While some in the media (and many in parties who would love to cash in on the demise of the ALP) are preparing the funeral rites for the longest standing party in Alberta politics, I wouldn't be jumping on that bandwagon just yet.
The title of this blog asks the basic question: Is the Alberta Liberal Party worth saving? My answer, which may surprise some, is yes. But hear me out...
There's no question that the last few years haven't been the greatest for Alberta Liberals, but its a far cry from the darkest times the party saw when they were completely shut out of the Legislature. And they do have some things to be happy about, namely the fact that they've finally recovered financially from the Cadillac campaign that Nancy Macbeth ran in 2001.
Naysayers would have you believe that the Liberal brand is pure poison in Alberta and would be a waste to try and revive. But an objective look at some numbers should tell you otherwise.
In order to be successful, political parties need an identifiable voter base, brand recognition/definition, and money. Simple as that.
Liberals in Alberta can consistently count on the support of at least 25% of Alberta voters these days. In the 2008 election they scored 26.37%, 29.4% in 2004, 27.33% in 2001, 32.75% in 1997, and 39.73% in 1993. You have to go back to 1986 to find a time when Liberal support was below that 1/4 mark (just over 12%). Federally, Liberals have done poorly in the last two elections in Alberta (11% in 2008 and 15% in 2006), but before that enjoyed a decent level of support with 22% in 2004, 21% in 2000, 24% in 1997, and 25% in 1993.
My point is that, generally speaking, at least one in every four Albertans is willing to mark their ballot for a Liberal candidate. That's not enough to win an election (unless you're in some kind of Euro pizza parliament), but it is something that an organized party with a good leader can build on.
That ability to build leads into that next requirement from above: brand recognition/definition. This is Canada and, in Canada, the Liberal brand is everywhere. Although they haven't been formally affiliated with Alberta Liberals for some time now, the Liberal Party of Canada has dedicated provincial wings in every province and territory of this country. And Liberals exist as a provincial party in every province and the one territory that doesn't run on consensus government. They are the ONLY brand that is that widespread provincially. Voters know that the Liberal Party is out there and they know, generally speaking, where they sit on the political spectrum (this hovers around the centre depending on province and leader). In a province that has tens of thousands of people arriving from other parts of Canada every year, being a political brand that they knew "back home" can be a very powerful asset.
The third requirement, money, is directly related to the first two items I talked about. If your supporters know who you are and, more importantly, if you know who your supporters are, you can raise money. Raising money is made easier, of course, if you have a strong leader and good team of organizers. And contrary to popular belief, there are some VERY smart organizers in federal Liberal circles in Alberta. They haven't been very active with the provincial party over the last two elections, but that doesn't mean they're lost to the cause. With the right leader and a mandate to thoroughly harvest and develop Liberal supporter lists, they could build viable constituency associations through most of the province and raise a respectable amount of money in the process.
And, with these three things in place, the Alberta Liberals can again become a force in provincial politics. The task is undoubtedly daunting, but not impossible. And considering much of the required party infrastructure (albeit skeletal in nature) exists, it may be an easier task than trying to build an un-established and yet un-defined party to occupy the same place on the political spectrum.
So if I'm a prominent progressive Albertan thinking of running to lead a political party, I have to ask myself where I focus my efforts. I can try to my stamp on something that is still in its infancy and trying to be all things to all people. Or I can bring my vision to an established brand that is well-known with a measurable and dependable level of support, and that has the infrastructure and skilled operatives who can work to broaden that support and raise money from said supporters if I'm the right leader.
Not that I ever expect myself to be in that hypothetical position, but I know where I'd be directing my efforts if I were.