Mason stays at the helm

Brian Mason is staying on as leader of the provincial New Democrats and the party will continue to go it alone, with more than 95 per cent of delegates at its weekend convention voting against a motion to unite with the Green Party or Alberta Liberals.

Mason was one of many members who spoke against such a move, which had been proposed by Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.

"The membership saw, and quite rightly, that the proposal to form an electoral alliance with the Liberals and the Greens was not going to go anywhere," Mason said in an interview with the Gazette.

The NDP didn't want to sacrifice its principles of social justice and equality "for a misguided sense of political unity," Mason said.

"We're focused on building our party and building it into an alternative that can beat the Conservatives," he said.

But without a large-scale overhaul, "that's very unrealistic," said Grant MacEwan College political scientist Chaldeans Mensah.

While the NDP is a strong advocate for social democratic principles, most Albertans aren't "in tune" with its message and the party isn't likely to gain broad appeal unless it redefines itself, he said. "There's a bit of wishful thinking here. The NDP is basically maintaining a bit of a rigid ideological stand," Mensah said.

The party is acting like what is referred to in political science circles as an ideological or missionary party, which promotes its core principles without actually seeking to win power, he said.

"Unless the party finds a way of making a bold step of co-operating with other political forces to shape a new entity I think it's likely to remain a fringe party."

The NDP's decision was surprising given that the political climate presents an opportunity for opposition parties to reconfigure themselves to fill a "yearning in Alberta for a strong opposition," Mensah said. "We need bold steps to really shake up the system," he said, adding the decision opens up political space for the Alberta Liberals to broaden their appeal.

Mason admitted over the weekend that his party must open up to more Albertans.

Opposition parties were left reeling after the Conservatives won 72 of 83 seats in the March election. This saw the NDP seat count cut in half, from four to two, and the Liberals falling from 15 to nine. The results brought speculation about the leadership of both opposition parties.

Mason's leadership, however, went unchallenged at last weekend's convention and he said he intends to lead the party to a "much more successful outcome in the next election."

Liberal leader Kevin Taft will announce his future plans later this summer.

St. Albert Gazette, Page 18, Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Byline: Cory Hare

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