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Monday, January 11, 2010

guest post: progressives vs conservatives.

I wish to sincerely thank Dave for giving me the chance to post on his blog. I normally write about boring stuff like Alberta's labour market over in my own blog. Dave is giving me a chance to write about politics, a topic I love but isn't appropriate in my blog.

Alberta has a reputation of being the most conservative province in the country. Indeed, provincially we have elected a conservative government since the 1930's and this province has sent many conservative politicians and parties to Ottawa. When it comes to the bluster and rhetoric of the campaign, Alberta's conservative base tends to dominate. Conservative values tend to appeal to Albertans after dominating the discourse of this province for so long.

But Alberta is also the birth place of the CCF - the forerunner of the NDP - Canada's left wing party. It was founded in Calgary in 1932. In the 1920's Alberta, through the United Farmers movement, was responsible for sending 'Progressives' to Ottawa and caused probably the biggest constitutional crisis (and huge parliamentry drama) in Canada's history.

This post is not a history lesson. But the truth is that Alberta does have a number of active 'progressive' movements to counterbalance the conservative movements that get elected. While the parties may campaign from the right, they most often govern from the centre.

Much is being made about the ascendency of the Wild Rose Alliance. Indeed, this party probably represents the biggest threat to the governing Conservatives since Laurence Decore and the Liberals forced the Tories to rebrand themselves in 1992. I believe Danielle Smith is doing everything right to unseat the Tories. One of her primary spokespeople is Ernie Isely and his message has recently been that the new party needs to 'moderate'. Indeed, the two defections this week were not from hard core raging social conservatives but from moderate tories who have problems with Ed Stelmach's leadership style and the apparent lack of democracy in their old party. 

The 'progressive' parties can't seem to get any traction on Ed or Danielle though. The Liberals can't seem to shake the ghost of the NEP from 30 years ago and nobody wants to listen to the NDP outside of a few ridings in Edmonton. In my opinion, the problem for the progressive side is leadership. They just cannot get a leader who is articulate in front of the camera and can play the political game. Instead, the Wild Rose elected that very leader and is able to capitlize on the province's disaffection of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.

So while Danielle says all the right things, the progressives are trying to figure out what the right things are to say. While I agree with the spirit of such movements like Reboot or Renew Alberta, they will not be able to develop a coherant message and organization in time for the 2012 election.

For any Alberta party to be elected they need to build a 'big tent' to bring in a wide range of Albertans. If Danielle and the Wild Rose Alliance continue to do everything right, I see this tent collapsing around Ed Stelmach as hard core and moderate conservative alike move to the WIld Rose. I'm afraid that Ed does not have a lot of appeal to many of the progressives still in his party so I see a lot of the 'red tories' moving to other parties. Alberta history (and Alberta voters) is not kind to former ruling parties. 

It might be too late for the progressives to develop a counter offensive to the momentum already enjoyed by the Wild Rose for 2012. But they can't lie down and die. I believe that there is support for progressive values in Alberta, if we had the right people and the right organization promoting them. There is nothing in Alberta's law that says we need to keep electing the same government for 40 years. If Danielle and her party do get elected, they could be unseated. Realistically, I think Albertans give a particular political brand that they have bought into 12 to 15 years before they tire of it. But now is still the time to build up a movement to rival the conservatives in Alberta. But the message needs to be coherant and it needs to come from one organization, not 2 or 3 or 4. If this happens, then hopefully the Wild Rose Alliance isn't given a mandate to rule Alberta until my own children have children. 

Again, I sincerely thank Dave for giving me a chance to post my views here. And if you want to check out my opinions on Alberta's economy and labour market, check out my blog 'Gas, Cows and Oilsands - Alberta's Labour Market?'

Jason is a born and raised Albertan. He is currently raising a family in Edmonton. He normally writes on labour market issues at


kenchapman said...

Good post. One observation - Rob Anderson is a red meat social conservative, not a moderate.

He claims he was unable to have influence in the PC Caucus and that is why he left. Ironically he was one of the key sponsors of a very succcessful Bill 44 process.

It is amongst the worst piece of legislation ever passed in Alberta and to my mind is right up there with the Social Credit eugenetics sterlization law.

Jonathan said...

Nice thoughts Jason. Though I would tend to disagree on some points I think you are right about the lack of a good communicator on the left. It was my biggest problem with Kevin Taft. The media thought he was great but outside of Edmonton he fell flat.

Anonymous said...

Ken beat me to the point. Anderson is not a moderate.

D said...

I think the only saving grace for the PCs is if progressives and "red tories" that may lean Liberal vote for their local PC incumbent out of fear of what a Wildrose Alliance Alberta would be like.

