The awesome committee

By Jesse Snyder

EDMONTON — One of Alberta’s oldest political parties is in the middle of a desperate push to re-create its core policies, and the party’s youngest members are leading the drive.

Following the Liberal’s devastating defeat in the federal election last month, a youthful contingent of the Alberta Liberal Party is looking inwards and attempting to re-engage voters.

“The change is being done by the young people,” said 32-year-old party president Erick Ambtman, who earned his position as president just two years after joining the party.

“And the young people are being mentored by people who have been doing it time after time after time,” he said.

Erick Ambtman (centre) stands next to Raj Sherman (left) and Darshan Kang on Sunday, March 15, 2011 while Sherman signs his official membership with the Alberta Liberals. Photograph by Jesse Snyder.

Ambtman, who has been pushing for change for the last two years, has seen some heavy resistance from the older generation of the party after he played a central role in amending the party’s constitution.

“People get comfortable with what they’re doing because they know it, they understand it,” he said.

On May 29 the party “opened up” its leadership vote to the public, so any Albertan resident can vote for a candidate this September, rather than members only.

They also called for stricter adherence to the party’s most popular policies, as each leadership candidate will be required to choose two of the top three most popular party policies to include in his platform.

“Now policy is boss; policy is king,” said Liberal Executive Director Corey Hogan, who engineered the idea.

“It was a lot of lip service before,” Ambtman added.

Ambtman also spearheaded a committee comprised mainly of young Liberal volunteers who are dedicated to voter outreach in the Edmonton area, called the Committee of Awesome.

With all the bland names that usually title political boards and committees, Ambtman wanted to try something fresh, and wanted to approach the electorate differently.

“We’ve worked hard to bring our swagger back, to bring our strut back,” he said. “We’re talking about the Committee of Awesome, and you don’t name a committee something like that unless you feel awesome.”

The committee met Thursday in a private courtyard outside an Edmonton high-rise apartment on 108 Street and Saskatchewan Drive.

About 15 party members sat out in the evening sun, young and old alike, to discuss what needs to change, what went wrong.

Leadership candidate Hugh MacDonald was there, as well as Edmonton-Riverview candidate Arif Khan and federal candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont Michael Butler.

Ambtman sat comfortably in a lounging chair away from the main group, seated under the modest bit of shade the courtyard offered.

He admits changing voter’s attitudes can be daunting, sometimes overwhelming. But it all takes time, he insists. The constitutional changes on May 29 “was a result of a year of hard work,” he said.

“We’re on a roll, a long quiet roll,” he said.

He has one goal in mind. He doesn’t dwell on the Alberta Party’s potential, the Conservative’s seeming immunity to health-care mismanagement or the devastating defeat in the federal election.

For Ambtman, it’s always forward.

“An election is not the end,” he said.