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The Alberta Liberal Party is a provincial political party in Albertamarker, Canadamarker. Since 1993, it has formed the official opposition in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.

Early history

The Liberals formed the government in Alberta for the first 16 years of the province's existence. Alexander C. Rutherford (1905-1910), Arthur L. Sifton (1910-1917) and Charles Stewart (1917-1921) led Liberal governments, until the party was swept from office in the 1921 election by the United Farmers of Alberta.

1921: Loss of power

Currently the party is the Official Opposition in the Alberta legislature, but the party has suffered through some difficult times in the eight decades since their defeat as the province's governing party. In opposition, the party has won up to 32 seat but has also at times been shut out of the provincial legislature altogether. Between 1971 and 1986, the party did not win a single seat in the Alberta Legislature, and did not receive more than 6% of the popular vote. The point is further discussed under the history of the party's leadership.

When Premier Charles Stewart resigned as leader after his government's defeat at the hands of the United Farmers of Alberta in the 1921 election, John R. Boyle, a former Attorney-General, led the legislative caucus until he was appointed to the judiciary in 1924, and Charles R. Mitchell, also a former cabinet minister succeeded him. John Bowen acted in the interim until a party convention chose Joseph Tweed Shaw, a former independent left-wing M.P.

In the lead-up to the 1930 election, the party chose George H. Webster, M.L.A. for Calgary City. He resigned in favour of William R. Howson, who led the party energetically if unsuccessfully in 1935. After he was appointed to the provincial superior court in 1936, Edward Leslie Gray succeeded him. Gray strongly favored the formal anti-Social Credit coalition with the Conservatives and some UFA and Labour figures. Gray himself was successful in a byelection in Edmonton, but transferred to Bow Valleymarker, the seat formerly held by C.R. Mitchell and Shaw, for the 1940 election. He was defeated.

The coalition, the Independent Citizens' Association, slowly lost any noticeably Liberal figures, while a small group resisted being part of it. Joseph Tremblay of Grouard represented this group in the legislature from 1940 until 1944, when he retired. No candidate identifying himself or herself as a Liberal stood in 1944, although some recognizably Liberal figures were candidates for the ICA. None were successful, and the party was completely dormant until refounded in 1948 by James Harper Prowse, elected as a non-partisan Armed Forces' Representative in the 1944 election.


Internal squabbles had more to do with the near-extinction of the Liberals at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s, than did the local unpopularity of the Trudeau government. The party's worst days at a provincial level began at a time when the Trudeau government was relatively popular. The history of the party's leadership had much to do with it.

Prowse had some severe personal difficulties which forced him to take some time away from public life, and was succeeded by John Walter Grant MacEwan, M.L.A. for Calgary City. MacEwan was beset by problems entirely beyond his ability to control. The electoral ability of any opposition party leader became very chancy with the abolition of the STV electoral system used for Edmonton and Calgary cities. The Manning government had successfully renewed and reinvigorated itself, and recovered much of the ground it had previously lost, while the recent Diefenbaker landslide made the Progressive Conservative Party seem a more attractive vehicle for the party's traditional supporters. MacEwan was the first of many leaders who faced a problem similar to those of Liberals in Britain and other Western Canadian provinces. Ideologically, the party was being squeezed between traditional conservatism, and social democracy. In a social sense, the party presented an older and more traditional image in comparison to the Alberta Progressive Conservatives, who, given the predominance of Social Credit, seemed fairly liberal. Almost inevitably, the Liberals were reduced to a single member, Michael Maccagno of Lac La Biche. MacEwan retired shortly after this disaster.


He was succeeded by David B. Hunter, then mayor of Athabasca, who campaigned aggressively on the creation of a publicly owned electrical power company, with strong environmentalist overtones. This likely limited any growth by the Alberta New Democrats in the 1963 election, and it established the party with a distinct image and identity separate from the Progressive Conservatives. However, it was internally divisive, and a number of candidates, including one of its two successful ones, repudiated the platform's main plank. Hunter himself was defeated personally in Athabasca. He did not resign until after he lost a later byelection, when he decided to run for Parliament (unsuccessfully).

Maccagno, who was leader of the minuscule opposition in the Legislature, served as interim leader, but did not regard himself as leadership material. In a convention which exposed the deep ideological fault lines within the party, Adrian Berry, a Calgary lawyer, emerged as leader from a highly acrimonious contest. Internal dissensions continued, and late in 1966, Berry resigned under circumstances still not explained. As a provincial election could be expected within months, Maccagno became leader almost by default, and somewhat unwillingly led the party into the 1967 provincial election.

Maccagno was elected, the first Liberal leader since 1955 and the last until 1986 to achieve the feat and the party increased its representation from two to three seats. However, the party placed fourth in the popular vote, and had lost it status as the apparent alternative, albeit a weak one to Social Credit. Peter Lougheed and the Progressive Conservatives presented the attraction of a modern, urban -based party, which was decidedly more liberal than the Social Credit government, and displaced the Liberals to become Alberta's official opposition and government-in-waiting.

Shut out

In 1969, the party chose a Calgary clergyman turned businessman, John T. Lowery, to succeed him. The party placed very poorly in a byelection to replace a Liberal MLA who had died, and the party had lost its other two seats when Maccagno resigned to run in the 1968 federal election and then in November 1969 the last remaining Liberal MLA, Bill Dickie, crossed the floor to join Lougheed's surging Progressive Conservatives. Lowery thought he saw some hope in an electoral arrangement with Social Credit, which he believed was showing signs of modernization and rejuvenation under Harry Strom. He was likely encouraged in this by the federal party's two Alberta cabinet ministers, H.A. Olson and Pat Mahoney, who had Social Credit pasts. When word of negotiations to that effect came out, it became evident that any such proposal was deeply opposed by the core membership of both parties. Lowery resigned in the face of it.

