In which Alberta politics starts to look like a bad Austin Powers movie — which is to say, every Austin Powers movie
On February 21 in Red Deer, I’m the scheduled dinner speaker at the Alberta Party AGM and policy convention. They want me to share my perspective as a former MLA and current talk show host on the current political landscape in Alberta.
I have no idea what I’m going to say.
Oh, I know what I’d say if I was speaking to them tonight. But February 21 — well, that’s three weeks away, and who knows what additional wreckage will litter the political roadside by then?
To recap thus far:
- Joe Anglin leaves the Wildrose to sit as an independent — jumping before he is pushed
- Kerry Towle and Ian Donovan cross the floor to the PCs
- Shortly after that, and just before Martha and I leave on our trip to Australia, I get a call from a highly-placed source telling me a fantastic story that involves Danielle Smith allegedly discussing with a couple of donors the possibility of her crossing the floor to another party. I try to confirm the story but am unable to do so, so off on vacation I go, the story untold.
- On December 18th (well, that’s what day it was in Australia), I awake to news that Smith and eight other Wildrose MLAs have defected to the Prentice Empire. Did she lead the others across, or did she follow? Does it make a difference?
- Two work days into the new year, one of the floor crossers, Rob Anderson, suddenly loses his enthusiasm and says he’s stepping down when the next election is called.
- Then, former cabinet ministers Doug Horner and Fred Horne, banished to the back bench when Prentice became premier, turn in their resignations. Horne leaves when the election is called. Horner was done as of the end of January.
- Doug Griffiths doesn’t even wait that long. He resigns January 26th, effective immediately.
- The same day, PC MLAs Donna Kennedy-Glans, Maryanne Jablonski and Hector Goudreau also call it quits.
- So does Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman.
- Two more Tories, Cal Dallas and Alana DeLong, follow suit later that week.
So, to quote Austin Powers, “What does it all mean, Basil?”
It means the winds of change are appearing to blow. An election is imminent, for no purpose other than for Jim Prentice, having undermined his biggest competition, to cruise to four more years of power virtually unopposed. Let me explain that “no purpose other than” assertion.
For the sake of argument, let’s accept — for now — that this time, it really is different. That this particular oil boom which we p***ed away again is going to be gone for a long, long time. That things aren’t going to bounce back by July, or year-end, or even the end of next year. I’ll even go so far as to allow, with a great deal of skepticism, that the prognosticators of “job losses in the tens of thousands”, full-on recession and a significant drop in the resale value of your home might be right. (They might just as easily be wrong, too. Remember that anytime the price of oil drops substantially, a significant number of people try to convince you that’s it, we’ve fallen off a cliff, and the price will never come back again!!! — until it does.) And if you accept all that — which, again, we’re going to do for the sake of argument — it is logical to conclude that the Government of Alberta will have to take unusual measures to counter the carnage, like:
- Raising taxes
- Cutting spending
- Running deficits
- Or all of the above
None of which require Jim Prentice to call an early election, by the way. It’s a government’s job to govern until the end of its mandate, and if times turn dire, its job is to govern accordingly.
What’s really unpalatable about this whole exercise is our premier’s profound disdain for democracy. And let me not get too highfalutin’ about the concept. In its most basic, fundamental form, democracy is competition, and competition means choice for the people. But Prentice, by enticing most of the Wildrose caucus to cross the floor, crushed the PCs’ most formidable opponents. Y’know what? Unless they do it to themselves (see Alberta Liberals), the job of crushing a political party belongs to the voters at election time, not to a premier who’d like to run as though he’s the only name on the ballot.
And speaking of doing it to themselves…
Raj Sherman’s resignation as leader of the Alberta Liberals triggered a meeting of the party board on Sunday to select an interim leader to carry what’s left of the party through the imminent election campaign.
Laurie Blakeman, one of only two Liberal MLAs (David Swann is the other) who won’t necessarily be stepping down when the election is called, was approached about being interim leader — and she said something surprising, and politically more visionary and bolder than anything her party has offered in years. She said she would take the job “..on the condition that I am given a comprehensive mandate to negotiate a structured co-operation and eventual amalgamation with the Alberta Party.”
And the interim leader they chose is — wait for it — David Swann.
As one wag put it, “Face, meet palm.”
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