Alberta politics, out with the old

By Brandon Beasley

Recently, politics in Alberta has seen a series of events occur in short succession which could have great importance for the future of our province.

First was the announcement that Liberal-turned-Independent MLA Dave Taylor joined the new Alberta Party, an upstart centrist group. Then came the announcement that Premier Ed Stelmach intends to resign in September. Shortly after this, Finance Minister Ted Morton resigned his post in order to run for the Conservative leadership, and Alberta Liberal leader David Swann said he will call it quits after the legislature’s spring session. With the Alberta Party planning a leadership election for May, three of the province’s political parties will be electing new leaders — and one of them, of course, will in the process elect a new premier.

This only adds to the already politically vibrant atmosphere created by the recent rise to prominence of the Wildrose Alliance, whose poll numbers are challenging those of the Tories. The Wildrose benefited from a surprise by-election win in 2009, floor-crossings by several ex-PC MLAs, and an impressive leader in Danielle Smith, all of which has gained the party much notoriety in the past two years. These exciting developments point us towards a possible dramatic reorganization of party politics in this province, which I think would be to the benefit of our political situation. The focus of this reorganization are the two main parties since 1971, the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals.

The PCs are a coalition of moderate “red Tories” with social and fiscal conservatives. The rise of the Wildrose Alliance has of course drawn many conservatives away from the governing party, though some, like Ted Morton and his supporters, remain committed to the PC ranks. But after 40 years in government, they are a tired, confused, corrupt and inept party with a legacy of poor decisions, and it is no wonder the rise of a new conservative party has drawn so much attention.

The Liberals, for their part, are not so much tired and corrupt as forever mired in failure. With a name that, for better or worse, still ignites the fury of many Albertans (thanks to the NEP), and a succession of thoroughly underwhelming and uninspiring leaders (however intelligent and public-spirited they were), the Liberals have not had any real success since 1993 when they won 32 seats under Laurence Decore. They have failed in every way to provide a credible alternative to Albertans and this is something that cannot be explained simply because “Albertans don’t vote for Liberals.” The party’s failure to articulate a coherent vision for the province and failure to elect an inspiring leader with the aura of a premier-in-waiting has provided Albertans with a sometimes-effective official opposition, but not a credible alternative to the Tories.

And so, at last, I come to my point: for the betterment of politics in Alberta, we ought to wish for the demise of both the Progressive Conservative and the Liberal parties. Each party has provided us with some worthy politicians, but so has each party provided us with ineptitude and failure to succeed. Perhaps worst of all, neither party is doing anything to reinvigorate politics in a province where only 40 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the previous provincial election. We would be better off without them.

Then what? As I see it, the political re-alignment would be rather simple. Let the Wildrose Alliance take the social conservatives and libertarians, and those who felt that the PCs were not conservative enough. The red Tories and former Liberals could join up (as some already have) with the Alberta Party, who could cover the territory in the centre. Those on the left who feel they aren’t centrist enough to belong to the Alberta Party can take refuge with the New Democrats.

In this way politics in Alberta would be reinvigorated, with two vibrant new parties articulating their visions for the province and creating an excitement for democracy that we have not seen for too long. Both the Wildrose Alliance and the Alberta Party have stated that they are committed to rehabilitating the fundamentals of democracy in this province, whether through populist policies or a commitment to citizen engagement.

The most exciting thing to me about the Alberta Party has been its ability to attract people not only from diverse ideological backgrounds, but those who have never been involved in politics — but of course, these are early days for this fledgling, if determined, party. And whether or not the Wildrose can get beyond the sense that it is a conservative protest party (not to mention effectively manage its coalition of libertarians and social conservatives, a rather unwieldy mix) remains to be seen. We and our democracy would be best served by these two parties coming to dominate Alberta’s political stage. The curtain is falling on the old guard; or, perhaps, the hook is being extended from the wings.