Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Alberta Test Drive

No surprise, as Raj Sherman wins the Alberta Liberal leadership race on the first ballot:

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.

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  • A couple of points.

    One, the low voter turnout. I realise this was probably expected, given the way in which most of those 27000 supporters were signed up (demon dials), but even though they doubled the number of people who voted from last time, it's still not very impressive to have only 8600 of 27000 people vote. If they didn't bother to vote, I doubt they'll want a lawn sign or want to volunteer.

    Two. It's true that they showed the system was relatively immune to a right-wing takeover, but couldn't this also be called a takeover, just not a right wing one? I know some long-time Liberals who were genuinely excited about Sherman, but for many of them this was their worst fear. So really, it does amount to an outsider taking over the leadership of the party. Maybe it's the shake-up they need, but it's also potentially problematic.

    So I'm not sure this is as rosy a case-study as your post portrays. But I'm also not sure the federal Liberals shouldn't do it.

    By Blogger Brandon E. Beasley, at 1:31 p.m.  

  • CG you always have the most interesting things to read. I'm interested in this "open party" idea; maybe the federal LPC could win me over with this concept one day.

    Sherman is a loose cannon, prone to firing off in any direction if he gets worked up about an issue.
    BTW I like that in a politician, so you kind of sold me on him in your profile. I hope he'll shake things up in Alberta; I love to see new blood in and old power out.

    Really curious where this open vote experiment can/will take other systems in the future.

    By Anonymous Jacques Beau Verte, at 2:06 p.m.  

  • BTW am I off target in suggesting "right-wing conservative" Alberta politics seem more welcoming to non-Europeans than "left-wing liberal" east coast provincial politics? I see a white police chief in TO, not in Vancouver. White mayors in TO & Montreal, not Calgary. Off the top of my head I can't visualize any non-European party leaders in ON or PQ or Maritimes. I can think of a non-white Premier from the West, but not from the East. Is my brain stopped up or is that accurate? If I'm correct, perhaps another Rise of the West sign.

    By Anonymous Jacques Beau Verte, at 2:25 p.m.  

  • Off the top of my head I can't visualize any non-European party leaders in ON or PQ or Maritimes.

    The first non-European-ancestry provincial Premier in Canada was Joe Ghiz in PEI, whose son is now running for re-election.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:55 p.m.  

  • Wow.

    I had no idea Joe Ghiz was non-European; wiki confirms (Joe Ghiz has a partly Lebanese ancestry).

    It's a good example; still, on a certain surface level, and despite the street-level diversity of Toronto, I wonder yet if the West End of northern North America has a better grasp on human capability than the Eastern Part. Ghiz was a great example to bring up, and I don't mean it as a reproach to the valid point if I say that I don't think PEI should even be a province. Being Premier of PEI is like being a Mayor. That's not a diss; Nenshi is great news and so, obviously, was Ghiz. I'm glad to know more about him than I did before I read the Anonymous post.

    Thanks for the info.

    By Anonymous JBV, at 9:53 p.m.  

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