The most intriguing development in Alberta politics in recent years (aside from Naheed Nenshi’s stunning victory in Calgary) was likely the initial surge of growth by the upstart Wildrose Alliance party a few years ago.
In a relatively short period of time, (and thanks, at least in part to a reaction to the last PC leadership race, which was a bit rancorous; followed by a tumultuous period in the world economy), the Wildrose Alliance became known as the party that could, and, more surprisingly, would apparently finally replace the aging Tory dynasty.
Having elected the dynamic Danielle Smith as its leader, (who stood in stark contrast to the stable, but uninspiring Ed Stelmach), the Wildrose shot up in popular support, and, in short-order, was seen as the government in waiting.
Wildrose - Danielle Smith
To many Albertans this was a welcomed development, to many others it was not. For some, (especially those who favour a more republican flavour of governance), a long-overdue change in government was supposedly now on the horizon; however to others, Alberta politics seemed to be taking both an unnecessary step to the right, and a potentially frustrating step backwards.
For this second group, Alberta seemed to be moving from a style of government that was already behind-the-times, to one that would be even more out of step with a way of life that could be described as forward-thinking or truly progressive.
In the minds of this group of frustrated voters (or at least many of them), a political shift was occurring in Alberta, not necessarily because it was the will of everyday Albertans, but more so because it was a well-executed orchestration of political strategy on the part of those who stood to gain the most from a form of government that would more fully free the reins on development, and curtail responsible regulation and stewardship. Rightly or wrongly, the rise of the Wildrose appeared tainted by their advocacy for big-industry, and their seeming disregard for substantive improvements related to the environment, education, royalty sharing, or healthcare.
Certainly there are nuances and individual circumstances that do not fit within the above description, and certainly there are many reasonable and genuine grass-root supporters of the Wildrose’s quest for power; yet it is safe to say the political landscape has shifted in the province since their arrival, and that this shift has resulted in many moderate Albertans scratching their heads about where they should cast their next vote.
This rise of the Wildrose has been very significant indeed, and has led directly to more recent political intrigue. Of course, within the past year Stelmach has announced his retirement, and the Tories have attempted to rebrand themselves as more progressive, yet at the same time, even more conservative – both in an effort to stand in contrast to the Wildrose, and in part to stem the loss of their more conservative supporters to the Wildrose membership.
Many Albertans will soon ask themselves: “I want good government, but who can deliver it best? Is it the Tories with a fresh new leader, even though they may have reached their best-before-date a full twenty five years ago, and who may now be governing more to “hang on to power” than to serve citizens’ long term interests? Is it the Wildrose, with, what some describe as a “right-of-right” platform that just might erode not only the environment, but also the quality of life for average Albertans in the long-term? Is it the fairly marginalized, eternally-small, but equally determined opposition parties – the NDP and the Liberals? Or is it another upstart party – one with little profile, but also little baggage – the Alberta Party?
Raj Sherman - Leader of the Alberta Liberal Party
As an unabashed believer in the importance of a strong progressive party, I have argued for some time now that Alberta needs to move ahead and support a new centrist party.
In the long term, the Alberta Party will have a much easier time of reaching the goal of governing than will either the Liberals or the NDP and, more importantly, the Alberta Party will also appeal to a broader range of Albertans than will any of the current parties and should therefore be more representative of the real Alberta.
Despite their excellent efforts in opposition and despite their important place in our democratic history (not to mention some of the most talented MLAs e.g., Notley and Blakeman), unfortunately, neither the Libs nor the NDs will come close to forming the government in Alberta, ever. In my view, their members should therefore consider all options regarding how they can best serve their fellow moderate Albertans, including considering new political partnerships — as should all MLAs and potential candidates… but I digress.
While the PC members are finishing up their “home-rennovation” and casting their votes to select a new leader, the Wildrose influence is again being felt. Although the Wildrose has dipped in the polls, and although they no longer appear to be such an immediate threat to the Tory reign, a small number of voters are apparently still tempted to support more conservative PC candidates such as Ted Morton or Rick Orman – not because they necessarily prefer them based on their platforms, nor because they feel they will be better premiers, but because they conclude that these more conservative candidates will limit the threat of the Wildrose to make inroads from the far right, and thereby better securing the PC prospects in the upcoming election.
No matter who the Tories elect the political landscape will continue to shift, it is just a question of how fast and in what direction. However, what is likely to help the Tories beat back the support of the Wildrose in the short -term, will hasten the eventual growth of the Alberta Party and eventually the down-fall of the Tories in the long-term. (Believe it or not, regardless of what leaders they choose, at some point their downfall will come – it happens to all parties!)
The more progressive and courageous PC leadership candidate Doug Griffiths could be an eventual saviour of sorts for the Tories, at least in the short term, but as has been speculated for a while, he may eventually fit very nicely within the ranks of the AB Party at some point in the future.
Gary Mar - Leading Candidate for Leadership of The AB PCs
It is true that the current poll numbers are not strong for the Alberta Party, but these are very early days. While the growth over the past year may have been slightly slower than some might have expected, very important groundwork has been laid as countless volunteers have contributed mightily. Strong constituency associations are being formed, and many excellent candidates are in place, including the hard working party leader Glenn Taylor in the Hinton area, former interim-leader-extraordinaire Sue Huff in Edmonton Glenora, the self-titled and impressively multi-talented OrganizerMike in Edmonton Rutherford, and the brilliant Tim Osborne in St. Albert.
Logically, it is only a matter of time until the Alberta Party are major contenders in all areas of the province. It may take a while (or it may not), but it will happen. While the rise of the Wildrose has had enormous effect on the Alberta Tories, it may eventually be the Alberta Party that has an even greater impact. Time will tell!
AB Party Leader Glenn Taylor - (Photo Dave Cournoyer)