By Richard Warnica, Edmonton Journal
The Alberta Democratic renewal project, a group trying to unite the Liberals and NDP, held a members' meeting at the Stanley A. Milner Library in Edmonton on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010.
Larry Wong, edmontonjournal.com
EDMONTON - It's Sunday afternoon and Mo Elsalhy is standing at the front of a windowless room in the Stanley A. Milner Library.
Elsalhy, a one-time Liberal MLA, is telling a story from his time in the legislature, when he represented the riding of Edmonton-McClung.
Whenever he would speak, Elsalhy tells the crowd, the New Democrats who sat around him would mostly nod -- except for their leader. Brian Mason, he says, would always find some minute point of difference between the two parties and pick away at it, needling at the Liberals rather than focusing his attack on the government.
As he speaks, Elsalhy shakes his head. It's as if he still can't believe that in a province where the government hasn't changed in 40 years, the opposition parties would spend so much time sniping at each other.
With last week's victory by Naheed Nenshi, a political outsider who stunned two established candidates to become Calgary's mayor, there's a renewed sense by some that Albertans are anxious for political change.
But at the provincial level, it's not clear who could or would benefit from that kind of surge.
Elsalhy was speaking Sunday to one group that thinks they have the answer. The organizers of the Democratic Renewal Project (DRP) want progressive parties to co-operate ahead of the 2012 election.
Elsalhy hopes the group will set up a website that would endorse credible progressive candidates in every riding -- something that could help him recapture his seat.
But the group itself is aiming higher, hoping to have leftist parties work together in more formal ways.
The movement has the support of the provincial Liberals, who voted in favour of co-operation at their last party convention. But it has been roundly rejected by the NDP.
The DRP also faces competition. The Alberta Party, a still young organization, aims to appeal to those turned off by party politics.
Chris LaBossiere, the party president, said many of their members in Calgary worked on the Nenshi campaign. Alberta Party supporters were also involved in Stephen Mandel's re-election drive in Edmonton, La-Bossiere said.
"Those campaigns showed there's an appetite for a new way," said Michael Walters, the party's main organizer.
The Alberta Party brass, however, don't think too highly of the DRP approach.
Walters called the group "well intentioned," but said what they are attempting is a "confused courtship" among disparate groups.
Besides, he said, the Liberals and New Democrats "haven't resonated with Albertans," on their own and he doesn't know why they would do better as a kind of informal scramble.
The Alberta Party doesn't yet have a platform. Its first policy convention is scheduled for November.
But Alvin Finkel, the co-chair of the Democratic Renewal Project, thinks the group will eventually be branded as progressive whether they like it or not.
"My hope is that they would be willing to work with other parties," Finkel said.
Finkel acknowledged that the Liberals and New Democrats have a brand problem in Alberta. There are some in the province who won't vote for either party just because of their names, he said. Part of the goal for the DRP, then, is to get voters to look beyond the labels and concentrate on the issues.
"The idea that we represent has spread quite a bit," he said. "There is a great deal of interest in what we're doing."
Back at the Library, Elsalhy continued his talk. The goal, he said, should be to focus on the Conservative government, not on each other.
"If we don't get our act together," he said, "we don't deserve to govern."
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