In 2012, I wrote a blog piece called “Provincial Merger, I agree…”. In it, I made a simple argument: the only way that Progressive Voices could be heard in Alberta is by merging the Alberta NDP, the Alberta Liberals, the Alberta Greens and the Alberta Party. In merging, we could get 25 to 30% and be a real force pushing the governing conservative party – either the “laissez-faire” Wildrose Party or the “noblesse oblige” Tories – to better positions just as the NDP did to the federal Liberals and federal Progressive Conservatives in the 1970s.
Well, the only problem with making bold predictions is that sometimes one can be wrong; and it turns out that I was very wrong. It turns out that no one, including myself, noticed that 20 to 35% of Albertans were upset. No one noticed that those people were pushing for change. While, all of them pushed for change, none of them pushed in the same direction. Danielle Smith, the leader of the Wildrose Party, received much of this push in 2012 but not all of it. In previous elections, Alberta Liberal Party Leaders Kevin Taft and Nancy MacBeth received the same treatment. Unlike Lougheed, no one could capture the full power of the wave of change. I noticed this in 2012 and it belied by thinking. And then Rachel Notley, in her first election as the leader of the Alberta NDP, up-end my theory and show how wrong I was.
With the UCP now in the mix, I think it is important to look at what can be done in the pragmatic centre. For as a long time Liberal, I am still not comfortable with the ideological nature of the NDP and the UCP. In 2012, I felt that having a single “progressive” party would have led to a reduction in the ideological tendencies of all progressive parties. It would have led to a pragmatic, evidenced based party that looked to reduce harm in society, for majorities and minorities alike, as well as providing objective standards for success. This way something I could get behind.
However, with Rachel Notley’s win, we have seen the exact opposite. We have seen a polarization in Alberta Politics with little room for a centrist approach. In 2016, the Lethbridge College’s Citizen Society Research Lab said the PC Party captured 38.4% of decided voters, while the Wildrose had 25.7% and the NDP had 19.7%. While, the Liberals and Alberta Party, in fourth and fifth, had nine percent and 3.5 percent respectively.
While, a different poll noted that the Wildrose maintained “38 per cent of the decided vote, trailed by the Progressive Conservative Party with 29 per cent and then the NDP with 23 per cent. The Alberta Liberals and Alberta Party registered, but barely, at 5 per cent each”.
And a year later, things have not changed for the NDP or UCP. According to Mainstreet Polling, the UCP is at 57%. While, this is a drop from the combined PC and Wildrose numbers, it still shows their poll position in Alberta. At 29%, the NDP continues to hold their own.
What is disappointing is that the combined Liberals and Alberta Party have not changed. In the Mainstreet Poll, the Alberta Party was at 9% and the Alberta Liberals were at 4%. Or put differently, the combined numbers of the Alberta Party and the Alberta Liberals have not moved beyond 15%. This combined number has not moved above 15% since 2008; when Kevin Taft led the Alberta Liberals and was able to capture 26.4%. I feel something has to change.
Neither the Alberta Liberals nor the Alberta Party can count on capturing a wave in the next election because the 25 to 30% of Albertans who wanted changed finally got that change. That changes is why the NDP is at 29% and why the UCP is at 57%. If the Alberta Liberals or the Alberta Party are to succeed, they have to offer a new vision of what it means to be Albertan.
In the next election, the NDP and the UCP will provide different and competing visions for a new Alberta. The UCP will evoke the ghosts of Klein and Lougheed; while, the NDP will run on their present record and the ghosts of Lougheed and Grant Notley. The UCP under Kenney will call for drastic cuts; while the NDP will argue that steady as “she goes” is the right approach. What will the Alberta Liberals or the Alberta Party present as a new Alberta Utopia?
That has been my question for a while now. Will the Alberta Liberal Party or the Alberta Party argue for different point of view on healthcare or education or municipal affairs or Indigenous Affairs or electoral reform or any other topic you can name? I would argue that Alberta Liberal Party (ALP) and the Alberta Party (ABP) won’t argue for different policy perspectives. For, the ALP and ABP have the same view of government. As most members of the ALP and ABP are federal Liberals, I know that most of them are not hostile towards government – as the UCP is – nor are they “lovers of government” as the NDP tends to be. ALP and ABP are skeptical view of government but often find that its use might provide the most benefit for all concerned. Most Alberta Liberals and Alberta Party members are pragmatic and want evidence-based policy. In fact, at one point many Alberta Party members were once Alberta Liberal Party members. With all this being said, it is not difficult to imagine that members of the Alberta Liberal and Alberta Party could inhabit the same party again.
Consequently, why not ask for a merger? Why not ask for one provincial party that represents the aspiration of standing for pragmatic and evidence-based policy which provides the most benefit for the most people without harming minorities or individuals? In this way, we can argue for more than just an oil industry. We, as pragmatic Albertans, can argue for a government which will recognize that we are entering a time where carbon reduction will be important. In this way, in a single party, we could move forward with the intellectual capacity, resource wealth and “God-given” potential that Alberta has to do what we did in 1973 – build a new economy.
In 1973, through the Winnipeg Agreement, Albertans built the Oil Sands Industry. In 2017, we could do so much more. All it takes is the bravery to hold our hands out to people we know – family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and citizens – and say yes, we can work together to build something new. In that same spirit, I ask members of the Alberta Liberal and Alberta Party to work together to build a pragmatic and want evidence-based policy that can capture more than 15% of the vote and make a difference in our lives, in our communities and in this Province, our home: Alberta.