Is Alberta Destined to Become “Wildrose Country”? Or Not?
Have you been reading the weekend papers? The internecine warfare that’s been tearing at the guts of the PC Party from the inside has broken through the surface in a litany of recriminations surrounding Alison Redford’s resignation as premier. Everybody’s looking for somebody to blame and nobody’s looking in the mirror. The thing is — and I’m going to spare you the blow-by-blow analysis of every blamer’s every allegation — they’re all at least partly right. The PC party, caucus, and government are a mess. I pity the unfortunate soul who eventually wins the PC leadership and has to try and herd that sack of cats.
So Alberta enters another six-month period without any sort of government to speak of. More government-by-cruise-control. Our provincial PCs don’t go to the trouble of formally proroguing the legislature when the heat gets too intense like their semi-estranged federal Conservative cousins. Why stop there when you can stage an internal coup, get rid of your leader, decapitate your own government in the process and institute full legislative and policy paralysis while setting about choosing yet another Premier on your behalf?
Where to now? Over the short term, nowhere. No important decisions will be made. No initiatives will be undertaken. Nobody in government will take any more action than minimally necessary — let alone try, or even suggest, something new — until the new leader/premier is in place.
Over the longer term, “Where to now?” may have a very different answer. This much we know: the Wildrose Party is more prepared than any other opposition party to fight an election and defeat the PCs at the polls. Although two weeks is a lifetime in politics — as evidenced by the last two weeks of the Redford premiership — and the next provincial election is as much as two years away, I submit that unless there is a dramatic change between now and then, the Wildrose will win that election.
Which leaves a lot of moderate, middle-of-the-road Albertans with a conundrum. They value competence and pragmatism over ideology of any kind — left, right, up or down. They’ve voted PC in election after election since 1971 because, election after election, the PCs have appeared to be the most competent party to govern. If the PCs are no longer competent, where do we go, they ask?
Reputations are hard to shake in politics. We already know most moderate Albertans won’t vote NDP, because they think the NDP are left-wing ideologues. They won’t vote Alberta Liberal, because the ABLibs have a 90-year reputation for being weak, disorganized, fractious, unable to raise money, sad sack, tired, and ineffective — in short, everything the PC Party now seems bent on becoming. The Wildrose have been trying — hard — to convince us they’re not as right-wing as the voters concluded they were in the dying days of the last campaign — Lake of Fire, and all that. I’ve already said I think the Wildrose will win likely win the next election with soft support from moderates who will be voting not so much for Wildrose as against the PCs. But many moderates will remain wary of the Wildrose’s rightward tilt. Like I say, reputations are hard to shake.
This is why people are once again talking about the need for a fresh, new, moderate alternative to the PCs.
There’s been a significant uptick in interest in, chatter about, and donations to the Alberta Party in recent weeks. The Alberta Party looked promising, but tried and failed to get airborne once before in 2011. I know. I was there. It takes a lot of hard work and more than a little good luck to build a new political party. The Alberta Party had the misfortune to go up against Alison Redford when she looked like a fresh, new, moderate alternative to the PCs…but it’s also true that the Alberta Party wasn’t yet ready for prime time. And there is still a long way to go before it’s playing in the same league as Wildrose. And yet the party has a bright, entrepreneurial leader in Greg Clark who sold his business and has made it his full time job to build the party from the ground up. And the Alberta Party has none of the baggage of the other parties.
As wild as this sounds — and assuming there’s room for more than one party at a time in Alberta politics — I think the Alberta Party is best positioned to pick up support from disaffected PC and Liberal supporters as well as the great body of moderate Albertans who don’t want the government to move left or right. They just want to move forward.
Here’s the thing: I know more than one Wildroser who sees the Alberta Party the same way.