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Monday, October 19, 2009

a wake up call for alberta's political establishment.

As the new leader of the Wildrose Alliance, I believe that Danielle Smith could be a game-changer in Alberta politics. Why should you care if you're not a conservative? The potential of an insurgence by an non-traditional opposition party should be a wake up call to the other two opposition parties in the Alberta Legislature: the Liberals and NDP.

Danielle SmithElections Alberta investigating Liberals' complaint against Hinman
(Photo of Paul Hinman by K-Ideas)
Hope for the Liberals and NDP?

I know many self-described centrist, centre-left, independent, and progressive-minded Albertans who are engaged in their communities, but see little value in joining and contributing to these two parties. Both the Liberals and NDP have had challenges in growing their ranks since peaking both electorally and in support in the 1980s (for the NDP) and 1990s (for the Liberals). After attending the most recent Liberal and NDP conventions, I am convinced that both parties are stuck in neutral and have become too comfortable in their default positions as Alberta's legislative opposition.

The recent by-election in Calgary-Glenmore was an important electoral test for the Liberals. With an experienced candidate and campaign team, a leader from Calgary, and their not so distant by-election victory Calgary-Elbow, the Liberals should have won in Calgary-Glenmore. Liberal support held steady on election day, but their opportunity was usurped by Paul Hinman, whose insurgent campaign saw Wildrose Alliance support quadruple since the 2008 election. The NDP candidate barely registered with 148 votes.

Following the 2008 provincial election, the Democratic Renewal Project has promoted the merger of the Liberals and NDP in an effort to defeat the governing Progressive Conservatives. While I don't believe that their proposal is viable or will lead to the solution they desire, I do think that they are on to something far more valuable than the current parties are offering Albertans: Out of the box thinking.

Where do the Greens go?

With the disappearance of the Alberta Greens, where will the 43,563 Albertans who marked an X beside a Green candidate put their votes in the next election? Many people incorrectly label the Alberta Greens as a left-wing fringe party, but much of their strongest support comes from traditionally conservative areas in central Alberta and Calgary. With no Greens on the ballot in the next election, the party that exerts itself as a non-traditional alternative to the PCs may benefit from much of their support.

What about the PCs?

It would be foolish to underestimate the role that the element of 'power' plays in attracting people to our province's natural governing party, the Progressive Conservatives. There are many reasons why citizens gravitate to political parties, but much like past carnations of the Liberal Party of Canada, a large factor is the desirability of being on the winning side.

Elections in Alberta have become less about which is the best to slate of candidates to govern our province, and more about whether or not to renew the mandate of the natural governing party (which leads me to believe that it may be more effective to have a 'none of the above' choice on the ballot). Given near unlimited financial and organization resources, and facing minimal opposition, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand how the PCs have continually formed large majority governments. The rare existence of real electoral challengers has led to a festering institutional mediocrity that was demonstrated by Premier Ed Stelmach's pre-produced televised address.

After nearly 40 years in office, it is sometimes difficult for even an objective person to decipher what actual principles drive Alberta's natural governing party.

One of the great successes of the Alberta PCs have been their ability to maintain a big tent that includes a broad range of political ideologies and beliefs. Demonstrated over the past 40 years since Peter Lougheed welcomed Liberal MLA Bill Dickie into the PC caucus in 1969, even the current PC caucus includes Red Tories like Dave Hancock and Janice Sarich and social conservatives like Ted Morton and Rob Anderson. In between these two camps includes a large group of MLAs who have very likely chosen to wear the PC brand because it affords them a seat in the government benches.

A number of former PC MLAs and insiders have already joined the now Smith-led party, but will it translate into the kind of migration that led Preston Manning to crush the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 1993?

A new party?

I am convinced that it is only a matter of time before a new political movement of independent progressive minded Albertans emerges in our province.

Some political watchers have suggested that the rift on the right is an opportunity to draw progressive Albertans together under a new political banner. Far from a new idea, the prospect of a new political movement in Alberta is something that I am hearing increasingly from friends and associates who have been both politically active or never affiliated with a party or candidate. Their reasons are vast - Bill 44, cuts to health care, the environment, the record deficit - but the underlying message that I continue to hear is that the current government is out of touch, arrogant, and has squandered long-term opportunity for short-term gain.

In the last election, the PCs earned just 501,063 votes, or roughly 22% of the total eligible vote, which suggests that while their vote may be a mile wide it may only be an inch deep. Perhaps a 60% voter turnout is an unreasonable prediction for a modern liberal democracy, but if a new political movement could earn its support by increasing the popular vote by 20% without disturbing the earned votes from the last election, it would be able to challenge the PCs hold on government.

Will apathy win?

