Plus ça change: More proof for the need to change Alberta’s Provincial Party Landscape

 

Party

Elected

Leading

Total

Vote Share (%)

PC

61

0

61

43.95

WRP

17

0

17

34.49

LIB

5

0

5

9.72

NDP

4

0

4

9.76

AP

0

0

0

1.35

So here we are again: Reports of Political Change in Alberta have been grossly exaggerated.  If one looks at the Alberta NDP, the Alberta Liberals and the Alberta Party, one can see that those three parties attracted less than 20% of the vote. That is right, fewer than two in ten voters supported non-conservative visions of Alberta.

Some have argued that this was a natural reaction to the Wildrose Party. Or put differently, traditional Liberal votes helped supported the PC’s because they were fearful of a Government lead by the Wildrose Party. However, I disagree. Since the 1989, the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party has always held about 40%+ of the Alberta Electorate.  Stelmach received 52.72% of the vote. Klein received 61.9% (2004), 51.2% (2001), 44.5% (1997) and 44.3%(1993). Even, Don Getty received 51.4% of the vote in 1989.  

On the others side, the Official Opposition tends to receive between 25% to 30% of votes cast. The NDP received 18.7% (1986) and 29.2% (1989). The Liberal Party received 28.7% (1993), 39.7% (1997), 32.8% (2001), 27.3% (2004) and 29.4% (2008). One would hardly argue that Alberta is fertile ground for the NDP; and, yet they scored the same percentages as the Wild Rose and Liberal Party when they were the Official Opposition.

What is most interesting is that the third and fourth parties will almost always receive between 8 to 11% of the vote.  With one exception, one has to go back to 1979 to see a different trend. Therefore, this most recent election is not unusual. While the Wildrose has made an impressive move forward, it is easy to see that some of Wild Rose’s Support is mobile. Or put differently, the WildRose Party, the Liberal Party and the NDP are three different political forces with three different policy perspectives. If all of them are getting the same numbers as Official Opposition, it must be true that a significant part of the Alberta electorate is not aligned to any particular party and is populist by nature. For example, look at Joe Anglin (Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre). He unseated six-term PC MLA and former cabinet minister Ty Lund. What is more interesting is Mr. Anglin’s past. He is the former leader of the Green Party of Alberta and well-known Landowners’ rights advocate.

So, unlike federal politics – where parties can be judged by their closeness to various “political poles” such as the decision of Spectrums or Vin Diagrams; Alberta Politics needs different tools. For, there is a “relativism” that exists in Alberta that is not seen elsewhere. Or put differently, tacking to the centre is not an effective tool in Alberta Politics. So Harper’s strategy in 2006 (i.e. convincing Red Tories and Blue Liberals to his camp) would not work in Alberta. So how does one create a winning Opposition? I think that one needs to look at the Tories winning strategy.

For years, the Provincial Progressive Conservatives have implemented a “Divide and Conquer” strategy. The existing Tory Premier will build the confidence with various stakeholder groups. In Ms. Redford’s case, those stakeholders were Progressive in Nature. While in Klein’s case, they included business people, rural Alberta and various Right Wing Elements. But in either case, it shows that the the PC’s will “sew-up” their majority, in a non-ideological manner.

Therefore, I think Alberta’s Opposition should try to build an equally pragmatic opposition. However, to date this has not happened/ The Wild Rose is an ideological party and Danielle Smith has not shown any flexibility in her approach. Therefore, her move from Official Opposition to Government might be stymied over the next couple of years. The same seems to be true when dealing with the Provincial Liberals and NDP. All opposition parties have been either ideological or incompetent. Consequently, something has to change in this province.

Taking a lesson from Preston Manning, Alberta needs to have an opposition which is untraditional in nature. This continues to lead me back to one feeling: that Provincial Liberals, NDP and the Alberta Party need to join forces to have one Provincial Pragmatic Centre or Centre Left Alternative. As I have noted before, this is only a solution that works in Alberta. For a number of reasons, this argument is not applicable to the Federal scene or Other Provincial Parties.  The uniqueness of this point comes from the Uniqueness of Alberta.

Or put differently, the majority of the province believes in one of two different types of Conservatism. We know them as “Laissez-Faire” (i.e. Neo Conservatism) and “Noblesse Oblige” (Traditional) Conservatism. Alberta has been a war with itself for forty years.  From the downfall of the Federal Progressive Conservative Party to the emergence of the Reform and Alliance Parties, one can see that both forms of thought have been front of mind for Albertans. This finally came to a head in the last years of the Stelmach Government.

It was only then that each form of Conservatism had a voice in Alberta. Instead of being locked in one party, the PC’s under Alison Redford spoke for a “Noblesse Oblige” vision of the Province. While, Danielle Smith expressed a “Laissez-Faire” Conservative viewpoint. When both Conservative points of view were expressed, 60 to 80% of Albertans voted for them. If one takes my viewpoint that some of that vote is mobile and does some math, one can still say that over 55% of Alberta voted for a conservative vision. In the light of these facts what should the Alberta Liberals do? The Party can either move to the right, change the dynamics or walk into the abyss.

My viewpoint is simple: we can change the dynamics. Simply put, there is no room to the right of the Liberals in this province. Premier Redford is allied with Traditional Red Tories like Joe Clark. She has the confidence of Red Tories, so any move to shrink her base would likely be fruitless. Accordingly, now is the time to do something different, crazy and unexpected. Working to have one voice on the Centre to Centre Left might be that crazy thing to do; but it can very well change the dynamics in this province. For with 20 to 30% of the vote, one voice on the left would be heard. While our new “centre-left” voice would still not form Government, at least it might be more relevant. For that voice could complete with the two different forms of Conservatism preached in this province. So the four parties on the right would no longer compete against each other. We would hold hands to keep the government somewhat accountable.

Given Kevin Taft’s book, “Democracy Derailed”, one would say that this would be a move forward. A Tory Government, in Alberta, that would have a competitive progressive force would be wonderful. Given that the Alberta Party flopped, I doubt the Provincial NDPs or Liberals would want to try to work together. But without that change, we are likely destined to be in an unchanging Alberta. My words can be dismissed but the Liberals have not formed Government since the 1920’s and the NDP has not been able to form government at all in Alberta. This is despite the fact that the NDP has formed government several times in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Something needs to change, the question is who will find the courage to stand up and make that change.

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