Alberta Liberals hoping to rebuild the party
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Alberta Liberals hoping to rebuild the party

It's a snowy April afternoon in Edmonton, and Alberta Liberals leadership hopeful David Khan is holed up in a Whyte Avenue bar.

Quite the day for a Pints and Politics event – the Oilers will soon play the Sharks in the NHL playoffs and, as Khan talks with around 20 beer-sipping supporters, hockey fans file in to claim their seats for the game.

Khan is one of two candidates vying to lead the party. The other is Kerry Cundal, who has been open about reaching out to the Alberta Party to discuss the possibility of uniting political centrists.

Provincial Liberal fortunes have been flagging since 1993, when it became the official opposition under the leadership of former Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore.

Those at Khan's event acknowledge the party's less-than-stellar support, but many have found themselves politically active after a long hiatus.

That's what Khan wants to tap into.

The NDP's 2015 victory broke a one-party stranglehold on Alberta politics, he says, creating the right environment for the Alberta Liberal Party to re-establish itself.

Shedding political baggage

Political scientist Duane Bratt says resuscitating the party will require an image overhaul.

For one thing, it has strong informal ties to the federal Liberals, long shunned by Alberta voters.

There's also a lack of clarity about where the party stands, Bratt argues; for years, it was simply the only plausible choice for voters who didn't support the Tories.

Bratt says that's not helped by the party's habit of electing PC castoffs as leader, such as former Tory MLAs Nancy MacBeth and Raj Sherman, and "censored bureaucrat" Kevin Taft.

Khan and Cundal come without those PC ties, he says, but their party's home on the political spectrum is still a bit of a mystery.

"Are they a centre-left party? Centrist? Far left? It changes," Bratt says.

"There’s an opportunity for a centrist party as we see a more polarized system — with this new Alberta conservative party on one side, and the NDP on the other – but the Liberals have so much baggage it’s going to be tough for them."

Khan agrees his party has lost direction. It has existed in a holding pattern, he says, running weak campaigns in the last few elections, and lacking confidence and assertiveness.

"There's a hazy notion of what the Alberta Liberals are," he says.

For Khan, Liberal ideology is equality of opportunity coupled with individual freedoms, a fair and regulated free market, and not borrowing for operational spending.

That, he says, is what the party needs to communicate.

"There's a huge opportunity here," he says.

"We need to change the narrative."


source : Calgary SUN
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