For the Alberta Liberal Party, no news is probably bad news.
Yesterday afternoon at 5 p.m. nominations closed for the party that not long ago could be seriously called Alberta’s government in waiting.
As far as anyone could tell when the clock struck midnight, no candidate had stepped forward to lead the Alberta Liberals.
Maybe it was the $6,000 nomination fee, $4,000 of which was not refundable. That was a lot less than it cost to get into the United Conservative Party leadership race, sure, but you have to admit the stakes are quite a bit lower.
Whatever the reason, surely this suggests the sun has set on the first Alberta political party to form a government, in 1905, the year this place became a province.
The Liberals remained in power until 1921, 101 years ago, when the United Farmers of Alberta formed government.
And while there hasn’t been a Liberal government in Alberta since that year, Liberals knocked at the door of the Legislature in 1993. Led by former Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore, they captured 32 seats to 51 for the Progressive Conservatives led by Ralph Klein.
Liberals formed Alberta’s Official Opposition from ’93 to 2012.
They certainly still looked like a credible political party in 1997 under Grant Mitchell, later a member of the Canadian Senate, and in 2004 under the scholarly Kevin Taft.
Dr. Taft was replaced by physician and environmentalist David Swann, who served from December 2008 to September 2011.
The serious decline of the Liberals began in 2011 when the party executive made the disastrous error of allowing non-party members to vote in its leadership election with the catastrophic result that former PC MLA Raj Sherman was chosen.
The mercurial Dr. Sherman, by all accounts a fine Emergency Room physician, led the party into the wilderness, where it has remained.
When Dr. Sherman recently tried to run to replace Alberta Premier Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party, the UCP sent him packing – among the few sensible things they’ve done this summer!
Two capable and experienced Liberal MLAs, Laurie Blakeman and Hugh MacDonald were passed over by the voters in the 2011 Liberal leadership election. Had either been chosen on Sept. 10 that year, the Liberals would probably still be a going concern.
After Dr. Sherman resigned in April 2012, Dr. Swann returned as interim leader. He was the last Liberal to sit in the Alberta Legislature.
Environmental lawyer David Khan, pressed into service into service during a similar leadership crisis in 2017, managed to keep the red flag flying, as it were, without a seat in the Legislature. In 2020, he moved on.
Around 9 p.m. last night, political blogger Dave Cournoyer tweeted that there was no sign the Alberta Liberals had accepted any nominations for leader.
“The party has removed the ‘Leadership’ section from its website drop down menu,” he noted. “No public statements yet.”
So it seems likely the best hope they have now is to find a temporary leader willing to try to keep the flame flickering a little longer.
Perhaps John Roggeveen, who has been fulfilling that role since Mr. Khan quit to work for Ecojustice Canada, can be persuaded to hang on a little longer. Perhaps not.
As Mr. Cournoyer pointed out in a post yesterday, like Mr. Khan, his challenger for the leadership in 2017, another Calgary lawyer named Kerry Cundal, is likewise no longer available. She’s been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate in Calgary Elbow.
Political parties can survive a beating in a general election, or even several general elections in a row.
As long as they have a core of believers willing to put some sweat equity and a significant amount of cash into their party, they can have a future despite a dearth of seats in the Legislature.
In the 1993 election, the Alberta NDP was shut out of the Legislature. Between 1997 and 2012 the NDP never had more than four MLAs, although those four worked hard. Yet in 2015, the NDP formed a majority government. It’s the Opposition today and is withing striking distance of another term in power.
So political parties can come back from the brink.
But not if no one is willing to lead them.
It sure seems as if Alberta’s Liberals are done like dinner.