First off, I should say that I didn't focus enough as I should have on this leadership race. Given the entirety of whats going on in half of the country's provinces, plus the organized chaos that is both the Official Opposition and the third party, a leadership race for the Alberta Liberals isn't the biggest blip on the radar.
But the times I have focused on the AB Liberals, it's been mostly over their free membership program, and how utterly pointless it is. And thank's to these results, I was proven right.
But before I get to that, I'd like to congratulate Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman on his convincing win. Sherman is a great fighter for healthcare in Alberta, something the Liberals under David Swann before were beginning to sharpen their knives on. He's got fairly good name recognition, and he'll be an awesome champion for liberalism in Alberta.
For Liberal supporters, Sherman's choice signals a couple of things for me. One, that they're willing to put their eggs into Raj's basket in the hopes that the publicity he generates thanks to his defection and his determination on the healthcare file will pay off. Two, that they're willing to try a break from the old party standard in an attempt to avoid falling into irrelevancy as the right-wing rivalry heats up.
For an example of why Sherman is a break, I refer to this post on Dave Cournoyer's blog by guest writer Justin Archer, who goes into a bit of detail about the choices the Liberals faced with this race. And he's exactly right - Sherman represented a different strand of liberal activism than did someone like Hugh MacDonald or Laurie Blakeman, or even Bill Harvey and Bruce Payne. His overwhelming win signals that the Party is willing to try something new, because its clear that what they were doing before wasn't working.
Will it pay off? It remains to be seen, but I'm of the thought that, no, it won't. The Alberta Liberals are going to be sidelined as the Wildrosers gear up to try and take out a dynasty. It could change the game, but the odds are against them. And that's looking at it optimistically; others have simply called for the Liberals to disband.
What hasn't payed off in any major way though was the new membership system. Only 8,600 votes were cast out of over 27,000 registered "supporters," and while this is better turnout than their last two leadership selections, it's nothing historically mindblowing:
1994: 11,004 (winner: Grant Mitchell)
1998: 7,636 (winner: Nancy MacBeth)
2004: 2,733 (winner: Kevin Taft)
2008: 4,575 (winner: David Swann)
2011: 8,600 (winner: Raj Sherman)
Since the end of Laurence Decore's leadership, 2011 represents the second highest turnout after the 1994 leadership race. Impressive to be sure, especially when you only have 9 seats compared to 32 back then, but still. For the amount of members signed up, you wouldn't expect that not even a third would bother to cast a ballot.
And to just put this into context, the Wildroser's 2009 leadership featured 8,200 ballots cast, and the Alberta PC's 2006 leadership cast 97,700 ballots, and will likely see a similar amount in their upcoming race.
For all the good the free sign-ups did, they didn't do nearly enough. And that right there will be the continuing issue for the Liberal Party as it tries to stay relevant in the upcoming years. They simply can't do enough.