The Alberta Party elected Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor as its first leader Saturday and immediately moved on to discussing its next challenge — electing a candidate.
Following the announcement, the party heard from the chair of its election readiness committee Chima Nkemdirim.
Nkemdirim has a history of winning. He is perhaps best known as the campaign manager for Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi’s improbable run last fall.
Nenshi was not a sitting councillor, but still managed to come from behind in a tight three-way race. The campaign used social media and attracted a lot of previously unengaged voters.
Nkemdirim told the crowd the party would be a force in the next campaign.
“People told me there was absolutely no way that you are going to get a Muslim professor elected as mayor of Calgary,” he said. “If we don't reach high we are never going to get there.”
After the speech, Nkemdirim said he is not taking a social media approach, but instead wants to turn all of the party’s supporters into its agents.
“We really use the power of personal networking, people talking to their friends and their neighbours about the candidates and doing that in person and online. That is really the strength of how Nenshi won,” he said.
On a provincial level Nkemdirim said the party is going to have to get creative and find new ways to engage. He said he has some ideas about how to do that, but wasn’t willing to show his whole hand.
“It is about getting people to talk to people about politics and the elections, so social media is just a tool. It may work really well in downtown Edmonton or in St. Albert, but it may not work in other parts of the province.”
Tim Osborne, vice president of the local St. Albert constituency association, said he likes the strategy, but acknowledges it will need some tweaking.
“I think that is a great approach and obviously it worked well for Nenshi, but we have to find 87 Nenshis to make that work,” he said. “I don’t think you can just copy what someone else has done and expect it to work.”
Stephen Carter, another member of Nenshi’s campaign who now works for PC leadership prospect Allison Redford, doesn’t think the same techniques will work on a provincial level.
“It is party politics. It is totally different. It would be the equivalent of saying well the Green Party has some good ideas and now they have an elected MP, surely they will be able to form the next government.”
He said there are some lessons to be applied, but doesn’t believe either the PCs or the Wildrose will give the party much attention.
He said in the Calgary race there were large swaths of people uncomfortable with the other two front-runners, giving Nenshi an opening. He said that simply won’t exist in the provincial campaign.
“Regular human beings, first of all barely care about politics at the best of time. Trying to convince them to vote for a new brand, a new thing, that is lightning in a bottle,” said Carter.
Nkemdirim acknowledges all of those challenges and said the party will also have to attract good candidates and train their supporters.
He said they would also have to do that without knowing when they are going to the polls. He told delegates he expected the party would set a dramatically different tone in the next round.
“Alberta won’t know what hit them. It is going to be great.”