The following year saw the provincial Liberal party come very close to extinction. Its political credibility had been steadily eroding, and with the negotiations with Social Credit, it was not immediately clear that it had any ideological purpose. There was much discussion of the party abandoning provincial politics altogether (there was only one organization at federal and provincial levels), and concentrating on federal politics, which looked a great deal more hopeful at the time than they did two years later.

It took a major act of will for the party to decide to soldier on as an independent force, which it did in repudiating Lowery, and deciding to contest the 1971 election, however hopeless the prospects might be. The party chose, almost by default, Robert Russell of St. Albert, a highly controversial figure who had been passed over twice, but who had a strong desire for the position, and who had strongly supported David Hunter's vision for the party.

The party suffered as bad a defeat as anyone could have expected in the 1971 election winning no seats in an election that saw Social Credit defeated after 36 years in power at the hands of Lougheed's Progressive Conservatives.

It is widely argued that the provincial Liberals' popularity in Alberta was especially hurt during the federal government of Pierre Trudeau's Liberal Party of Canada between 1968 and 1984. Trudeau's policies were unpopular in western Canada and especially in Alberta, particularly official bilingualism, and the National Energy Program, which exacerbated feelings of western alienation. During this period, the provincial Liberal party suffered because of its connections with its federal cousins. However, the provincial party had its own internal problems which had to be resolved, and which may be a better explanation as to why it failed to reach anything near the level of support of its federal counterpart during that period.

1986: Return to the legislature

The Liberals' fortunes improved in the late 1980s and they returned to the Alberta legislature in the 1986 election, when leader Nicholas Taylor led them to win 4 seats and 12% of the popular vote. Following the 1987 leadership review, a leadership contest was held in 1988. The race was contested by Taylor, MLA Grant Mitchell, and Edmontonmarker Mayor Laurence Decore. Decore was elected leader of the party after the first ballot.

The Alberta Liberal Party ran one candidate in the 1989 Senate Election, Bill Code, he finished with 22.5% of the vote.

The party in the 1990s

In the 1993 election, the Liberals, under former Edmontonmarker mayor Laurence Decore, enjoyed their greatest success since holding power when they swept Edmonton, winning a total of 32 seats, and collecting 39% of the popular vote. This enabled the party to displace the New Democrats to become the Official Opposition to the Progressive Conservative government of Ralph Klein.

In 1994, Decore resigned as leader and four MLAs contested the leadership race: Edmonton McClung MLA Grant Mitchell, Fort McMurraymarker MLA Adam Germain, Edmonton Roper MLA Sine Chadi, and Calgary Buffalo MLA Gary Dickson. After all the ballots had been counted, Mitchell was elected as party leader.

The party continued to hold its position as Official Opposition, but lost 10 seats in the 1997 election. With 18 seats in the Alberta legislature, Mitchell resigned as leader, and another race was declared.

The 1998 leadership race also saw four contestants: former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Nancy MacBeth, Lethbridge East MLA Ken Nicol, Edmonton Meadowlark MLA Karen Leibovici, and Edmonton Riverview MLA Linda Sloan. MacBeth was elected on the first ballot.

Recent history

In the 2001 election, MacBeth led a campaign which ended with only seven Liberal MLA being elected. MacBeth also lost her own seat in the election.

In the days following the 2001 election, MacBeth resigned and Ken Nicol was acclaimed leader. Nicol led the party until 2004, when he ran for the federal Liberal Party of Canada in the Lethbridge riding. Edmonton Mill Woods MLA Don Massey briefly stood as interim leader until a leadership race was held.

On March 27, 2004, Kevin Taft was elected the new leader of the Alberta Liberal Party. In the 2004 provincial election, the Liberals more than doubled their seats to 16 and increased their share of the popular vote to 29%. More significantly, and to the surprise of most observers, the Liberals were able to win three seats in the traditionally conservative city of Calgarymarker. Additionally, in June 2007, Craig Cheffins won in a by-election, making him the fourth Alberta Liberal MLA in Calgary.

The provincial election of March 3, 2008 proved to be another setback for the party. Going up against rookie Premier Ed Stelmach, the Alberta Liberals had high hopes of increasing their seat count dramatically, particularly with the supposed discontent with the Tories in Calgary. However, the result was humbling for the Alberta Liberals. The party ended with only nine seats, down from 16 when the election was called. The party's power based in Edmonton was hit especially hard, with eight seats won in 2004 going Conservative. On June 26 2008, Taft announce his intention to resign as leader. David Swann was elected as the new Liberal leader on December 13, 2008 defeating two other contenders on the first ballot.

Since 1976, the Alberta Liberal Party is no longer formally affiliated with the Liberal Party of Canada.

The leadership campaign of Dr. David Swann stressed the need for party renewal and even to put the subject of name change on the table. Although the party established a renewal committee with public input, there was never any indication of an outcome or report. The report was to have been made available to interested parties as of June 30th, 2009. A search of the party website shows no indications of any renewal report having been completed and presented. In June 2009 it became obvious to party members that renewal and name change was not going to happen. Most recently, a high-level party organizer claimed that the Alberta Liberal Party was "totally irrelevant" in alberta politics. This comes on the heels of an upset loss for the Alberta Liberals, and the PC party, both having lost to Paul Hinman in the Calgary Glenrose byelection, a member of the upstart Wildrose Alliance party.

Party leaders

Current Alberta Liberal MLAs

See also



External links

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