EDMONTON - They carry little cocktail umbrellas to symbolize bringing people together under one roof.
And on Sunday a group that advocates co-operating with the other opposition parties to take seats away from the governing Progressive Conservatives in the next election hopes the provincial NDP convention doesn't hail on them.
The convention will vote on a resolution by the Democratic Renewal Project that the party work with the Liberals to run one candidate in winnable ridings and avoid the vote-splitting that helps the Conservatives in every election.
The DRP, which claims more than 300 members, will also try to defeat a resolution that the party run candidates in every riding in the next election.
Even if its resolution fails, as it did last year, the group believes it's the only way to elect an effective opposition and eventually defeat the powerhouse PCs, co-chair Alvin Finkel said.
"We have over 300 members and the momentum is growing. We will continue to go out to groups and conferences and put pressure on parties to change."
This year they have a quarter of the 160 conference delegates committed to their position, and others may swing over when it's time to vote, said Finkel, an Athabasca University history professor.
But party leader Brian Mason said Saturday vote-splitting can be a non-factor if candidates put in hard work over two, sometimes three, campaigns.
"Two or three months of work before an election is not enough. In a hostile political climate hard work, patience and perseverance are the keys," he told delegates in his keynote speech.
He called on the party to start nominating candidates now so they can field a full slate in the next election and end up with more MLAs outside Edmonton.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said while he understands the DRP's frustration with a government that continues to make decisions against the best interest of Albertans, the party's labour caucus will be voting against the resolution.
Under the group's plan, the parties would agree on a fair division of seats across the province and run single winnable candidates in winnable ridings.
The NDP and the Liberals have the same policies on such key issues as health, a green economy, and education, yet they continue to slag each other and split the left-centre vote, Finkel said.
"We have to start rising above the pettiness because the only realistic hope of voting in an effective opposition, and potentially a progressive government, is to join forces with other moderates."
Last election the Conservatives won 83 per cent of the seats with 53 per cent of the vote, and Finkel said few Edmonton seats would go Tory if there was a united opposition.
The Liberal party is also divided on the issue, with about half the caucus supporting some kind of coalition, he said.
But until the parties work together, Albertans will continue to lose interest in provincial politics and voting in elections, he added.
"Because we are a one-party state, most people turn it all off. We have to give people a reason to pay attention again."
Finkel insisted they are not supporting a merger between the NDP and Liberals, or trying to to create a new party that would split the vote even more.
"It's the difference between a disaster and the merely unpalatable."
Edmonton Journal, Sat Sept 12 2009
Byline: David Finlayson