Wednesday, January 07, 2009

BRUCE MILLER'S NEW POLITICAL PARTY: OF DUCKS AND HORSES


A Horse (according to Bruce Miller)
According to a piece that appeared today in the Calgary Herald some Alberta Grits along with a few interested others are conducting sub rosa meetings with a view to starting a new Alberta political party. See: Some Liberals Weigh Starting Party, http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/todays-paper/Some+Liberals+weigh+starting+party/1150177/story.html

Bruce Miller is an affable, intelligent, and well-meaning former United Church Minister who represented the riding of Edmonton Glenora for the Liberals through one term until the March 2008 election. He has been one of a discreetly silent and shadowy group of real or wannabe politicos who are conducting private meetings to get the ball rolling for the new party. He believes that no existing party has a chance of beating the provincial Tories. According to Miller, "It's obvious that the Liberal brand doesn't work. How many times do you have to lose in a big way? I think enough is enough. It's time to look at other possibilities."

I have two problems with Miller’s statement.

First of all, it fails to take into account the success of Laurence Decore as provincial Liberal leader in the late eighties and early nineties. In 1992 Decore’s Liberals won 32 seats and 39% of the vote. They also won a by-election in Three Hills, the buckle of Alberta’s bible belt. Surely a party that is that strong in a general election and can win seats in highly unlikely ridings has a chance to go all the way and win.

Perhaps the question that Miller and his band of revolutionaries should ask is, why is it that the Liberals have not done nearly as well since Decore was the leader? The answer is obvious. Laurence Decore was a leader. He worked the length and breadth of the province, came up with attractive policies, and sold them well enough to have given the Tories their greatest scare since they took power in 1971. Had his health remained robust, he could have gone all the way. But tragically, it was not to be. As far as leadership skills were concerned, no Grit leader in the province since Decore - and we have now had four of them – was able to touch him. So when Miller asks the question why the Liberal brand doesn’t work in Alberta, he should think of Decore, and if he thinks of Decore he will come to one conclusion. It is all about leadership, stupid!

The second point I would make to Miller and his insurrectionists is that the Alberta Liberal Party has through the years stood for being “business friendly and environmentally and socially progressive.” This is exactly what Miller wants his new party to be. That being the case, does he really believe he can hoodwink Alberta voters into thinking that Miller’s new party, whatever its name, and with its membership comprised of a bunch of Liberals, is a different party than the Alberta Liberal Party. Does he believe that Albertans will conclude that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it must be a horse? That, with respect, is contemptuous of the intelligence of the people of Alberta.

Finally, Miller and his band of plotters should heed the advice of new leader David Swann and political scientist David Taras. A new party will only further split the anti-government vote and make life easier for Premier Stelmach and the provincial Tories. Hopefully, that will give Miller and his pals some pause.

14 comments:

WesternGrit said...

Good points, all. I'm from Sask., and lived in AB. before moving to BC 2 years ago. I saw the formation of the Sask Party, and there was no denying all of Sask knew they were a bunch of former Devine PCs, along with a smattering of others who should have been PCs, but after the demise of that party clung to the Liberal ship. Everyone knew they were Conservatives, and hence they only took power when a slight majority of Saskatchewanians decided they were tired of over a decade of NDP rule...

You can't hide from your past. Better to celebrate the present, and present your ideology in a good frame. Sell your ideals. Wear your enthusiasm about the party. The biggest challenge for Liberals in AB is that no-one thinks there are Liberals in AB. Prove them wrong - roll out the numbers showing 1/4 of ABs voted for us in past elections (or more). Wear Liberal wear so ordinary ABs will see that there is nothing wrong with being Liberal - even their neighbors do it.

Cheers!

Darryl Raymaker said...

WesternGrit

You are absolutely right. There are no easy ways to power when trying to turf out a long established incumbent government. There was a lot of frustration amongst Grits after the last provincial election. My advice to some of them was to hearken back to the days of Muhammed Ali. You recall him saying something like this -"I'm the champeen of the world, and if you want to take away my title, ya' gotta wup me!"
We have not wupped the Tories. we have not put it together. And any new party will have the same problem only worse because the opposition vote will be more fractured.

Thanks for the comment.

WesternGrit said...

