What Federal Liberals Can Learn from the Wildrose Party: More evidence why our next Federal Liberal Leader should not be a sitting MP

For those who argue that Danielle Smith lost the election, I have only one phrase: you are wrong. When I first moved to Alberta, over five years ago, the Wildrose Party did not even exist. Up until a couple of years ago, the Provincial Tories had some rag tag opposition on the right. They included the Alberta Alliance Party, the Social Credit Movement and the Wildrose Party. While the Progressive Conservatives of Alberta feared a movement to their right, one did not exist.

Then two years ago, Danielle Smith stepped onto the scene. Her “big” win was her ability to be a threat to the Tories. In Alberta, besides the Tories and the Wildrose, there are four other parties: the Alberta Party, the Green Party and the provincial NDP and Liberals. However, none of them were able to win more than ten seats in the last election. In fact, the provincial Liberals almost lost “Official Party Status” in the Alberta Legislature, while the NDP gained it. Just for the record, Official Party Status requires a minimum of four seats.

In fact, to understand the change on only needs to understand that the Wildrose Party has displaced the Alberta Liberal Party as the Official Opposition. The replacement of the Alberta Liberal Party as the Official Opposition is significant; for the Alberta Liberal Party has held that role since 1993. So in winning 17 seats, one could say that the Wildrose Party has become the driving force in Alberta Politics.

Therefore, my point is simple: Danielle Smith did this all without a seat in the Alberta Legislature. In fact, Ms. Smith passed over a couple of chances to get a seat in the Alberta Legislature. One example was the Calgary Glenmore By Election of 2009. It was just one example of an opportunity for Ms. Smith to gain a foothold in the Alberta Legislature if she chose to have one. History tells us though that she declined them. Instead, she concentrated on building a viable political force in Alberta.

Now, it is important to remember that in Alberta, provincial governments rarely change. From 1905 to the 1920’s, the Liberals ran the province. Since then the United Farmers of Alberta (1921–1935) and Social Credit Party of Alberta (1935–1971) have taken their turns. However, the last time, there was a change; it came from the Leader of the Opposition. Or put differently, Peter Lougheed did not win government in a vacuum. He did not leap from being a third party to becoming Premier. He started from a position of strength. So “this leap” of the Wildrose Party has to be seen as a victory and an opportunity or possibly for a governmental change in four to five years.

In the same vein, Liberals have to ask ourselves, who is in a position of strength in our Federal Parliament. I have and would continue to argue that none of the Liberal Members of Parliament are in a position of strength. As Mr. Ignatieff found, if you spend a lot of time outside of the House, a Political Leader can be accused of not doing their job. In a case like ours, where the party needs to be rebuilt; it might be simpler to have a non-MP run for the leader. The Wildrose Party can be our example.

Just look at the NDP today. While, their numbers have risen due to Mulcair’s ascendancy, their honeymoon will likely end. Or put differently, Ignatieff, Kim Campbell and John Turner also had great numbers when they took over their parties. However, their leadership decisions eventually brought their abilities into question. Mulroney damned Turner for allowing Trudeau’s appointments to continue unchecked. The public agreed with Mulroney. While, in the case of Ignatieff and Campbell, their performance in electoral campaigns did not inspire confidence. As Mulcair makes real decisions, his numbers will change. However, he will not likely have time to build his party. As Preston Manning, Stockwell Day, Joe Clark or Jean Charest have learned, it is very difficult to extend a party’s electoral footprint while in office. So the NDP might have just picked the wrong leader. For, if the NDP wants to govern next time around, they will have to build their party on the Prairies, the Maritimes or in Ontario. It is easy to argue that Brian Topp would have had an easier opportunity to do this than Mulcair will.

With this being said, we have an opportunity. Liberals do not need to make the same mistake. We Liberals can choose a non-MP as Leader. Just as the Wildrose Alliance did.

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