Earlier this month, former Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft announced that he will not run for reelection. I was saddened but unsurprised by this news. Kevin has poured heart and soul into provincial politics for a decade; he's more than done his bit for democracy.
It seems a little odd to say that one could ever be a fan of a politician, so reviled is the breed. But I was and am a fan of Kevin Taft. I was a fan even before I started working for the Official Opposition.
I've never told anyone this, but I first became aware of Kevin because my friend Leslie edited Kevin's first book, Shredding the Public Interest. Because of my interest in Leslie's work, I read the book, and I was impressed by Kevin's clearheaded, nonpartisan analysis of the Klein government's unneccessary cuts to public services. A few months later, I happened across Kevin in person; he was giving an interview to a television crew at West Edmonton Mall. I almost worked up the nerve to introduce myself, but at the time I figured that Kevin was probably a busy man and didn't want to be bothered. I should have realized that politicians by their very nature actively pursue meeting new people! But the moment passed, and I went back to my job at Hole's, working on gardening books and writing speeches for Lois, who was either University of Alberta Chancellor or Lieutenant Governor of Alberta at the time - I don't remember the exact year I bumped into Kevin at WEM.
I've always defined myself as progressive, meaning that I believe in the importance of public services, I'm a strong believer in free speech and human rights, I don't mind paying reasonable taxes, and I think that instititions that serve the common good are vital: libraries, schools, public transit, public health care, museums, universities and so on. Kevin's writing and his statements in the Legislature and in the media earned my respect. At the same moment, I was writing speeches for one of the most impressive and progressive politicians in Alberta - Lois Hole. Of course her position was supposed to be apolitical, but she always encouraged me to push the limits of what was deemed acceptable speech from a Lieutenant Governor, and so I had the freedom to write about passions we shared: public libraries, public education, public health care and all the rest.
Even so, there was only so much Lois could or should say in a viceregal position. I began to feel that one day, sooner or later, I would have to take a more active role in provincial politics.
After Lois died in early 2005, I found myself somewhat adrift. I did work for her successor, Normie Kwong, for a few months, and I kept writing gardening material with Lois' son Jim, and I enjoyed both jobs. But it wasn't the same. So in late 2005, I applied for a job with the Official Opposition, starting in January 2006 as a writer, or more officially, a "Communications Coordinator." I first met Kevin officially at a Christmas-week meeting a few days before my official start date, and in retrospect I'm a little embarrassed by my behaviour; I think I sputtered a couple of fanboyish lines like "I'm a big fan!" and "I'm so honoured to be working with you!" Not exactly the cool, collected image I was hoping to present.
Working for any opposition party in Alberta is a tough gig, but Kevin's conviction and his desire to do the right thing for the people of Alberta always motivated me to do my best. As I got to know Kevin and his wife Jeanette, my conviction that he (and they) were in politics for the best of reasons grew firmer. I've never had a shred of doubt that Kevin wanted to be Premier for anything but the most altruistic reasons; Kevin saw the flaws in Tory governance, and wanted to fix things. You can't ask for more than that from a politician. He even married Sylvia and I in 2007, and he did a wonderful job.
Kevin will continue to serve as the MLA for Edmonton-Riverview until the next election is called. If my services are still needed, I'll be staying on to help Kevin's successor, Dr. David Swann - another good man of excellent character, full of compassion - fight the election. But I'm going to miss Kevin, and whatever he and his family choose to do afterward, I wish them all the best.