Thanks Darryl,

Make sure you guys lay on a whupping next time! Whenever I spoke to fellow Alberta Liberals who talked about "distancing themselves from the federal party" or "name changes", I always argued that it would not work. I have been convinced through business experience that you need to sell you ideas well, and in Alberta we were afraid of selling those ideas. Firestone never closed it's doors after killing someone - neither did Maple Leaf. They didn't change their names either. I don't think the Alberta Liberals (who never have killed anyone - unless it was a Tory supporter who laughed to death during the last election) need a name change.

Liberalism is more than just a label - it is a set of ideas. You can call yourself what you want, but the world will still call you "liberal". Down South they have a party called the Democrats, but everyone calls them "liberal".

The other part of the Alberta Liberal "challenge" is that Alberta is pretty much Texas/Colorado/Wyoming North. To win is VERY tough slogging. I think the Obama Democrats really shocked people in Colorado this past election, but it took an incredible effort. In Alberta - when compared to Texas, for example - there is even less diversity in opinions, due to the small population. There are limited media voices that speak in favor of Liberal ideas (I'd say none - the media for the most part is right wing and private, and the CBC is "neutral"). In Texas, there are at least several strong media voices which can speak out in favor of the centrists.

What's the secret to winning? There's no magic bullet. A mix of very hard work, solid fundraising (to help spread the word), showing people in AB that "Liberals live among us, and are just like us", and that we have fun, and finally the hope that a Liberal leader once again captures the attention of Alberta voters as Dacore did.

I think the change may come sooner than anyone thinks. If the Alberta economy is seriously hurt by the worldwide crisis, AND if other world nations are able to push alternative energy sources (including our #1 customer - the US, which is always talking about "oil independence"), there may soon be a need for AB residents to receive the types of social services and infrastructure projects the rest of Canada enjoys... Who knows?

Tony said...

The problem isn't with the Liberal brand but the way it has been used and abused by its members and leaders. You can not win elections if one half of the ridings do not have active riding associations and the party does not have funds to properly fight an election. Fix these two items and the next election can be won. It will mean that the new leader will have to start thinking more like a politician and less like a doctor. The current premier is vulnerable on a couple of fronts that should be exploited at the next election. Let's hope that Dr. Swann will listen to the right people for the political advice. And I don't mean Mr. Chase.

Darryl Raymaker said...

Amen WesternGrit.
In bad times it is easier to turf a government. But what about good times. In 1971in Alberta there were more or less good times. Lougheed and his Tories turfed the Socreds. Why? not only because the Socreds had run a very long course. It took leadership to really finish them off!

And Tony you are right about this -you have to have viable riding associations everywhere, and some lira to promote the party and the candidates!

Thanks for reading my blog!

CfSR said...

Darryl,

Laurence was even closer than your post suugests. If I remember correctly (1993 election riding results are not easily found online), Laurence was within a swing of about 10000 votes in the closest ridings in the province of being Premier.

Laurence's success was about leadership, organization and hard work. And he led by example - in every element of organization.

Unfortunately, that effort wasn't really appreciated by certain short-sighted elements within the provincial party. They failed to understand that 1993 was a victory and not a defeat.

Of course, treating it as a defeat got those elements closer to what they wanted.

Frankly, I'm not sure that the machinations of insiders with little particular record of success, other than perhaps getting elected as MLA or helping someone run, will really attract Albertans' sustained attention.

If Albertans were really in tune with self-styled political insiders, Nancy Betkowski would have become the Tory Premier or Nancy MacBeth would have been elected as Liberal Premier.

Nothing beats hard work. Laurence knew that. And always say thank you.

Darryl Raymaker said...

CfSR

You are absolutely right about how close he came to the brass ring. And you are right again about his working his buns off in all areas of politics.

Politics is a cruel and sometimes stupid business. One's accomplishments short of victory are likely to be forgotten - and sometimes not in terms of years but in hours. It is a game of 'what have you done for me lately?' and sometimes 'lately' means an hour ago. But that's politics.

I've always believed that had Laurence had been well enough physically after the election he could have shooed off his detractors like one does to flies. But he was not well.

The new party boys and girls don't know what the hell they are getting into. A bunch of amateurs. Some nice people . . . but still amateurs!

And you're right, nothing beats hard work. And if you can throw some passion into it, it's even better.

jenuths said...

The fear is that Dr. Swann will stay the course, and spend the next 18 months deciding what, if anything, will be done.

