Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My History with the Alberta Liberal Party - Part II

November 1982 to May 1986

After the experience of the 1982 election I went about getting involved in various levels of government including municipal, provincial and federal.

I was very much interested in the closure of public schools and the Provincial Government’s attack on public school funding in general. This led me to education activism which changed my life because it was through this activism that I met Sheldon Chumir and his organization; Save Public Education (SPE).

I was advised that he would be good council with respect to public education matters so I walked up to his house on the cliff overlooking Cliff Bungalow and we talked for hours about public education philosophy and found we were in accord.

I volunteered on the Karen Gainer federal campaign in Calgary Centre and witnessed the blood bath of the ’84 election when the Federal Liberals were reduced to 40 seats under John Turner.

In September 1985 I contemplated running provincially but that all changed when Sheldon contacted me, told me he wanted to run in the next election and asked me to be his campaign manager. It did not take much time to agree to the request because I held Sheldon in such high regard.

The only decision was the choice of constituencies; Calgary Elbow, where he lived or Calgary Buffalo, where he was born and raised. The decision was enhanced when we were advised by senior Tories that they would fight us in Elbow but support us in Buffalo. The Buffalo campaign started with a nomination meeting in the fall of 1985 held at the Kerby Centre.

However, before we arrived at a nomination meeting we had to fight the constituency association. They did not want an outsider running in Calgary Buffalo. Imagine a group of so-called Liberals not wanting Sheldon as a candidate.

We started working immediately after the nomination putting in place the campaign. We knew we would have to work very hard to win because we had only 8% name recognition going in and there had not been a provincial Liberal elected since 1969.

This was the campaign that introduced me to the power of Ruth Huber. Ruth had looked after Sheldon’s mother and came to the campaign at the right time to manage the canvass. She has run every canvass for me since and anyone who has worked with and for Ruth will certainly understand why.

The election was held on May 8th, 1986 and we received more than 52% of the vote and defeated the PC candidate, Brian Lee quite handily thanks to the prestige and work ethic of Sheldon. A tremendous outcome since we did not run a candidate in the ’82 election in Buffalo. Four Liberals representing 12% of the popular vote, were elected; Sheldon, the only Liberal in Calgary, Grant Mitchell, Nick Taylor and Bettie Hewes.

The New Democratic Party, now led by Ray Martin, was able to make itself the focus of opposition to the PC government, winning almost 30% of the vote, and sixteen seats in the legislature (up from two in the 1982 election.)

The election of a 22-member opposition to Alberta's legislature signals for the first time since 1971 a significant competitive voice to the dominant Conservative Party in that province's voting citizenship. However, only 47% of eligible voters cast a ballot.

And so it goes...

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