Alberta NDP members overwhelmingly rejected Saturday a coalition with the Liberals and Greens, as all of the province's opposition parties ponder their political futures following crushing election defeats.
Gathering at a downtown Calgary hotel for their annual convention, a few hundred NDP members almost unanimously shot down a resolution that called for an electoral alliance with the Grits and Greens.
It would have seen the parties trade off candidates in some ridings to avoid vote splitting, in hopes of forming government and implementing proportional representation.
But a long line of NDP members -- including Leader Brian Mason -- spoke out against the proposal, arguing Liberal and Green supporters may look to the Tories before they vote for the NDP.
"It's clear and it's what I wanted," Mason said following the vote. "I wanted to move forward on revitalizing the NDP and building it into a party that can take on the Tories right across the province. This helps set the stage for that."
The rejection of the coalition was a blow to Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. He supported the concept -- along with only a handful of others on the convention floor -- but the idea was fiercely rejected by many union members affiliated with the federation.
McGowan argued in a speech to NDP members that some major changes are needed within the party because it is "politically insignificant" in parts of Alberta.
"You can't start down the road to recovery until you admit you have a problem," he bluntly told the crowd. "The bottom line is seats."
Yet, the NDP's clear rejection of the coalition muddies the waters about where Alberta's opposition parties go from here.
Mason admitted the NDP must open itself up to new people and fresh ideas to make the party "relevant" to a larger number of Albertans.
"We certainly need to find new ways of doing things," he said. "Some of those ideas might be a little tough for us to swallow at first, but we need to put them on the table and seriously consider them."
The NDP boss -- who didn't face any contenders for a party leadership vote -- proposed a series of "revitalization" town hall meetings across the province in the fall and early next year, followed by a special convention to "hammer out a new approach and a new direction."
Mason's call for a new road map comes after the Progressive Conservatives captured 72 of 83 seats, and 53 per cent of the popular vote, in the March election, gutting the Liberals' and NDP's seat counts to nine and two, respectively.
It has all opposition parties scratching their heads, but the Greens and Grits also doubted that a coalition would achieve the desired goals. Rather, they're looking to engage more Albertans, after only 41 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in the election.
"A major overhaul is needed," Liberal deputy leader Dave Taylor said Saturday. "We sometimes say things like 'Why don't the voters get us?' Maybe we're asking the wrong question. Why don't we get the voters?"
Taylor argued the only way a change in government is possible in the next election is if the opposition can convince Tory voters their interests are better served with other parties -- but also round up Albertans who don't vote for anyone.
Doing so may require some sort of new opposition party or possibly changing the name of the Liberal party, Taylor maintained, although he said the Grit brand isn't "toxic" in Alberta.
Alberta Greens Leader George Read said he's open to talk about a coalition party, but hasn't yet seen a realistic solution that would slow the Tory machine.
"I haven't seen any rubber hitting the road," he said.
Calgary Herald, Sun Jun 15 2008
Byline: Jason Fekete