Alberta Liberals upbeat as convention votes for controversial policies

Alberta Liberals ushered in a slate of new and controversial progressive policies Saturday, backing a move to teach the concept of sexual consent in Alberta schools and endorsing restrictions on advertising alcohol to young Albertans.

About 100 party members attending the policy convention at Edmonton’s Chateau Nova Hotel said it should not be profitable for payday and car title loan companies to operate in Alberta and that Alberta Treasury Branches should offer low-interest, short-term credit to vulnerable Albertans who need smaller loans.

Liberals also voted to make municipal political contributions eligible for tax receipts — just as provincial and federal political contributions are — and to appoint an independent “environmental commissioner� who reports to the legislature.

Some of the most intense debate Saturday concerned a move to ban the practice of economic withholding, in which power producers take power plants off-line for discretionary shutdowns, which “invariably leads to electricity price spikes,� the policy said.

An amendment tied the popular policy to the introduction of so-called “smart grids,� which improve efficiency and reliability of power distribution.

After some debate, past-president Todd Van Vliet told members that in passing the resolution with the smart grid amendment, “we tie our hands, and implement a complete disaster.�

As a result, the policy was put on hold until the next policy convention.

Liberals also repealed the party’s controversial fuel excise tax policy, which called for the doubling of Alberta’s gas tax from nine cents per litre to 18 cents per litre. The policy made waves when it passed last year, with one Liberal calling it “political suicide.�

The Liberal Party was Alberta’s official opposition until the 2012 provincial election, when the Wildrose took over opposite the Progressive Conservative. Since then, two Calgary MLAs — Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang — have announced they will leave the Liberal party to run for Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberals.

The party stumbled in early 2014 when Elections Alberta deregistered 53 of its 87 constituency associations because they failed to file their annual financial statements.

Quarterly financial statements then revealed the third party brought in $80,000 in the first quarter of 2014 and $101,000 in the second quarter, putting them in fourth place for fundraising, well behind the NDP.

Liberal Party president Raj Sherman said the party has turned things around.

“We are out of debt, we have $150,000 cash in the bank,� Sherman said. “We looked at every line of spending, cut expenditures by 60 to 70 per cent.

“The Liberal Party will never ever go into debt, ever again.�

He said the membership roster is increasing and donations are up: the party earned $50,000 in the first quarter of 2013, and brought in $80,000, marking a significant increase year over year.

Sherman said the party is well-positioned to take on the Tories in the three upcoming byelections, highlighting the fact that respected lawyer Susan Wright will run for the party in Calgary-Elbow against unelected education minister Gordon Dirks.

“We’re the underdogs in these byelections,� he said. “These byelections are for the PCs to lose.�

Party president Shelley Wark-Martyn, who took over in May 2014, said she is “celebrating the health of the party.

“It’s turning around, we have a positive number in our bank accounts so we’re happy about that. That number grows every week,� Wark-Martyn said.

“People are coming out again, people are starting to take us seriously. Every event that we do, it grows and it grows and it grows.�

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