Downsides To Alberta's Realignment

March 1st, 2019 | C. Wang
alberta election

The upcoming Alberta election is going to be transformative and culture-shifting in a way many people aren’t expecting. After twelve years of electoral gong-show antics we are likely to see a result that provides Jason Kenney with a healthy majority and the NDP reduced to the official (and only) opposition.

The coming destruction of all the small single-seat political parties like the Alberta Liberals, the Alberta Party and the Freedom Conservative Party will lead to more clarity and professionalism for both sides of the political spectrum. The great divide will now consist of the NDP and the anti-NDP coalition… just like every other Western Canadian province.

There are three downsides to this however…

1. The dream of a conservative Alberta is over

Alberta has never been as conservative as the rest of the country likes to pretend. Maybe if you go back to the Social Credit zenith of the 1950’s this branding rings true, but ever since Peter Lougheed won his majority in 1971, Alberta has been lurched to the left.

Sure, there was Ralph Klein’s moment of austerity from ’93-’97, but that economic blip was just a fad diet that has never returned. Socially, culturally, economically…

Alberta has become progressively liberal since 1971.

When the liberalism got too explicit in 2007, many conservative Albertans realized that the PC party was no longer suitable for their values and the Wildrose ascendency began. We all know the story from here on out.

The downside of Jason Kenney and the coming bi-polar provincial legislature is that having a true conservative party is no longer an option. In order to corral votes inside a big tent organization, Kenney will hug the centre and we’ll be stuck with a middle-of-the-road brokerage party not unlike what we would’ve had with Jim Prentice.

For many Albertan conservatives, this is a fine compromise now that they’ve tasted the onslaught of an NDP government first hand. A diet-cola version of their desired beverage is better than a glass full of urine but putting this sort of ceiling on Alberta…formerly the vanguard of Canadian conservatism…is a sad capitulation to accept.

Many conservatives are hoping Jason Kenney will prove to be a Rob Ford or a Mike Harris or maybe even a Donald Trump or Rene Leveque. Instead we’ll likely get a Christy Clarke or a John Tory. This is the reality of a two-party province with an anti-NDP coalition.

2. The NDP will be back

One of Alberta’s biggest assets from a business perspective used to be the political stability offered to the investment climate. Having a pro-business government in power (even if not particularly as conservative as conservatives would like it) meant business could make long term decisions and major investments without the risk of political instability.

No longer.

Now that progressive voters realize that the NDP can win, they will flock to that banner as the only progressive option. As a result, not only will the UCP be compromised in its ability to be conservative, but the reverse will happen with the NDP. They will functionally be more mainstream.

It’s only a matter of time and circumstance before people grow tired of a UCP government. The days of multi-generational election victories are no longer. The NDP will be functioning as opposition…waiting…planning.

This alone will cut Alberta out of the exceptionalism it once took for granted and will now place the province as just one of many dubious places in Canada to do business.

3. The grassroots traditions of Alberta democracy are finished

The professionalization and executive control of Alberta’s political parties is hardening. Jason Kenney is taking a lot of heat for “Harperizing” the UCP after having sold it as a grassroots democracy project. The NDP is building the whole brand around Notley. Together both parties are passing legislation to benefit themselves at the expense of smaller parties in the legislature.

All of this adds up to an end of Alberta’s organic political process. The idea of citizen involvement and public input is over. Political parties truly don’t want to deal with the people that want to deal with them. Political junkies and hobbyists that buy memberships are simply viewed as marks ripe for monetary exploitation. The idea of lowly average joes having control or influence in a political party no longer makes any sense in the modern professionalized world of politics.

Political parties are like fast food joints. You can download an app and collect coupons and spend your money buying the things that the fast food joint is selling…but that’s about it. The manager at McDonald’s doesn’t want to build a relationship with you or hear your pitch for a good egg salad sandwich. He doesn’t want to deal with your petition to extend evening hours beyond what they already are or watch you try to adjust the fryer because you think people would prefer hotter French fries. People stuck on old fashioned notions of grassroots democracy need to wake up…the old community participation of representative democracy is a modern-day sham.

Political parties are corporate now. The UCP and NDP in 2019 are going to dominate, streamline, and professionalize in order to avoid the gong show that Alberta suffered through during the post-Ralph PC-era. The Alberta traditions of starting new parties and having open nominations and policy conventions that matter… done.

You’re a customer now.