On Trust, Courage, Vision, Direction and Leadership Races

A Leadership Race is always a Vote of Confidence. In a corporation, charity or a professional body, leadership votes are simple and relatively easy to understand. For, those votes are about trying to maintain what exists. When lawyers in a province elect Benchers to their Law Society, those lawyers want to maintain their level of self-governance. The easiest way of doing this is by earning and maintaining the respect of the public. If there are any issues – public or private – it is in the Benchers best interest to deal with them or else the Law Society will lose power. As an example, Law Societies in Great Britain have lost much of their ability to self-regulate because the British public believed that Lawyers were not going to prosecute each other. As a result of that loss of confidence, Politicians had to act. Consequently, by failing to govern, British Law Societies lost power.


The same is evident in other organizations. From Unions, to Professional Organizations (which represent Accountants and Plumbers) to Bankruptcy or Proxy Battles (at For-Profit Companies like Nortel, Apple, Facebook or Twitter), Leadership Races are about the level of confidence that stakeholders have in an organization.


The participation of stakeholders within each race demonstrates a level of confidence from the people who have a very real interest in the outcomes of the race. Shareholders and/or bondholders participate in the election of a Corporate Executive to maintain their stores of value, while members of Unions or Professional Organizations do the same to maintain or increase their income. .


In a Political Party, while the concept is the same, Confidence is harder to come by. For, more stakeholders have to have confidence in the institution. Old members have to be convinced to give their vote of confidence by coming out to vote. New members have to join and show their sureness about their decision by coming out to vote. Candidates have to stand for office and donors need to give to leadership campaigns. Executive Officers and Directors have to be convinced to stay neutral and yet maintain the important features of a parties’ leadership race. While, Senior Employees have to have the confidence that their jobs are secure and that they should not join a race to ensure a desired result. Accordingly, leadership races to head a party have both more meaning and confidence is even more essential.


Just look at the Wildrose Party in 2015. In December of 2014, many people thought that that Party was dead. Maclean’s, for example, ran an article called “Danielle Smith and the rise and fall of Alberta’s Wildrose Party” (by Dean Bennett and Sylvia Strojek, Dec 17, 2014); while Dave Cournoyer wrote that the: “steps taken by the party over the coming weeks could determine whether it can actually recover or whether it will join the list of conservative fringe parties after the next election”. (http://daveberta.ca/2014/12/wildrose-party-danielle-smith-jim-prentice-floor-crossing).


However, when it declared that the remaining caucus of five was looking for a leader, their stakeholders showed confidence in them. Heather Forsyth, one of the remaining caucus members, asked to become the interim leader. Three candidates – one MLA, one MP and a former mayor – decided that they would provide a non-refundable depost of $20,000 and ask 250 party members to nominate them. Those three candidates abided by the $30,000 spending limit and started finding new members. Those acts were each a display of confidence.


There was confidence in the party and in the remaining caucus. Or put differently, the Wildrose Party executive trusted their party. The Executive had confidence to set a date. They set a time and a place hoping that their membership would come and would choose the right leader. The Wildrose Party was confident enough to trust their membership with the future of the party and it turns out that that membership was prescient. For, they choose a leader that brought them back to life. While, one may disagree with his politics, Brian Jean took the helm of the party and won back seats. Instead of the 17 seats given to Danielle Smith, Brian Jean has 22 MLAs. Brian Jean is now the Leader of the Opposition and a force in his own right. It shows one what Confidence in a political party can do.


That same Confidence was evident in the Federal Liberal Party when Justin Trudeau was elected leader or in the Conservative Party when they took a leap with Stephen Harper. Confidence in one’s actions or team is a power and amazing thing.


In understanding that I am perplexed as to why some Executive Members of the Alberta Liberal Party is considering delaying its own leadership race. The only time I have ever heard a Party cancelling or rescheduling their leadership race was when no one was willing to run. When Kathy Dunderdale resigned in January of 2014, the Newfoundland PC Party found themselves in such a pickle. For Frank Coleman, a business man, eventually found himself to be the only candidate in a leadership race. Most people expected him to be sworn in as party leader on July 5, 2014. The only problem was that he announced that due to a family health issue, he would not be able to takeover as party leader or as premier. As a result, the Newfoundland Tories cancelled their July convention and scheduled a new leadership convention for September 13, 2014.


