Mark Taylor is a busy man — tasked with delivering a leader, 87 candidates and a campaign war chest for a party that talks big, dreams bigger, but so far has been unable to roll up its sleeves and get much done.
“I’ve seen the ebbs and flows of parties through my history and I’m just really excited about the trajectory this party is on,” said the new executive director of the Alberta Party.
“It’s not just we want to have 87 candidates. I want to have 87 nomination races. I’m really looking for in the neighbourhood of 200 candidates.”
It’s an auspicious target for a party that bills itself as the natural home of the centrist voter —socially progressive and fiscally conservative — and sees an opportunity to come up the middle in the blood feud between Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP and Jason Kenney’s United Conservatives.
But in the bottom-line business of politics, the Alberta Party has lagged in every metric since it rebooted its mandate on a centrist axis in 2010.
In the 2012 election, it ran 38 candidates but polled just 1.3 per cent of the vote and got shut out. In 2015, it ran three fewer candidates and polled 2.2 per cent, but did manage to elect then-leader Greg Clark in Calgary Elbow.
The party doesn’t release membership numbers, but fundraising over the first nine months of this year has been poor — just over $77,000.
The party didn’t contest a 2016 byelection in Calgary and isn’t fielding a candidate in the upcoming byelection in Calgary Lougheed.
There are signs of progress.
Clark’s one-person caucus recently became two when NDP Calgary backbencher Karen McPherson crossed the floor. More than 400 people came to the party’s annual general meeting Nov. 18. There were 59 last year.
A new board of directors has representatives from across the province. Taylor said they have been rebuilding their constituency associations and now have more than 60.
New blood has come on board including former conservative strategists Stephen Carter and Susan Elliott, as well as former PC president Katherine O’Neill.
Clark, say sources in the party, acceded to suggestions earlier this month that a fresh face was needed to galvanize the party, so he stepped down to allow for a leadership vote set for Feb. 7.
WATCH: The jostling for political position ahead of Alberta’s 2019 election continues. Tom Vernon has more on why Greg Clark is stepping down as leader of the Alberta Party.
Carter pushed for a leadership race that he sees as a spark to go with the nuts and bolts of building constituencies and finding good candidates.
“[The Alberta party] has to decide it wants to grow. It has to decide it wants to be a real political party,” said Carter, who shepherded successful election wins for Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and former PC premier Alison Redford.
“There was a time [the party] was going to do politics differently. I appreciate the sentiment, but politics is politics.
“You have to be in this game to win this game.”
The revitalization is getting a boost from so-called Red Tories, who are unhappy with the renewed social conservatism of Kenney’s United Conservatives. The Alberta Party’s general meeting included a number of former PCs, including former cabinet ministers Doug Griffiths and Stephen Khan.
One-timer Tory cabinet minister Thomas Lukaszuk said he is intrigued by the Alberta Party, but wants to see the meat on the bone.
“Without trying to insult them, I never thought of them as a political party,” said Lukaszuk.
“There are a few pieces missing, but those pieces are very attainable,” he said, citing fundraising and energized constituency associations.
Elliott dismisses suggestions that the party has become a rest home for disaffected Progressive Conservatives. She said that cohort was just a sliver of the 400 members at the meeting.
“I didn’t know 90 per cent of the people there, and that’s a good thing,” said Elliott, who managed the successful Tory 2012 election campaign.
“I saw a lot of people in the room who were of the millennial generation, who are getting interested in how their province is run [and] don’t like the choices that are facing them.”
Political scientist Duane Bratt from Mount Royal University said there may be room for a true centrist option. But time is not on the side of the Alberta party, he said, with just 16 months to the next election and two dominant parties on its flanks.
“Most of the oxygen has been sucked out by Kenney and Notley.”
© 2017 The Canadian Press