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Martin and the West

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Heavy coats and snow-draped boots filled the lobby of the Jack Singer Concert Hall Wed., Nov. 9 as people poured in from the bitter cold.

"He brought the snowstorm," explained business lawyer and Liberal activist Ian Schofield with a wry smile. "Paul Martin's very concerned about our tourism industry."

That may have been a rare overstatement of the Prime-Minister-in-waiting's power, but his influence, particularly in Alberta, was the topic of CBC's Learn at Lunch, featuring the thoughts of Schofield and Canada West Foundation President Roger Gibbins. Their focus was on Martin's ability to win over the West, and whether or not Albertans should embrace this new Liberal party.

According to Schofield, there has never been a better time to vote for the Grits. He described Martin's vision of Canada as an open book with lots of room for input, which emphasizes a voice from Alberta. Schofield also criticized what he felt was an egocentric attitude from the province and encouraged Albertans to adopt a more cooperative approach with the federal government.

"Alberta has to become more nationally focused," said Schofield. "We should think nationally, but act locally."

As the West becomes a key player in federal politics, Schofield suggested an exciting new trend will see more policy makers recruited from Alberta's universities and colleges. He expects the Martin government to seek out young intellectuals from this province to act as the voice from a region historically self-defined as alienated and marginalized.

Although Gibbins shared some of Schofield's optimism, he cautioned Albertans not to get too excited about the Liberals' new face.

He praised Martin's commitment to a long-term change in the East-West relationship, but also predicted Albertans won't see visible change any time soon. His reservations included Senate reform not being on Martin's agenda. He also warned anyone still stinging from Chretien's legacy of the Kyoto Accord and gun registry not to expect any rollbacks.

"We should be skeptical, but not cynical," Gibbins summarized. "There is reasonable ground for optimism, but we shouldn't be blind."

Both Schofield and Gibbins agreed the future of the Liberal party in Alberta holds some promise, but it remains to be seen if the potential will translate into a new era of Albertan ideology.

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