Its far too easy to just lament how we have the best policies, but that the nasty press does not support us and Albertans hate the word Liberal.

Its time we acknowledge that our problem is that we do not sell our party adequately, that we make no effort to defend ourselves, and we allow our opponents to define us as they wish.

In 1993, we came close because we decided to try and win. Our leader wanted to win. No one talked about being a strong voice in the opposition.

We knew we were against an unpopular PC party lead by an unpopular leader (Getty), and we wanted to replace him. We attracted some fine candidates. People fought to be nominated. For example, Darryl will remember fondly the Calgary West nomination meeting which involved hundreds of members, electing a future MLA who ran against a future judge.

We should have won the election. In part, our failure involved a refusal to respond to the new PCs and Ralph Klien. We trotted out a debt clock (recently auctioned off), continued to campaign against Getty, and talked about abortion, of all things.

We lost. Unfortunately, instead of looking at why and learning so lessons from the campaign, we ended up feeling sorry for ourselves.

Since then I am sick and tired of hearing about the "Klien factor" as the reason we lost. Or any other of the excuses beyond our control.

Instead, its about time that we recognize that we failed to face the change in Tory leadership head on. We did not want to change our well planned campaign to meet the new threat. We were afraid to immediately acknowledge that abortion was not on our agenda, and put it behind us. We failed to understand that we were running Larry against Ralph, not Mr. Decore against Premier Klien.

As a campaign manager in that election, I failed too. I failed to convince people that this was a race between Larry and Ralph, and that Larry should wear a checked jacket when trying to sell off used cars.

I made the wrong choices in the final days of my campaign. I chose to be nice, rather than hard hitting and did not jugular. Had I made the right choice, 500 votes would have changed, and another Liberal MLA would have been elected. I take responsibility for this, because it was my fault.

I don't blame the defeat of my candidate on Ralph Klien, Sharron Kimmel, or the green party guy with the right hook. They were all factors, but were ones which the party, but primarily me me as the campaign manager, ought to have dealt with. I failed.

Since that time, I don't think we have tried to win. We've certainly never put together a plan to win. Instead, we've just hoped somehow, somewhere, sometime, everything comes together.

Its time stop hoping and start planning. There is no time to wait. We need a plan on how a party with about 5,000 members who bothered to vote on a leadership can win. We need to make it flexible enough policy wise to counter anything which comes from the government. And then we have to carry it out, come hell or high water.

We don't have 18 months, or even 6 months to wait. We have decide to win the next election, and create the plan which will allow us to do so with the resources we have.

10 years ago, and then again couple of years ago, I wrote a report for the federal Liberals proposing that the federal Liberals have to redefine themselves as a Liberal voice _from_ Alberta, rather than a rump of administrators who argue about whether we should save a hundred dollars a year by changing banks. These reports, like most of its type, are shelved. No one really says why they oppose it, rather they die a death from neglect and inattention.

The ALP will have the same fate, unless its leadership decides to break the mold, and instead implements a plan to become the next government.

Darryl Raymaker said...

Jenuths

Amen to most of what you said. The party's embodiment is in the leader. He has to be the driving force of the party in respect to policy formulation, fund raising, riding organization, finding qualified candidates, raising money, and effectively defining himself. He and his organization has got to do all of that and all of that well. Since Decore, that has not happened. The leaders since were all good, responsible people. But they did not have it altogether. There were things that were missing - an effective, well oiled machine, money, effective messaging, passion, etc. All of the parts have to be working, not some of the parts. All of the parts work when there is effective leadership.

I don't believe in rehashing what might have been had we done this or that in that election or any election. As far as your role is concerned in the party is concerned, you have been one of the shining lights, and you must make no apologies.

I agree that Alberta Grits must start now planning on winning the next election. They should immediately stop the navel gazing. Dr. Swann should be talking to image makers and sifting through policy ideas that will put the party squarely in the center. He should be putting together a fundraising apparatus to take full advantage of small donations. He should be organizing riding associations and finding candidates. Which means of course, that he has to put to gether a broad based team that are enthusiastic about HIM and loyal to HIM. And he has to do that NOW!

WesternGrit said...

Steve: Excellent assessment. I think you and Darryl are completely on the right track about where the party needs to go vis-a-vis maintaining the name, and selling it better. I compare the efforts put forth in Alberta compared to efforts in BC and Sask - both federally and provincially, and see discrepancies. A lot of hard work needs to be done.

