“He won because he went to the people. I myself knocked on ~30,000 doors for that election. The team raised $424k, had a volunteer team of ~500 people, and on that team ~70%+ were first time volunteers. Don’t believe the hype & don’t think parties are what makes politics.”
– Vincent St. Pierre @vsp, November 12, 2017 (Twitter)
I had been working on a piece about societal faith in democratic institutions. However, the feedback on my last post grabbed my attention. For, a number of people questioned my underlying logic that the Alberta Party and the Alberta Liberal Party should look at becoming one organization.
Now, let me be clear, my opinion has been developed through experience. My hands have rapped on doors for various candidates, in two provinces, for over twenty years. Through that time, one thing has become evident: a candidate needs to be able to connect with as many voters as possible to win. As with Mayor Nenshi, sometimes, that means having a majority of the voters. Other times, as with Stephen Harper’s or Jean Chretien’s victories, it means having more votes or elected members than the other guy. In saying that, parties have become very important part of the process in some jurisdictions; and Alberta is such a jurisdiction.
The reason for the significance of parties is simple: they gather up the required people, volunteers and members, which speak to voters. Only in getting sufficient volunteers, members and resources can a leader or party hope to form government. Likewise, only by obtaining sufficient volunteers, members and resources can a candidate hope to be elected so that they can be a part of a government or influence a government’s behaviour. Volunteers and members pass the message from one door to another, trying to changing minds and create a new dynamic. In that vein, it is important to have the organizational heft to change the direction of Alberta Politics. This is central to the idea of merging the Alberta Party and the Alberta Liberal Party. For neither entity, at this point, has the required muscle to make change happen.
The simplest way to see this is just by estimating the number of volunteers that a political organization should have to be competitive. We could call it “the electoral calculus of winning an election”. This exercise will show that apart, the Alberta Party and the Alberta Liberal Party have a long road to hoe. Consequently, since the general dynamic of both parties is to seek evidence-based, forward looking policy, the Alberta Liberal Party and the Alberta Party would be more effective, either in terms of influencing or forming government, if they worked as one entity rather than two.
With all of this being said, this calculus is only effective if one is dealing with a regular, “non-wave” election. So, when one talks about this math, one has to exclude Rachel Notley’s victory in 2015, the Orange Crush created by Jack Layton in 2011, Mike Harris in 1995, Bob Rae in 1990 and David Peterson in 1985. For, wave elections defy all explanation.
The math found here is for a “normal” election. These elections are the ones where the leader and their candidates have to eke out a win through changing a few minds, few votes or a few seats. That is when volunteers and party members are so important. For, as Vincent St. Pierre noted, you need to have many people who are able to go door to door. That has been the strength of the Conservative Movement in Alberta. According to Alberta Views, the PCs had 100,000 members before their merger. While James Wood of the Calgary Herald noted, in an article called the “UCP releases membership numbers”, noted that after the merger and all duplicates were corrected, the United Conservative Party (UCP) had over 87,000 members. Of that number, 58,232 voted in the first United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership election.
If we use Vincent St. Pierre assumptions, we can judge how strong the UCP is by just seeing how many members it has. Given that there are 87 provincial ridings, and that approximately 500 volunteers are needed to win a riding, then we know that the approximate number of volunteers need to be competitive is 43,500. Of those 13,050, should be “old hands” (i.e. people who have been through at least one single previous election). If a person compares the 43,500 needed volunteers to the 58,232 United Conservative Party members who are already active, one can see that the UCP is more than election ready.
At the same time, we can compare this mythical 43,500 to the existing membership of the Alberta Liberal Party or the Alberta Party. According to Frank Dabbs’ Alberta Views article “Third Option: The strange fate of the Alberta Liberal Party”, written in August 23, 2017, the Alberta Liberal Party has about 2,200 Members. While, Greg Clark was quoted as saying:
“‘I’d love everybody to run and I’d love for there to be a competitive race that brings 10,000 members and 500 organizers to the Alberta Party … you build up the money, you build up the volunteers, you build up the capacity and then you’re ready to run the election,’ he said.” (Clark quits as first Alberta Party leader to generate political buzz, By James Wood, Published on Last Updated: November 10, 2017 8:06 PM MST)
By examining the evidence, one can see that a combined, Alberta Liberal-Alberta Party entity might only hope to get the 13,000 old-hands needed to move forward. On the other hand, the Provincial NDP has more than 10,000 members and the UCP could muster 58,232 to 87,000 volunteers. Accordingly, a combined Alberta Liberal-Alberta Party entity would still be sorely lacking in capacity; and, this is before any combined Alberta Liberal-Alberta Party entity started looking for donations, more members and volunteers.
This is not to say that I am pessimistic. I have gone door to door to find supporters. From petitions to membership drives, for nomination battles to campaigns, it is important to reach out to people to build a party or a movement. However, we should not make our job harder than it has to be out of partisan considerations. Every movement, from time to time, has had to seek allies to grow. For example, when the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation was unable to fulfill its mission, they reached out to the Canadian Labour Congress. Out of those conversations the New Democratic Party, with provincial and federal wings, emerged. The Bloc Québécois, Wildrose Party, the United Conservative Party and the present incarnation of the federal Conservative Party are also examples of this trend.
Now for those who say that Liberals have never done this, I say hogwash. The Liberal Party of Canada came to be through the same democratic impulses of working with partners. The Clear Grits, the Patriotes and Parti Rouge were just some of the constituent parts of what became the Liberal Party of Canada. Many people like George Brown had to work with people that they had an “uncivil” hatred towards. In today’s terms, before the mergers, George Brown would be called a “bigot” or a “xenophobe”. His hatred of French Canadians and Catholics was legendary. However, over time, he changed. One of the founders of the Liberal Movement went from being anti-French to beginning to form the foundations of what we call bilingualism and multiculturalism. If George Brown could do it, can’t the Alberta Party and the Alberta Liberals work together? Can’t our parties bury the partisan hatchet to become friends and partners in building a better Alberta? I believe that we can do it because Alberta needs a forward-looking, evidence-based party who worries about the least among us. Alberta needs a party that can bare witness to the tragedies in our society and has the courage to suggest or even implement public policy which can bring change. Alberta needs a party that can balance the needs of the majority, the vibrancy of our minorities and bring forth ideas which ensure that both gain together. Such policy will not come from the magical thinking of the United Conservative Party or from the fantastical words of the New Democratic Party; however, it can be put into place through the hard work and listening skills brought forth form a combined Alberta Liberal-Alberta Party entity.