However, the Alberta Liberal Party is not in that situation. Today, as most people know, we have at least one contestant who is willing to take on the challenge of building the Alberta Liberal Party. Most of the Executive of the Alberta Liberal Party know that I have been seriously interested for some time. I have held events and had conversations based on the leadership convention dates declared by the Alberta Liberal Party. Or put differently, based on information provided, I have determined that I have confidence in the Alberta Liberal Party.


I have confidence in the Alberta Liberal Party (ALP) because I don’t believe that “liberal” or “liberalism” can be defined as dirty words. In 2015, we saw that. We saw it when two Liberal MPs won in Calgary. They broke a trend that lasted more than forty years. In fact, the election of four Liberal MPs in Alberta is historic.


But it doesn’t end there. For the ALP seems to have received a lift from the hard work of our Federal Liberal cousins. Many polls seem to have confirmed this. Since Justin’s election win in October, ALP’s numbers have been higher than our performance in May’s provincial election. Or put differently, depending on the poll, our numbers have been between 3 to 15 percent higher than our May election result. Those numbers indicate that the Alberta Liberal Party has a healthy brand. ALPs brand can grow, if Alberta Liberals wish to give their brand meaning.  Liberal numbers have grown when the Alberta Party’s numbers have not. In fact, ALP’s numbers have grown while Premier Notley’s NDP have been dropping.


But to be clear, I am no fly by night Liberal. I had confidence in Alberta Liberalism when I helped out on Susan Wright’s and Shelley Wark-Martyn’s campaigns. I had confidence in Alberta Liberals on May 5th, 2015, when I had my first serious conversations about running for the leadership of the ALP. My confidence is clear but it is not unshakeable.


For, we – the Alberta Liberal Party – have a big task before us. Assuming our laws don’t change, we should expect to have our next election on or before May 31, 2019. This is a huge challenge. Think of condition of the Federal Party before Justin Trudeau took over its’ leadership.


Under Ignatieff, in the 2011 election, the Liberal Party of Canada was able to field 308 candidates in 308 ridings. Our federal cousins obtained just under 19% of the vote and most Canadians had experienced a Liberal government. So once Bob Rae, as interim leader, ended a lot of the bickering and started to modernize the party; it was easier for Justin Trudeau to move forward.


Rebuilding the Alberta Liberal Party is a greater challenge. During the last election, the Alberta Liberal Party was only able to find candidates for about two-thirds of Alberta Ridings. ALP doesn’t have a modern party infrastructure. We need to build a solid fundraising plan and a solid brand. All of this has to happen in a difficult framework because we only took 4% of the vote and have five other competitors. To rebuild our party, we need more than the two years Trudeau had. If we keep to the scheduled date, we will only have 2 and three-quarters years before the next election. If we delay choosing a new leader, I don’t know if anyone would have the confidence to pursue the leadership of the Alberta Liberal Party.


I started this piece talking about confidence. I had the confidence to begin to talk about a leadership run because the executive seemed to have confidence in their membership. The executive seemed to think that leadership candidates could be trusted to make the difficult calculus that comes with leadership. For the ALP executive, by calling for a leadership, seemed to want to find a variety of individuals to come forward and make their case. Each of those individuals would have to do the same thing I did. Prospective Candidates would weigh the likelihood of success against the stresses that would come due to upheavals in one’s professional, family and social life. Making changes upsets that delicate balance and begs many questions including the seriousness of the ALP Executive to have a free, fair and difficult leadership race. Last minute changes to the date or rules will likely lead to a diminishment in faith and confidence in the system and the party; ultimately, leading to fewer participants in the race. I know my calculus would change if the ALP Executive – at the January 9th, 2016 meeting, changes its mind. That is why, for the health and continuity of the party, I am begging them not to change the date and to continue with the leadership contest on April 23, 2015.


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