Alberta Liberals split on whether to ditch name: Taft, Swann clash on starting new party

Alberta Liberals are divided over how to reinvigorate an opposition movement that was crushed in the provincial election, with the Grit chief arguing one of his MLA's proposals to possibly create a new party "is not realistic."

Liberal MLAs are all over the map on whether to ditch the party name, with some insisting it has to go and others unwilling to cut ties with the historic brand name.

Calgary-Mountain View Liberal MLA David Swann recently met with MLAs and supporters of the Grits, NDP and Alberta Greens about starting a new party based on environmental politics, accountability and democratic reform.

While Swann insists that debate on how to reenergize the opposition in Alberta must include talk of creating a new party -- or a new name for the Grits, at the very least -- Liberal Leader Kevin Taft argued Wednesday that creating a new political machine isn't the way to go.

"Going to a new party, trying to build a new party from the ground up doesn't make sense," Taft told reporters, adding that the concept "is not realistic."

Taft acknowledged there could be a different name and even a new leader by the next election, but the Liberal base is in place and shouldn't be gutted.

"There's no other realistic alternative," he added. "It's like the Alberta Liberals have the chassis that everybody else needs to bring about political change."

But Swann said change is certainly needed, after the Tories captured 72 of 83 seats in the March provincial election, leaving the Official Opposition Liberals with only nine seats and the NDP with two.

A reorganization and renewal of the opposition is what's needed, and that may include a new party and brand, he said, although he noted the final decision will rest with the grassroots members.

"Whatever it takes," Swann said. "I think there's a new name needed."

He plans to meet with former Reform party leader Preston Manning to talk about his experiences launching a new party and about green politics and democratic accountability.

Swann's musings come as the Alberta Federation of Labour has proposed an alliance between the Liberals and NDP in hopes of preventing vote splitting, and to steal back a chunk of support from the Conservatives, who've ruled for 37 consecutive years.

Liberal house leader Laurie Blakeman backs Swann's suggestions of looking at all possibilities, including launching a new party. But she noted there could be some divisions in the party ranks about what is the best option.

"I'm open to anything. I think we have to be innovative here," Blakeman said.

Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang was adamant Wednesday that the party stick with the Liberal brand name.

"We should work hard to reinvent the party under the Alberta Liberal party," Kang said.

Calgary Herald, Thurs May 8 2008
Byline: Jason Fekete

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