The Fall of the Alberta Tories

It's been a while since I last updated this blog. Not only has it been busy, here, with three non-fiction commissions to be done (the last is due this Monday), I've been down with a cold. I thought it was allergies at first on Monday, but by late Monday the allergy meds weren't helping and by Tuesday, I really needed to lie down. Today is the first day I've been up and around without medication, but the cold still lingers.

Grandpa Wendell paid us a visit on Monday, arriving by air at Buffalo. He'll be staying for Nora's birthday, before heading back to Fresno on the 30th. The kids are delighted to see him, and a grand day out in Toronto is planned.

Meanwhile, politics have gotten very interesting in Alberta.

For the uninitiated, Canada's oil province is having an election this May, and the current Conservative government, living a 44-year-long dynasty, is in trouble. The upstart further-conservative Wild Rose Party, which gave them such a scare in the previous election, did not roll over and die when Conservative leader Jim Prentice convinced the then-Wild Rose leader Danielle Smith and about half of the party's MLAs to cross the floor to the government side. Under the far more determined (and pretty darn savvy) leadership of Brian Jean, the party has pulled far ahead of the Conservatives in the polls, and the Conservatives seem to be at the end of their bag of tricks.

For political geeks like myself, this is interesting in and of itself. Alberta doesn't elect governments, it elects dynasties. The Conservatives have governed Alberta since 1971, when they emerged from just six seats and roared into power, replacing the Social Credit government, which had itself governed since 1935. Back then, the SoCreds themselves emerged from virtually nowhere to defeat the United Farmers party, which had governed since 1921. And the United Farmers? They defeated the Liberal Party, that had governed since 1905, when the province was founded.

Do the math, and you'll see, in the 110 years since coming into existence, Alberta has elected exactly four different parties to power. They've come, they've governed and, once defeated, they've never been allowed into power again. When the province celebrates its 110th birthday this September, it might just have government number five.

But what makes this government extra interesting is that, if you believe some polls (and any should be taken with a grain of salt at this point), that fifth government might not be Wild Rose. It might be New Democrat.

Alberta has always had a reputation (somewhat undeserved, in my opinion) of being the most conservative of Canada's provinces (people have not seen rural Ontario). So for the social democratic NDP to come out of nowhere and flirt with the prospect of power here should send notice to those Canadians who dismiss Albertans as rednecks.

True, a week is a lifetime in politics, and Alberta's election is two weeks away, but I am confident enough in my read of Conservative leader Jim Prentice's body language that the Conservatives will fall this election. They may even come in third. The fact that the polls show this, even though Prentice is facing a smashed and rebuilding Wild Rose Party and the upstart New Democrats suggests to me that Albertans are fed up and are ready for change. They're not sure who will lead that change, yet, but they know who they DON'T want in power after May. I'll make my prediction now and eat whatever crow I have to, but this seismic shift in Alberta's politics is as interesting as that volcano in Chile that just erupted, and I'm watching with rapt attention.

What I find most interesting about Prentice's political body language in this campaign is how most of his attacks have been against the NDP, in spite of the fact that the Wild Rose Party were the first to pull ahead of the Conservatives in the polls. Examples of his focus on his left flank include his inept comeback against NDP leader Rachel Notley during the leaders' debate where he misquoted the NDP's capital tax policy and then said "math is difficult". He followed this up with the bold statement that Alberta is "not an NDP province". If he truly believed that, why would he be spending so much attention on the NDP? Doesn't his concern suggest that he knows that the NDP surge is real? Or is it that he is far more used to federal politics where he only had to fight competitors on his left rather than competitors on his right? Where are the Conservative attack ads against the Wild Rose party? They may be out there, but they aren't nearly so prominent as they were in the previous election.

But then, what does Prentice have to attack the Wild Rose party with? He supposedly moved the Conservatives to the right by absorbing Danielle Smith and her minions. What separates the Conservatives from the Wild Rose Party now? From the Wild Rose perspective, they can argue that they don't have the Conservatives' stench of corruption, patronage, incompetence, and the sense of so-darn-tired-after-44-years-of-governing that polls suggest Albertans are getting pretty darn tired of. It's also worth noting that Brian Jean acted far faster than former leader Danielle Smith did in moving against social conservative whackos in his party after they spoke out of turn, stemming the easy complaints that helped bring down the Wild Rose Party in the previous election.

It's also worth noting that Notley's NDP has, from this perspective at least, been similarly polite when dealing with the Wild Rose party. Notley herself has even said that she'd willingly work with the Wild Rose party if the May election resulted in a minority goverment. That might be the smartest move of this campaign. If you believe, or want to suggest, that the Conservatives and the Wild Rose Party have roughly the same policies, then there is no reason to fearmonger over a potential Wild Rose victory because, really, what do you lose if they win? You still have the same government that ever was in power. And if you do start to suggest that the Wild Rose party is substantially more right wing than the Conservatives, then you end up driving fearful progressives into propping up the Prentice Conservatives, robbing the NDP of the best chance they've ever had of influencing the government in Alberta.

Notley and Jean's campaigns have been focused, and they've been remarkably free of fearmongering, especially when it comes to each other, likely because each knows that the other is their best ally in bringing the Conservatives down. That leaves Prentice looking like a deer in the headlights. And, for some, who were more than a little put out that a government could convince the leader of the official opposition to betray the people who voted and volunteered for her, that's a satisfying dose of karma.

We shall see come May.

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