Canadians want to rid themselves of Stephen Harper's one-man rule, says Deborah Coyne.
And they're becoming excited - even in Alberta - about the next generation of political leaders who are offering voters a wide choice of better alternatives.
Coyne, the first person to announce plans to run for the federal Liberal leadership, visited the city Saturday as part of her nation-wide campaign. She was introduced during a Lethbridge constituency public session Saturday evening. Today, the candidate will also meet supporters at breakfast at 8 a.m. at the Lethbridge Lodge, before driving to Medicine Hat.
Earlier this week - as part of a two-week session of meetings across Alberta - Coyne took time to support environmentalist Harvey Locke, the Liberal contender in Monday's federal byelection in Calgary Centre.
That campaign has attracted many younger voters, she noted - and it's stirred interest across the nation.
"Canadians are thinking, and they're ready to get out and involved," she said in an interview. "There's a sense that Ottawa is completely disconnected and irrelevant."
After months of meeting people in many parts of the nation, she's found Canadians are disturbed by the prime minister's disdain for Parliament and its opportunities for inter-party collaboration. He's even stripped power away from the government's cabinet and caucus.
"It's run right out of the prime minister's office," she said. "He dictates what's going to be done."
As a constitutional lawyer and professor, Coyne has worked for Liberal leaders including Jean Chretien and Pierre Trudeau, as well as provincial leaders such as Clyde Wells in Newfoundland.
When MPs or MLAs are allowed to work collegially, she believes, much more can be accomplished. Today, however, the prime minister refuses to sit down with the premiers.
Coyne cites an inter-governmental forum in Australia as an example of the co-operation Canadians should expect between their elected representatives.
"A Council of Canadian Governments, modelled on a successful Australian initiative, could build a better federalism for the 21st century."
As the new leader - if party members select her next April - Coyne says her first goal will be to spell out the Liberals' approach to government.
"The party has lost its distinctive message," she says. "We stand for one Canada, for all Canadians."
The Liberals must also champion environmental issues, Coyne adds - but they somehow lost that focus. She says that's why Elizabeth May joined the Green party, and went on to show how effective one opposition MP can be in a specific field.
Under Coyne's leadership, she says environmental concerns would shape the party's energy development policies.
"We will develop our energy resources, but we'll do it with respect to science."
The nation's Liberals must choose a new leader with an ideas-based agenda, Coyne says. Canadians will want to hear those ideas and initiatives when leaders' debates are held across the country in the new year.
Not every candidate could lead the party back to power, however.
"It takes personality and it takes persistence," she says.
Canadians are looking for leadership and a national purpose, Coyne believes. They're want an end to divisive policies and politics.
"Or as a nation, we'll continue to drift apart."