Alberta Liberals challenge status quo

The Alberta Liberals staged a play Saturday morning at their annual convention.

If that sounds like a strange thing to see at a political gathering, it's because the theme of the weekend is how to do things differently, how to break free of 87 years in opposition.

"I set a challenge to the organizers to court controversy. I said everything should be on the table -- the name, working with others. Whatever it takes," Leader Kevin Taft said. "I think after the last election, more people than ever came to the conclusion that doing the same old thing again and again doesn't make sense. So I wanted to stretch the limits in a way that we haven't before. And this is the time to do it, right after the election."

This time last year, Taft and his party were boasting about being a government in waiting. Now they are 31/2 years away from the next election, facing a leadership contest and an emboldened PC party with a 72-seat majority. They are also hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

But the more than 150 people who attended the convention in Edmonton were still upbeat, making self-deprecating jokes and talking about new ways of doing business.

A morning panel featured rancher and writer Les Brost and Alberta Federation of Labour president Gill McGowan. McGowan recently positioned himself at the heart of the left of centre debate in Alberta by proposing a strategic merger between the Liberals and the NDP. It was the first time he had attended a Liberal convention.

Brost predicted tough economic times for the province and said people will be more receptive to the party's message when the boom dies down a bit.

McGowan said he told the NDP convention last summer that their brand was damaged in Alberta.

"But your brand is just as damaged, if not more so," he told the Liberals.

How far the Liberals take some of these ideas may rest on who is elected party leader in December.

Edmonton Journal, Sun Oct 05 2008
Byline: Archie McLean

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