Changing provincial politics one conversation at a time

Politics in Alberta have always been a little one-sided.

Since 1971, the Progressive Conservative party has been undefeated in provincial elections, and before that the Social Credit Party was the head of the legislature for more than 30 years. Based on this history, it’s safe to say that Alberta politics have remained fairly static throughout the last half-century.

However, with an election around the corner and the PC party on its third leader in a little over five years, the province’s political scene has become much more unstable. As a result, many Albertans now have the belief that Wildrose candidates may actually give their entrenched PC counterparts a run for their money.

In the midst of campaigning in the upcoming provincial election, which could potentially see a shift in politics, another new party has emerged: the Alberta Party. The fledgling party, with just over 2,500 members, pledges to focus on ideas of community with a promise to “reboot” democracy.

Glenn Taylor, leader of the Alberta Party, says, “We believe that all voices matter, just like all the voices of the citizens of this province matter and not just a select few.”

The big listen

Alberta Party members develop their policies through a program the party has coined the “Big Listen.”

The University of Calgary’s Alberta Party club founder Alex McBrien (left) and supporter Andrea Llewellyn (right) say having conversations with Albertans is important for building Alberta Party policy.
Photo by: April Lamb
“It’s a very time-consuming, difficult way to build policy,” says Taylor, the former mayor of Hinton, Alta., who is running in the West Yellowhead riding. “But it’s absolutely authentic. When we bring forward positions on behalf of Albertans, it’s based on having had conversations with people in coffee shops, libraries, church basements, living rooms, and the occasional pub. We talk about what matters to them, what they would like to see this province be, and they offer us solutions.”

Dale Westhora from Sylvan Lake had such an experience with his local Alberta Party candidate, Danielle Klooster. A retiree of the Correctional Services of Canada, Westhora has spent the last six years in a dispute with the provincial Workers’ Compensation Board regarding an injury his son-in-law sustained over six years ago.

Westhora wrote letters to various members of office and to other Alberta political parties. Receiving little to no feedback, Westhora says he felt dismayed until he met Klooster.

He contacted Klooster, and within two days she was at his house with her husband to listen to his story.

“Danielle took the time to come to our house and sit down and listen and see what we’re complaining about. You can’t get (most) politicians to do that,” Westhora says.

Getting involved

Alex McBrien and Andrea Llewellyn started an Alberta Party club at the University of Calgary. Both of them formerly worked on Naheed Nenshi’s mayoral campaign and are interested in change in government.Glenn Taylor sits with Sara Salazar, a waitress at Cora Breakfast and Lunch. Taylor says chatting in restaurants and coffee houses is a great way to listen to Albertans and build policy.
Photo by: April Lamb

Daorcey Le Bray, the mayor’s communications advisor, shot down rumours of Nenshi having involvement with the Alberta Party. He says that Nenshi is “a-political” and has “no ties to any political organization.”

However, McBrien understands where people could find similarities. “Democracy is more than just having an election every four years,” he says. “It’s about talking to people, finding out what matters to them and developing policy which reflects those values. Nenshi did that in his campaign, and I find the Alberta Party does that as well.”

Llewellyn says she was always interested in politics and when she began to learn about the Alberta Party she quickly became interested in what the party represented. She was initially interested in their sense of renewal, and says that when she joined, the party essentially had no policy.

“They had a lot of concepts and how they wanted to see things happen, and it was reflected by the kind of people who joined the party,” Llewellyn says.

“They developed policy based on what Albertans wanted, and I think that’s super important.”

McBrien says, “The more people know about us, the more people like us.”

Gaining support

Edmontonian Glen Wosnock agrees. Wosnock was looking for change in government and was a member of the Wildrose Party before becoming disillusioned by their methods. Although he currently has no official political affiliation, he says that after listening to what the Alberta Party has to offer, he has become quite interested.

“I find their methods to be very reasonable and refreshing compared to what we have right now,” Wosnock says. “They’re willing to work with other parties. They’re willing to work with people to come up with solutions.”

With his party currently in last place in campaign polls, Taylor admits that he does not plan to win the upcoming election. Instead, he says the upcoming election is more like a “coming-out party” for them.

Taylor says he hopes his party gets at least one candidate elected from each of the major areas of Alberta: rural, central, Edmonton and Calgary. Although Taylor says his party is not putting more stake in any candidate over others, he expects Norm Kelly, who is running in Calgary-Currie, will do well.

“He has the advantage of Dave Taylor’s legacy,” says Glenn Taylor, of no relation to the former MLA. Dave Taylor was elected twice in Calgary-Currie as a Liberal, , but left the party to sit as in independent for nine months before joining the Alberta Party as its first-ever MLA.

“We’re introducing ourselves to Albertans during this election, and we’re absolutely intent on modelling the way,” Glenn Taylor says. “We’ll be prepared to govern if we have to, but our focus is getting four MLAs elected as a minimum. It’s a reasoned, thoughtful, long-term approach to changing how politics gets done.”

alamb@cjournal.ca