Leadership change is the only thing that might stave off what seems to be the inevitable election of the Wildrose Alliance into the government.

That being said, aren't these the same predictions pundits had of the Alberta Alliance at the end of the Klein years? I have a hard time believing that rural Alberta will abandon Stelmach.

Darren said...

You said: "In my opinion, the problem for the progressive side is leadership. They just cannot get a leader who is articulate in front of the camera and can play the political game."

You may not have intended it this way but this is borderline insulting. You're presuming that the voters can be swayed by someone who is charismatic and good with a soundbyte. Ed was neither and he not only won the last election but increased his seats.
Maybe it's not the Liberal leadership that Albertans don't support, maybe it's their policies. This has been a longstanding problem with the Liberals who seem to think their message is just fine, they just need to turn the volume up a bit.
As long as the progressives (or any party for that matter) don't make fiscal restraint a major -if not their central - policy platform plank, they won't win an election. This perceived lack of fiscal restraint is what's behind the drop in PC polls, not Ed himself.
That's because there are more people paying into the provincial tax pool than live off it and they want a government that understands that. Most people I know believe health is important, as are schools, roads and social safety nets but not a "cost is no object" approach.

Anonymous said...

Ken Chapman just compared Bill 44 with forced sterilization. Think about that.

Good lord, why do people work with/for this man? His clearly lacks critical thought. In fact as desperate as he and other Liberals are to paint the Wildrose as "scary" and "reactionary", it is the Rebooters themselves who are coming off as border-line-loony tunes with such thoughtless comparisons.

Oemissions said...

Just the name Wild Rose should attract many.
I have heard Danielle a few times and thought:"She seems so intelligent and definitely articulate but.....far away from the CCF!"

Robert G. Harvie, Q.C. said...

It is a very curious thing when progressives are so irritated with the tendency for Albertans to vote PC that they actually start supporting a party to the farther right.

The reality is that as unemployment in Alberta reduces at a rate outpacing the rest of the country, and as prudent belt tightening starts to take shape without massive impact on the citizenry.. and as the Wild Rose Alliance continues to prove itself as a movement without substance.. it is likely that Alberta will largely support the PC Party again.

That being said, however, I think there is room for the Liberals to make inroads and to capture a greater part of the vote and perhaps contend again, as Lawrence Decore did, but they are going to need a leader:

a) With personality that resonates as someone with the "common tough"; and

b) With a pre-existing repuration as someone Albertans have familiarity with and some trust with.

As it stands, if Dave Bronconnier decided to run for leader of the Liberal Party, that would be something this PC would worry about much more than Danielle Smith.

Robert G. Harvie, Q.C. said...

"common touch"


Spud said...

I tend to agree with the previous poster on the make-up of reboot and renew. If you look at their facebook fans, you have the crazy eco-terrorist/former U of A SU Prez, the loony tunes that are destroying businesses in Edmonton so that we can have density (hope it's not contagious), and Dave Cornoyer...need I say more?

The next AB gov will be made up of WAPs and PC's, with the Libs, NDP, Greens, Repeople swept aside.

daveberta said...

Yeah, I hear that Dave Cournoyer is completely nuts...
Thanks for all the comments, folks.


Roman said...

Dave Cournoyer is indeed completely nuts. We've decided to find it charming.

Jason Ragan - A trvthseeker said...

Thanks everyone to the great feedback. Perhaps Anderson is not as moderate as I thought, but the optics of the defections looked good. They left not because their ideology didn't fit in the PC's, they left because they felt the PC's were doing a disservice to democracy. That just looks good.

I totally agree that the Liberals might have a chance if they got a leader like Bronconnier, but Bronco would have run if he felt that he could win. He didn't run and left the field open for a bunch lightweights.

Thanks again for all the comments!

jerrymacgp said...

I disagree that the progressive side does not have an articulate spokesperson. Although Liberal leader Dr. Swann may not be spellbinding, NDP leader Brian Mason is a highly effective communicator. The issue is the Liberal-leaning Alberta media that give the Grits more ink than the NDP. (Paradoxically, the small-c conservative Suns often give the NDP better coverage than the Journal-Herald). It doesn't matter how well you present your message if nobody hears it.

Anonymous said...

Ken Chapman is wrong, as usual. Bill 44 is one of the most progressive pieces of pro-family legislation in this nation's history. Any argument against it denies parental choice. We need bill 44.

Anonymous said...

Ken Chapman is an idiot.

The Sexual Sterilization Act was put in by the United Farmers Government.