new people. I think Swann is on the right track.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:40 p.m.  

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