Despite a great name and some excellent startup publicity, there’s little reason to believe the new and improved Alberta Party will blossom in this province's increasingly crowded political garden.
It’s a sign of Alberta's troubled political times that new parties are popping up like dandelions in springtime. Voters are discontented with the government of Premier Ed Stelmach, who is seen as a bumbler with no plan. But they are even less impressed by the traditional opposition parties.
Out of this ferment sprang the Wildrose Alliance on the right, a party that a year ago was far out on the fringe, but which today looks like a real contender.
Now a group of Internet-savvy Red Tories and Blue Liberals have forged a peculiar alliance with some conservative environmentalists to tear a page from the Alliance's playbook and create a new party in the political centre.
Alas, despite the good intentions of its founders, there are five principal reasons why the Alberta Party is unlikely to enjoy the success of the Wildrose Alliance anytime soon.
First, the Alberta Party lacks money. It has no energy industry benefactors like the Wildrose Alliance. Cash is a great fertilizer for political movements. The Alliance was born with a silver spoon in its mouth; the Alberta Party was not.
Second, the Alberta Party occupies a much more crowded spot in Alberta's political garden than the Alliance. The Alliance may have tried to move toward the centre under Leader Danielle Smith, but it still occupies the right side of the patch where it can count on the votes of its ideological true believers. The Alberta Party, by contrast, is competing for exactly the same voters as the Conservatives, the Liberals and even the NDP.
Third, speaking of Danielle Smith, the Alberta Party has no identifiable or charismatic leader around whom potential supporters can rally. In fact, just now, it doesn't really seem to have a leader at all. (Some reports say the party's leader is former Green Party deputy leader Edwin Erickson. Others indicate Erickson is a co-leader along with Calgary lawyer Chima Nkemdirim. At the moment, the party's Website fails to illuminate.) There’s no indication the Alberta Party thinks this is a problem.
Fourth, the Alberta Party’s beginnings are too muddy. Its disparate coalition could easily fragment. The party was originally another right-wing fringe group with roots similar to those of the Wildrose Alliance. Later, it seems to have been taken over by conservative environmentalists fed up with the now-defunct Green Party. That group, in turn, merged early this year with participants in November's Reboot Alberta conference in Red Deer, a talking shop of middle-of-the-road Conservatives and Liberals frustrated with the glacial pace of political change in Alberta. It's hard to believe all these groups can coexist under one roof.
Fifth, the people who are now movers and shakers in the Alberta Party love to talk -- and talk, and talk, and talk, and talk…. Their current organizing drive is called "the Big Listen." They say they want to "start the conversation around how to build a better province." That’s fine, but will the conversation ever end?
Unfortunately, building a political party from the ground up -- as the Wildrosers are learning -- takes elbow grease and grit. It requires people who are prepared to organize teas, deliver leaflets, sign nomination forms and clean up the mess after everyone else goes home.
The Alberta Party has lots of self-important yuppified professionals who love social networking and would like to go straight into power without pausing along the way to do the necessary hard work. It's a great plan that won't work.
For these five reasons, the Alberta Party is unlikely to be a significant factor in the expected 2012 general election.
If it ever amounts to anything, it will likely be because it is absorbed by another Alberta political party for its one great property -- its winning name.
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