Of course, there is the very real possibility that new found support for the Wildrose Alliance will simply flame out, our electoral environment will remain uncompetitive, no new political movement will emerge, and Albertans will once again avoid the polls in droves.

As an Albertan, I have been told that manifest destiny is in my blood. I have little doubt that it is only a matter of time before we witness a big political shift in our province, but it will be up to Albertans to decide what this change will embody.


Concerned Albertan said...

While a new progressive movement might form a party, none have ever got to the stage of gathering signatures to register a party.

Until they stop just kvetching, and start pounding the pavement I would take any talk of new parties with a grain of salt.

Plus, it would be much easier for a group to just hijack the ALP at an annual meeting (might need 200 people) than to form a completely new party.

Anonymous said...

Kyle: Why would a new group of people want to take over the ALP? Bad debt? Bad label? Bad blood? Bad organization?

Unknown said...

Hi. I'm happy you opted to use two of my photographs, and linked back to me. But, I would ask that you credit me somewhere (such as "Photo by Robert Thivierge").

daveberta said...

Thanks for the note, Rob. I will certainly do that. Great photos BTW!



Denny said...

I think what the DRP, and many others don't seem to get, is that from the view of many New Democrats, the Alberta Liberal Party is not that much better of an alternative than the Progressive Conservatives.
The DRP keeps saying that the NDP and Liberals have similar policies, but fail to really convince me that these policies really are all that similar, or that a few select policy similarities are enough to warrant a merger or electoral alliance between the two parties.
My earliest memories of the Alberta Liberal party are of them being lead by a former Tory cabinet minister. Others who were in Alberta in '93 remember the Liberals running on a platform of instiuting "Brutal Cuts" while the Tories were promising "Deep Cuts". These are impressions of the Alberta Liberal party that many "progressive" Albertans are never going to shake.

I don't see a proposal for any sort of "progressive" alternative to the Liberals ever really taking off. I don't see most New Democrats ever being convinced that the Alberta Liberals or the Greens are much better than the PCs, and I don't see many Liberals wanting to adopt "socialist" policies like the ones they perceive the NDP to be having.

The only sort of new progressive movement I can really see developing would be one made up primarily of former Greens who don't see a party they can turn to anymore, or a re-branding of the Alberta Liberal party. Or a completely different movement made up of people who are not currently involved in the political process.
I really don't see any sort of big tent movement or party made up of the current Liberal or New Democratic parties, or the former Green party developing.

daveberta said...

"I really don't see any sort of big tent movement or party made up of the current Liberal or New Democratic parties, or the former Green party developing."

Who says that an alternative has to be make up of former members of already existing parties. There are over 3 million Albertans and likely more than 90% of them have never held a political membership. I look at the current political parties as they now exist, and I don't see the future of Alberta politics.

Denny said...

Dave, if you read one sentence further that's exactly what I say...

daveberta said...

Kyle: I can imagine that it wouldn't be impossible for an organized and credible group to take over these parties, but if it is a group of Albertans looking for something new, why would they? Its the same reason they're not joining those parties right now.

I don't think anyone is under the illusion that it would be easy to build a new political movement, look at what it took for Peter Lougheed to do it.

daveberta said...

Thanks, Denny. I see it now.

Chris said...

Great post, Dave. Keeps me coming back!

Anonymous said...

Dave, didn't you support David Swann in the leadership? Are you now regretting it? Perhaps Dave Taylor was going to be better or even that other young chap?

My other question is why don't you talk to those Liberals and offer them some advice how not to be stuck in neutral? What about their renewal thing, did anything come out of that?

Aden said...

Fun fact: Going by section 6 of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, a new party is qualified to apply for registration as a party provided it establishes a non-profit corporation or trust, and provides the Chief Electoral Officer with the names, addresses and signatures of 0.3% of the electors eligible in the last election.
That means that if a party could door-knock enough to round up 6850 signatures, it would be registered and able to run in the next election. That's far from impossible, although it would be only the first small step for a political party.

Anna Karenin said...

Dave, just so you know, you're drop dead sexy when you're all political and stuff. You must lose those black whispations from your face though! Just think about it. What successful politician ever had a beard?

OK there might be the odd one, Lenin, Chez Guevara, Tolstoy (yes silly, Tolstoy WAS a politician). But back to whereever I was at...I forgot...lose the face fuzz sexy-knickers. By divine intervention I foresee the fall of conservatism in Alberta if you shave off the beard.

Anonymous said...

PCs can't afford a new leadership race leading to an election while popular support is SO low. Stelmach earns huge support during review, Global economy recovers by next election is a few (3) years regardless of local provincial policies. Pcs continue.


I think I'm getting cynical.

c-lo said...

I tend to agree with anonymous right above. the best case scenario for the WA is getting the PCs to minority territory in 2012.

