Alberta Liberals need to carve new space in political centre, interim leader says

The interim leader of the Alberta Liberals says the party needs to carve out space in the province's political centre if it ever wants to win another seat in the legislature.

Party holds no seats in legislature but once formed the official opposition

Calgary lawyer John Roggeveen is the interim leader of the Alberta Liberal Party. (Submitted by the Alberta Liberal Party)

The interim leader of the Alberta Liberals says the party needs to carve out distinct space in the province's political centre if it wants to win a new seat in the legislature.

John Roggeveen, a Calgary lawyer, says they need to snatch up the large swath of voters identified in recent polling as looking for an alternative to the two main parties.

"We're trying to steer people straight down the road and forward into Alberta's future," he told CBC News.

"We think that we actually offer a different alternative, a sensible, moderate, middle of the road alternative for people." 

But their policies haven't been updated since the last election, and it's been an increasingly challenging road for the party since its glory days in the 1990s.

The Liberals lost their only representative in the legislature in the 2019 election, when then-leader David Swann retired and the party failed to retain his seat. The party has gradually lost MLAs in elections since 1993, when the Liberals formed the official opposition. 

Roggeveen called being shut out of the legislature for the past two years a setback, and noted job No. 1 is getting a new Liberal seat. 

"I think we need to find community leaders, those are the people that we need to look for, people that have experience in a broad range of backgrounds. We expect to be able to represent Alberta as a whole."

No permanent leader at the helm

The party is at around three per cent support, according to polling done this spring by Janet Brown Opinion Research.

"They're in really bad shape," said Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University.

"They're not really in the consciousness of Albertans when they're considering alternatives." 

She added that other parties are presenting more credible alternatives and that the middle of the political spectrum is already associated with the Alberta Party. 

Like most other third party options in Alberta, the Liberals are looking for a new permanent leader. Roggeveen has been in his role since March. Williams says the longer a party goes without a recognizable leader, the harder it is to make up ground. 

The party has said the process won't kick off until the end of this year, or even early in 2022, with the next provincial election set for 2023. 

"The only way the Liberal Party is going to be a player in this game is that, either through their leadership or their vision or both, they capture the attention and imagination of Albertans that are looking for an alternative at the centre," Williams said. 

No leader is one problem; the unpopularity of another is an additional challenge. 

"A lot of people don't realize that the Alberta Liberals and the federal Liberals haven't been the same party for 40 years," Roggeveen said.

The federal Liberals were shut out of Alberta in the last general election. 

"I don't have Mr. Trudeau's hair. I think we're coloured with that federal Liberal brush." 

Roggeveen says his next steps are building up the membership and fundraising efforts to get the party in better shape for the incoming leader.