Saturday, April 14, 2012

Alberta 2012: The Great Reckoning

Gord Tulk is a regular commenter on SDA and also frequently calls into the shows of both Dave Rutherford and Dennis Miller. He is a rare gem and one of the blogosphere's more thoughtful political pundits.  I'm honoured to be able to present his analysis of the current state of politics in Alberta.


The Western Canadian province of Alberta has embarked on a provincial election that is arguably the most important one since Ernest Manning - Canada's greatest ever premier - won his first election and took Alberta down a quarter century long fiscally conservative path.

Not since 1976, when René Lévesque won his first mandate in Québec, has there been as an important an election in Canada.  The Wildrose Party, led by Danielle Smith, is the reason why.

With the April 23rd, 2012 election date quickly approaching, the Wildrose campaign will have three themes that - if properly framed and communicated - can deliver the party a stunning majority.

But first, here are a couple of observations on the Alberta body politic:

1. As a group of voters, Albertans are a binary people.  Since the province’s beginnings, Albertans have essentially voted as a bloc.  Most polls throughout the election campaign have shown that only about 25% of voters support anything other than the two major parties vying for the role of the governing party.  Put another way, you are either 'In' or you are 'Out'; a '1' or a '0' if you will.

This is the same as it was during the times of Premiers Bible Bill Aberhart, Ernest Manning, Peter Lougheed, and Ralph Klein.  The winners of those battles stayed in power for decades.  The losers were solidly crushed and vanquished into the political wilderness.

There is no doubt about it: this election is going to be a referendum - a 'Yes' or 'No' on the performance of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party over the past forty years.

2. Albertans unconsciously adhere to the William F. Buckley rule for conservatives: "Nominate the most conservative candidate who is electable."  In the Alberta context this translates to:  “Vote for the party and leader who are the most conservative, yet also considered capable of running the government.”

The Wildrose is now - thanks largely to Danielle Smith's ascension to the leadership - the most conservative and credible option for Albertans.  Especially after the recent leaders’ debate, Albertans look poised to hand the reins of power over to Wildrose.

Here then are the three key themes of this election campaign:

1. The Alberta Progressive Conservative (ABPC) party on trial

The party has completely lost the plot.  Two times in a row it has installed a leader who is incompetent and who is far, far to the left of where the vast majority of Albertans want to be governed.  Also, forty years of being in power have corroded both the political instincts and the ethics of the party's elite and its elected members. The party is devoid of philosophy and policy - content to be run by the civil service mandarins and, even more damningly, by union and big corporate interests.

Now that the federal Liberals are teetering on the brink of near-extinction, the ABPC party is Canada’s poster child of a deadwood party waiting for the chainsaw's bite to end its tenure as the towering giant of provincial politics.

2. Is the Wildrose a credible replacement?

They have the best leader, bar none.  Danielle Smith is thought by many to be the most promising political leader in Canada since Stephen Harper.  She is Stephen Harper with charisma and heels.  Yet, despite being leader for only a few years, and a Bus Wrap that went viral, when the election campaign started, very few Albertans knew the Danielle Smith that Wildrose insiders did.  That will change by election day.  They will be very pleasantly surprised … and relieved.

A second pleasant surprise is how well organized and determined Wildrose is.  Up against an incumbent opponent that has not really faced a credible threat at the polls for at least twenty years, political historians will publish studies detailing the incredible savvy and competence of such a young political party.

The third surprise is a reassuring one: the Wildrose's fully vetted and responsible policy book.  This is a document that was developed in the same way that the federal Conservative Party developed theirs: through vigorous grassroots debate by its membership, not on-the-fly by some out-of-touch cabal in the Premier's office.

3. The Defense of Alberta

As bad as the ABPC party has been at running the province - especially in recent years - the greatest threats to the collective well-being of Albertans exist beyond its borders.  They include:
  • Mad Cow
  • Keystone Pipeline
  • National Energy Program (NEP)
  • Carbon Tax
  • Wheat Board
  • Equalization and EI transfers
  • A National Securities Regulator
  • Ontario Premier, Dalton McGuinty
  • Québec  Premier, Jean Charest
On every one of these issues the ABPCs have failed miserably to protect Alberta's interests - preferring an apologetic, low-key, damn-near-silent approach.  This has cost Albertans dearly ($16 billion in lost value in the oil and gas sector in 2011 alone).

Albertans need a Premier to be their Margaret Thatcher on this critical front: making headline grabbing comments.  For example, on the issue of the incredibly unfair Equalization payments, such comments would pay huge public relations dividends, just as they did for Newfoundland’s Danny Williams and Québec’s Jean Charest.  Albertans are deeply worried about this issue and very frustrated by the ABPCs stance.  This is a tremendous opportunity that hopefully the Wildrose - and specifically Danielle Smith – will not hesitate to speak up about.

The confidence (and arrogance) of the ABPC party entering this election campaign was as strong as ever.  After all, incumbency gives a candidate a political perfume as sweet as anything Scarlett Johansson would wear.  The perks and influence of being in power are manifold and highly prized, not just by the candidate but by many of his or her constituents.  This attraction has the power to compel many voters to look past the candidate’s flaws and those of his or her party.  But if the political tide turns, and the incumbent's party looks like it’s going to lose, the aforementioned perfume swiftly becomes rancid; fouler smelling politically than the worst form of malingering halitosis.

A local Alberta example of this occurred in Red Deer in 1993. The local federal MP was Doug Fee.  He was a PC incumbent in a riding that had voted for the party since 1968 and he won - or rather inherited - the riding from the retiring MP, Gordon Towers, who had won his previous election by a margin of 53% to 21% over the Reform Party candidate in 1988.  Doug Fee was as surefire an incumbent as one could imagine.

But 1993 was also the year of the infamous Kim Campbell campaign fiasco.   The stench of ruling party incumbency was ruinous.  Fee lost to Bob Mills, the Reform candidate, 65% to 16%.  A possibly apocryphal story, though related by several sources, is that Fee's campaign’s volunteer force evaporated in the latter days of the campaign and he was reduced to going door-to-door with his government paid chauffeur.

In the 2012 election campaign, after a seemingly never-ending series of gaffs and missteps have plagued the ABPCs, including Premier Alison Redford herself, there are literally dozens of ABPC incumbent MLAs who may be acquiring this stench.  If so, the election will be a rout.

Albertans looking for a true conservative party that has a chance of governing, the only real option is the Wildrose party.  Here are just a few items from their policy book that will likely resonate positively with the majority of Alberta voters:
  • School Vouchers
  • Deregulate Healthcare Delivery and Medical Spending Accounts
  • Real Property Rights
  • Create an Alberta Pension Plan (opt out of CPP)
  • Take control of Immigration from the Feds
  • Pay-Go funding rules
  • End the Alberta Human Rights Commission (HRC)
  • Right to Work
If the election unfolds the way an increasing number of polls are suggesting it will, who would have ever been able to predict that a Canadian style “Arab Spring” would have started with a fiscally responsible, freedom empowering, conservative uprising in Alberta?!  Not only will such a change significantly benefit all Albertans but - like a stone dropped in a pond - will most certainly cause other Canadians to take notice and demand more accountability from the politicians in their own provinces.  The status quo, complacency, and often apathy of most Canadian voters may soon be discarded into the dustbin of history.

Note: All comments on what Mr. Tulk has written are much appreciated and should be left here.