Ultimately, in order for the PCs to lose, people need to work for it. Opposition parties need to be better prepared on their ground game. Door-to-door, volunteer-driven, with candidates willing to work before the election happens. The problem is that the opposition always seems to just criticize rather than provide solutions. Whether that statement is true or not, I'm fairly certain that is the perception, and that is all that matters.

I just think Canadian politicians have gotten stuck talking to party members rather than to citizens. Gotta keep the base happy...

c-lo said...

Also, is there any coalescence of this disparate progressives into something? If so, deets plz.

The Dallas said...

I think that the WRA represents the only current chance that we have to enjoy a more progressive theme in government.

It will be a long time, if ever, before Albertans are able to accept the Liberal or NDP brands.

Albertans identify very strongly with being 'conservative' even if they don't always know what that means.

Fiscal conservatism and social progressivism aren't incompatible. I believe Danielle Smith and the WRA get this.

Anonymous said...

When are Brian Mason and David Swann having their leadership reviews? Let's get rid of them both and get rid of Stelmach and start fresh.

daveberta said...

C-lo: "Ultimately, in order for the PCs to lose, people need to work for it. Opposition parties need to be better prepared on their ground game. Door-to-door, volunteer-driven, with candidates willing to work before the election happens."

Bingo. I'm not really convinced that the Wildrose Alliance can form government in 2012 (Alex Abboud has a great post outlining some of the challenges), but I get the feeling that there is too much in flux to at the moment to make such predictions.

This morning, Allan Hallman, former campaign manager for Ralph Klein and Jim Dinning, said he wants Stelmach defeated in the November leadership review. He's not the first, but have the flood gates opened? Are the PCs on the brink of a internal party civil war?

Anonymous said...

Hallman ran Jonathan Dennis's campaign. Does this mean Dennis wants to dump Stelmach too?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 9:30

I don't know about the Liberals, but the NDP don't do leadership reviews since the leader is elected at every annual convention. It's been less than two months since Mason was reelected.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, and the last time the NDP leadership was contested? Ha!

Anonymous said...

If someone wants to contest it all they need to do is show up at convention with a membership and two other members who'll nominate them.
If someone thinks Mason's leadership is laxluater it's that easy to challenge it.

daveberta said...

As far as I am aware, the last time the Alberta NDP had a contested leadership contest was in 1996 when Pam Barrett defeated Mimi Williams and Joe Woytowich.

Before that, I'm not sure. I believe that Ray Martin was challenged a number of times while he was NDP leader from 1984 to 1994.

Anonymous said...

Stelmach's time is up. I know how delegates from my EDA will be voting in November.

Greg S. said...

Dave Bronconnier, Hal Walker, Brett Wilson, Kyle Fawcett, Heather Forsyth, Alan Hallman. How many more need to speak out before Calgarians realize what a bad deal they are getting with Stelmach?

Greg S.

Anonymous said...

Or maybe it's a good deal and these people are just whiners. Mad that their guy didn't make it. Sore losers.

Hope said...

The ALP renewal committee report is linked here:

Basic stuff.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure Danielle Smith can be considered "progressive" when she says she's pro-choice, but doesn't think abortion should be covered by health care.

Also, her refusal to release a list of donors is disappointing, to say the least. More of the same-old-same-old?

Anonymous said...

Just an new line up for a turn at the trough. Feathers seem ruffled as some were dropped off the trough. Is fiscal conservative and cultural conservative the same kind of person?

Crescent Heights Guy said...

Horsefeathers! You want to create a new progressive party? As if splitting the vote among 4 parties instead of 3 will be an improvement. You think that a new progressive party will somehow inspire the 60% of Albertans who don’t vote to suddenly become active? You might as well believe in yogic fliers and pixie dust.

Have you ever tried to organize a new party from scratch? Well neither have I, but my older brother who went to the founding convention of Mel Hurtig’s party in Edmonton in the 90’s tells me it was a nightmare. The room was full of non-conformist, single-issue nitwits - all with empty pockets, axes to grind, and utterly incapable of reaching a consensus on even what time of day it was.

You want to replace the ALP leader? Swann’s been on the job for less than one year and as far as I can tell the only knock against him is that he is not ‘avuncular’ enough. Do you have an Obama waiting in the wings somewhere? No! There is no replacement. Swann is old-school, Mr-Smith-goes-to-Washington integrity. He has the stuff to be the best premier since Lougheed. An MD who spoke out against sour gas wells and got fired for it. With little more than his name, he took on and handily beat one of Ralph’s incumbents in the 2004 election. You have somebody better? The anonymous trolls who slag Swann on this forum can only dream of having his courage, intellect, commitment and job experience.

