Parliament Hill circa 1986Calgary federal Liberals gathered last night at Fort Calgary for a fundraiser for the upcoming by-election in Calgary-Centre. The event was advertised on Facebook as “Feel the Momentum.”

After sitting through the evening’s festivities, feeling the momentum was a bit of a challenge for this cranky Liberal. Despite an enthusiastic and reinvigorated riding association board in Calgary-Centre, and a couple of decent candidates for the nomination, it appears  there are several internal factors working against the party’s success in the upcoming by-election.

The guest of honour, Bob Rae, interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, has outlasted his usefulness (not that he was ever particularly welcomed in Alberta).  And to make matters worse, he promised to be back in Calgary-Centre again and again throughout the by-election. The local riding association might want to rethink that. As one attendee at the event said, “he was like the Walking Dead.”

Keep Calm

Rae ‘s speeches are usually colourful and lively, if not totally on message. But, in the last few years, he can’t seem to utter Prime Minister Harper’s name without turning bright red and sputtering. We get it, Bob, we all feel the same way, but your job is to “keep calm and offer an alternative.”

The questions for Rae at the event were particularly telling. One attendee asked the federal party to move from a vague energy policy to specifics. Another person mentioned their riding was taking it upon themselves to bring in energy experts for a panel discussion and forum. This is a party membership crying out for leadership on issues of relevance.

Holding down the fort

Rae’s response was that these policies would be rolled out as part of an election platform. He says they are being worked on and in his position of interim leader, he is between a rock and a hard place, as they say. He can’t take a position on behalf of the party because he is just “holding down the fort” for the new leader. He did talk about putting a price on carbon. But mentioned it could be done by either a carbon tax or by cap and trade. Not exactly the definitive answer the membership is looking for.

The word “sustainability” was mentioned so many times that it could have been a drinking game. (Liberals might want to  take a gulp of wine every time it is uttered to drown their sorrows). In case Rae and the federal liberal party brain trust haven’t noticed—the oilsands are NOT sustainable and the voters the party needs to attract recognize this. They don’t want to feel like they are being “spun.”

Wanted: Smart and thoughtful

That’s not to say Liberal members want to shut down the oilsands, but they definitely feel the resource could be developed in a more orderly and rational way. Throwing out glib corporate catchphrases is not the smart, thoughtful response they are looking for.

Another person at the event took the microphone and admitted to voting for the NDP last election. He  asked outright what the party was going to do to bring him and others back. Rae’s response was mostly to act surprised and offended—theatrics for the friendly audience—but his answer was short on substance.

Low profile

The campaign in Calgary-Centre is going to be a tough one to negotiate for local Liberals. The party’s national leader won’t be chosen until after the by-election. The party’s policies were described in this forum and in others as vaguely “centrist” which to the average voter, sounds like fence-sitting (see my related post about this) and the profile of the party has sunk so low on the federal stage that it is almost never mentioned in the media.

It’s a darn shame, actually, since candidate Harvey Locke is a good representative for the Liberals. He is well-spoken and has some impressive credentials. He seems to have a better handle on what it means to be a Liberal than Rae. As the front-runner for the Liberal nomination in Calgary-Centre, Locke is being challenged by Rahim Sajan, an educator and community organizer who was first to announce his candidacy for the nomination.

Progressively fragmented

Taking on Joan Crockatt, the Conservative candidate, will require progressive voters to get behind one candidate. With the Green Party likely to put forward Chris Turner and possibly some extra funding support from the national office, it looks like the vote split will ensure a Crockatt victory. It’s not that the Conservatives are seriously worried about Calgary-Centre, but running one strong candidate against Crockatt might have made the race more interesting.

The NDP have yet to reveal any candidate for the riding, despite many rumours and meetings. The Orange Crush seems to have gone a little flat at this point. It’s getting late in the game to mount a strong campaign.

One for Calgary-Centre campaign launched

Spirited progressives in the city are trying to unite voters around a single candidate at www.1calgarycentre.com but it remains to be seen whether they have the momentum either. The by-election is shaping up to be a bit of a yawner, unless the Prime Minister goes off a cliff and does something even more egregious than he’s already done (hard to imagine, I know).

There is a definite air of complacency amongst the electorate in Calgary. Harper’s policies have not thus far directly harmed them personally and the momentum on the side of Crockatt and the Conservatives. Most voters don’t notice the destructive policies of a government until they are affected personally. That day will come, but unfortunately, it may not be until after the Calgary-Centre by-election for most voters.

Miss Cranky Pants (aka Jody MacPherson) is a communications consultant, social media fan, politico, soccer mom, divorcee (is it any wonder?) and coffee addict who gets a little testy without regular caffeine. 

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3 thoughts on “Miss Cranky Pants: Calgary Liberals try to feel the momentum

  1. In 1986, I was honoured to run the campaign for Sheldon Chumir, we started from nowhere. Sheldon was a candidate that all could support, including the “Progressive” Conservatives. The outcome was an impressive victory and a stage set for Calgary Buffalo that continues to day with Kent Hehr.

    In 2000, faced with the prospect of the social-conservative Eric Lowther, we organized behind Joe Clark, the “Progressive” candidate, the outcome was again success.

    In 2007, this time with Craig Cheffins, we co-ordinated the “Progressives” to give the ALP a chance in the Elbow by-election, and the outcome was success.

    Now it’s Harvey’s turn to attract the “Progressives” and if we do dilute matters with sidetracks like 1Calgary, we have a chance. I am personally invigorated, we have a ways to go, the first step is the nomination, so keep in touch, let’s see if we can convince the “Progressives” there is a way forward in Calgary Centre. Perhaps we have a surprise this evening!

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