The identity crisis of the Wildrose party

By Dominik Matusik

If opinion polls are to be believed, the upcoming provincial election will be one of those rare events in Albertan history where voters toss aside the ruling dynasty like a pair of old sneakers and vote into office a government of novices. Historically, Albertans don’t vote for parties — they vote governments out. The last time this happened was in 1971. Alberta’s demographics have since changed dramatically. Perhaps this time around, voters will actually take a look at the monstrosity with which they are on the verge of replacing the incumbent Tory government.

Defining the cynical quasi- ideology of the Wildrose Party is difficult to do, because even its supporters seem to be unsure of what it is. Their unifying theme has been that it’s time for change in Alberta, the mantra being “41 years is enough” — although, of course, 37 years was not. Many claim the party has a libertarian streak, yet it remains the party of choice for authoritarians and social conservatives, including several prominent candidates such as incumbent evangelical Rob Anderson and anti-gay activist Ron Leech who in 2004, wrote a column in which he declared, “to affirm homosexuality is to insult the nature and being of God” — but it’s OK, because he does “not hate homosexuals, lesbians, adulterers or, for that matter, rapists.” Remember, this is the libertarian party we’re talking about — you would think that bigots and fundamentalists would choose to align themselves with something as far from that ideology as possible.

Not even Danielle Smith’s attempts to reaffirm herself as “pro-choice” and “pro-gay marriage” can remove the emptiness of her party’s supposed commitment to libertarianism. The turning point in the election could very well be watching Smith, a lobbyist and failed school board trustee, go up against an articulate and amazingly accomplished international lawyer and human rights policy adviser such as Alison Redford.

Luckily, Wildrose seems to have hit its ceiling. The latest Leger poll has had them down almost six points from their previous poll. It will likely be downhill, going forward, with the party hitting a low again after the debate. One is reminded of fellow far-right provincial populist Tim Hudak, who last year managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Ontario despite the unpopularity of the sitting government.

Wildrose is unsure of what it is — it has libertarian members and it has socially conservative members — but it seems to be trying to present a centrist platform. They’re clearly made up of disenchanted former Progressive Conservative supporters. Of course, the PC party under Redford is the closest it has been to its intended ideology since the Lougheed days: a healthy mix of centrism and fiscal caution.

Meanwhile, the Wildrose have announced a return to the regressive Klein-era tax rebate which provides a good sound bite while wasting millions with no apparent gain in this attempt to buy votes.

This blatant admission to wanting to outright sabotage the economy and government is consistent with the libertarian “starve the beast” approach — one must suspect that libertarians don’t like government because they don’t know how to govern. Instead of allocating funds for important services and infrastructure, they have opted for the crude populist route. And, in a daring, but pathetic attempt at channeling Joseph McCarthy, Smith had the nerve to tell voters outright that Redford, with her years of public service, “doesn’t like Alberta” because she wants to make changes. Clearly, nothing says “I love my province” like refusing to evaluate and address problems and invest in current and future infrastructure needs. This kind of mentality is poison to any jurisdiction that wants to remain relevant in the future — and no, oil wealth is not an automatic guarantee of that. There needs to be a party in power that has some semblance of a plan or vision for the province.

And that, ultimately, is what the Wildrose mentality boils down to: a lack of vision. Or, to not inaccurate further lengths, outright hostility to the concept of vision. Why plan to make our cities more livable and sustainable when it can be left to unregulated private developers, who have no stake in what the communities they’re building will look like 20 years down the road? Why diversify our economy? After all, the oil sands will be here forever and the market will sort it out unless, somewhere down the line, new methods for generating energy are developed or the price of oil plummets. Why invest in schools, hospitals and public transit when voters can be pacified so simply with a modest bribe funded from their own back pockets? It is my hope that Albertan voters reject these absurd notions and opt for the candidate in their riding that is best positioned to defeat this cynical mentality.

On April 23, vote anything but Wildrose.

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