Here’s a fun game. Think of a headline, and then guess the anonymous trolls response to it. Headline: UFO Crashes in Ft. Macleod – Troll response: This means David Swann is a bad leader! Headline: New Party Attracts Lots of Former Tories – Troll response: This proves that the Liberal Party is finished!

Based on the results of one by-election (which the ALP candidate lost by only few hundred votes) and some soft news coverage by the province’s new MSM darlings, the WRA, you want to throw in the towel and start from scratch? If you think you can do a better job than the ALP, then join it, make it yours and make it better. Otherwise you’re just part of the problem.

Lorne said...

The change in the game will be one of accountability and who Albertans will trust to take that role. The party that unseats the PCs will be one to which Albertans can feel comfortable switching. Someone must have a chance to open the books of what has gone on for the past 40 years. They will never in my lifetime vote Liberal in waves. The challenge has to come from the right. A challenge from the far right may wake up this government and force them to distil their values and get seriously planning to meet them.

Ron Wood (Reform) said during the last election: "These PC's are neither progressive or conservative." He put his support behind Kevin Taft and the ALP for that election.

If any party shows too much strength, the Alberta voter will huddle back with the familiar. The ALP made the mistake of saying "It's Time" as their campaign slogan. Albertans are not against a strong opposition; just don't try to take over. To be safe, they overcompensated and put out a lot of that strong opposition. There is no other explanation, and I have heard many offers to explain in this forum.

Unknown said...

Thanks for a great post Dave and also for recognizing that the Green party was not a party of the left. The Alberta Green party attracted a lot of people who had concerns about the environment regardless of what their traditional political leanings were.

Somehow roles got assigned to the parties that doesn’t recognize concerns about social justice and the environment are not limited to only the "left". Thinking in terms of left and right, conservative and liberal, doesn’t make sense anymore, but it is a good way of keeping people divided.

Starting a new party is a huge job and it might not be the way to go, but having a conversation about it is definitely worthwhile. It might be time to consider a more organic form of political participation and organization using social media technology.

Stan said...

Does anyone from Calgary have any tangible evidence of policy that Stelmach has gone out of his way to harm their city?

Anonymous said...

@Cresent Heights Guy:

You're only part of the problem if you belong to the Alberta Liberal party. David Swann is a lost cause, leading a lost party.

Dr. Swann campaigned for leadership under the guise, and I use that word loosely, of renewing the party and STRONGLY advocating name change. This is probably why he was elected leader.

In the end he chickened out. In essense he proved himself to be the penultimate politician. To use an analogy, 'he's a dog and he has no teeth'. He doesn't deserve anyone's respect and I wouldn't believe one single promise he might make during a campaign.

BTW...the 'Orwellian impending doom music' in that add is a little much

Crescent Height Guy said...

Dear Anonymous (8:29 AM Wednesday)

I’m sorry Dr Swann broke your heart. Best wishes with your new party! Here’s how it’s done:

1) Get a name (for your party I mean)

2) Organize a convention with delegates from across the province.

3) Get a set of policies

4) Write a constitution

5) Elect a party executive

6) Get a charismatic leader

7) Do steps 3, 4, 5, and 6 without alienating more than half of the people from step 2

8) If you’ve gotten this far, my hat is off to you. Now comes the easy part: fund raise, get a slate of candidates, convince a million people to vote for you, write a victory speech.

Do you think you’re capable of this? Even just step #1? I’m all ears.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the drama. The ALP body is getting cold. Soon I'll be dancing on it's grave.

daveberta said...

Crescent Heights Guy - thanks for the comments.

No, the existence of a new political party won't automatically draw out more voters, but don't I believe that vote-splitting can be used as an excuse when only ~40% of people vote. That isn't vote-splitting, it's no one getting their vote out.

Why aren't more Albertans drawn to the current existing parties? I've never formed a new party from scratch, but I see nothing wrong with citizens getting involved in politics and starting a new party if they don't feel that the current parties represent their views. If the Liberals aren't attracting new people, that is the Liberal Party's problem, not the problem of citizens who start a new party.

No one group of people has the monopoly on democracy. The more voices, the better.

daveberta said...

Crescent Heights Guy - thanks for the comments.

No, the existence of a new political party won't automatically draw out more voters, but don't I believe that vote-splitting can be used as an excuse when only ~40% of people vote. That isn't vote-splitting, it's no one getting their vote out.

Why aren't more Albertans drawn to the current existing parties? I've never formed a new party from scratch, but I see nothing wrong with citizens getting involved in politics and starting a new party if they don't feel that the current parties represent their views. If the Liberals aren't attracting new people, that is the Liberal Party's problem, not the problem of citizens who start a new party.

No one group of people has the monopoly on democracy. The more voices, the better.

Anonymous said...

Great post Dave.