If you have been globetrotting for the last say 18 months and are just now returning to Alberta, you might be looking forward to landing in the middle of a provincial election. For when you left at the beginning of 2015, Albertans were subject to a fixed election law “window” that mandated that an election take place between March 1 and May 31, 2016.
Having an election window, rather than a fixed date, was admittedly odd, because it did not remove entirely the potential advantage of the party in power deciding when it was advantageous to go the polls.
Regardless, in the culmination of the strangest six months in Alberta, or possibly any other provincial, political history, Alberta’s 29th General Election was held one year ago tomorrow. Events started six months previously, when the Leader of the Official Opposition, Danielle Smith and half of her Wildrose Caucus folded tent and walked across the floor to join Premier Jim Prentice’s PCs.
However, when the “promised” cabinet positions for Ms. Smith and at least one other did not materialize, the result was distrust of the PCs by Wildrose MLAs. The Tory Backbench did not want the Rosies sitting with them in any event, as they were fierce critics in opposition and regarded as splitters from the conservative family. It was the first of many awkward attempts to Unite the Right.
Donations to the Wildrose coffers plummeted, as the loyal grassroots stewed over the mutiny orchestrated by their now departed leader. Months later, it was revealed that Ms. Smith had actually been losing grip on both her caucus and the Riding Associations, most notably the social conservative parts, who were growing frustrated with Ms. Smith’ libertarianism.
The Wildrose had been leading most opinion polls pretty much continually from the election of Allyson Redford in 2012 (in the first and only fixed window election). But on April 7, 2015, with the Wildrose in chaos, Premier Prentice, without repealing the goofy election window law, sought an early dissolution and we went to the polls last May 5.
Premier Prentice thought he had effectively coopted and then destroyed what was left of the Wildrose. But he did not anticipate the backlash over the budget he had tabled in March, which contained both tax increases and a deficit. Nor did he anticipate the angst over breaking the election law and going to the polls a year early; it was seen as opportunistic to get the election out of the way before the worst of the slump in oil prices was realized.
Further, Premier Prentice did not fully appreciate the ghost of former Premier Allyson Redford and how unpopular she still was. Finally, the PCs overlooked the fresh face of Rachel Notley and the fact that the NDP was organized and financed.
The result: the end of the fourty-four-year Progressive Conservative Dynasty and the birth of what is now the only democratic socialist government in Canada.
The NDP won 40.6% of the vote and 62% of the seats. The combined conservative party vote was 52% (27.8 PC; 24.2 WR) translating into 11% and 24% of the seats respectively. When left wing parties are the victim of the mathematical distortions inherent in the First Past the Post System, their demand is for electoral reform and some form of Proportional Representation.
When right wing parties feel that they have been mistreated by electoral results, their knee jerk rallying cry is “Unite the Right”.
One year later, despite multiple efforts, the right in Alberta is more disunited than ever.
Hostility and mistrust between the parties aside, the conditions precedent for merger are absent. Last May, the PCs got more votes but the Wildrose more seats. They each have a competent leader or interim leader, who thinks he is the one to save conservatism in Alberta.
The Wildrose won the by-election to replace Jim Prentice; the PCs won the recent by-election to replace Manmeet Bhullar, who was tragically killed in a traffic accident. Neither party appears to be going anywhere; neither party leader is particularly interested in a merger.
So if the parties can’t get it together, it falls to concerned conservative citizens. The Alberta Prosperity Fund is a Political Action Committee fronted by former talk radio host, Dave Rutherford. Their mantra is “Uniting to restore the Alberta Advantage”. The PAC lobbied unsuccessfully to run a single “united” candidate in the recent Calgary Greenway by-election, won narrowly by the PCs.
This past weekend,” Alberta Can’t Wait” attracted over 400 concerned conservatives to Red Deer. They list as Ambassadors Preston Manning and former Tory Cabinet Minister Rick Orman. They overwhelmingly resolved not to merge the two small “c” conservative parties but to start a third!!
For his part, Opposition Leader Brian Jean has warned against “outsiders” commandeering the unification process. He prefers a grassroots movement to establish a consolidated conservative coalition. There is even a whisper campaign to take over the nascent Alberta Party, steal its name and depose its leader.
There are all sorts of small grassroots meetings held in local pubs and coffee shops. There is general, but not unanimous, agreement that something must be done. But there is no consensus on what that something might be. It reminds me of Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”, when the Judean People’s Front is so preoccupied in its turf war with the People’s Front of Judea, that neither has any resources to battle their common enemy: the Roman Occupiers.
The multiplicity of uncoordinated initiatives and groups is helping no one, with the possible exception of the governing New Democrats. Alberta is the one place where the left is not calling for proportional representation nor ranked ballots!