A challenge in Alberta is that everyone is so busy making money, no-one really wants to take the time to volunteer for a party when everything is "going so well" (jobs, economy, etc.). Meetings get called in some boardroom downtown where one can't find parking, unless you pay $10; where it costs a fortune for anyone from suburbia to join in by 5pm, etc., etc. A recent meeting here in Greater Van. hilighted this issue. Meetings were held in a Tim Horton's and in the back room of a restaurant with a former candidate and the riding assoc. The meeting in the back room was a "wonderful meeting amongst ourselves" as the candidate stated, while the Tim Horton's meeting expanded into a lively political discussion involving many people from nearby tables. How we approach our politics will be an asset to our team - if we do it right. Do we want to be a (shrinking) champaigne social club, or do we want to add to our group? Can we hold meetings at pubs, coffee houses, university student union halls? Are we afraid to engage the general public in conversations because we think they will shout us down, or spit on us, or something?

A vision of being a part of the Alberta fabric is key. People need to know that we Liberals "walk among them". We're not aliens or outsiders, but a part of Alberta Heritage. We need to point out that we almost always garner support from over a 1/4 of the population. We need to show we Liberals are the only party prepared for the future (infrastructure, training, education, universities, etc.) is called for. A Liberal vision. We also need to show bold and dynamic leadership. When was the last time - outside of an election that an Alberta Liberal leader held a Town Hall Meeting open to the public? I think I recall one with Ken Nicol, but that may have also been during an election...

Nice to chat with you guys again...

Corey Hogan said...

This was a phenominal exchange, of which I have little or nothing to add.

The Alberta Liberal Party is in serious danger of disappearing from the horizons of relevancy if we continue on with navel gazing and daydreaming. Even this dramatic shakeup being reported: it relies on Conservatives agreeing to work with us, or us for them.

When are we going to be masters of our own destiny?

New parties, new brands - It's all moot without a winning attitude and the means to follow through. A plan, action.

Let's get to it.

cjaques said...

Stephen Jenuth, you were an excellent campaign manager in the 1993 election. We had a great campaign team and we all worked very hard, including you. There were other things going on in the 1993 election and we ended up short of votes for many complicated reasons.
That was 1993.
As for the current situation, we have a great deal of work to do and I hope all loyal Liberals are up to the challenge.

Connie said...

I hope you'll accept a non-liberal comment (although my family and I have been supporters in the past). Perhaps it was lack of liberal leadership that didn't tie me to the party. Perhaps it was finding a compatible set of values elsewhere, but I am absolutely in agreement with various comments in this thread regarding leadership. I was a campaign manager in 2008 for the Greens. If the leader of the party can't build a sense of credibility for the principles and goals of the party, it doesn't matter how many campaigners, how clever the candidate, or even how excellent the campaign manager. There is a ceiling (about 20%) that you can reach, locally -- because of, or in spite of the party name. The leader of the party is the critical element for success in my opinion. Mind you, on the other hand, maybe there is something to a name. After all, the PC's have had most of our people thinking that they are progressive, and conservative, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Thank you.

Darryl Raymaker said...

CJacques
I agree totally on Stevie. He's been a great Grit and a credit to his party in a host of ways. There is a lot of work to do and I have no doubt that the current activists will remain loyal to the Party. The big task is to grow the party - and that primarily is a function of leadership. The old guard can only take it so far but no where near the place where you have a chance of 'wupping' the current champ.

Connie - Thanks for the post and for reading my blog. The Greens in Alberta (and nationally for that matter puzzle me). In Alberta Grits have never been Greener. Nationally in the last election the Grits were never Greener. As a matter of fact the Grits were as Green as the Greens. And yet, The Greens and their supporters opt of splitting the Green vote and making it easier for the neanderthals to win. I can't understand that.

You are right about Leadership being the key. If the leadership is right, everything falls into place. You raise money, you get volunteers, you develop good policy and a good Eday organization and you win.

As to the party name, it would be too cynical by half for the Grits to change their name. There is nothing wrong with the name 'Liberal' in Alberta as Decore proved, and in Canada it will soon be once again the 'gold' standard. People vote PC because we have not 'wupped' them with the best leadership we can provide.