Fildebrandt Has A Risky Plan
On July 18, Derek Fildebrandt announced his intention to start a conservative party to rival Jason Kenney's United Conservatives. In just a few tweets, Fildebrandt summed up his plan to ensure the NDP still gets defeated with the existence of a second conservative choice. By only running candidates in constituencies where the NDP has no chance of winning, Fildebrandt is confident his new version of the Freedom Conservative Party could win seats without compromising the future of Alberta. I like Derek Fildebrandt, but I'm not so sure.
There's a problem with Fildebrandt's logic and math. Prior to 2015, there were tons of ridings in Alberta where the NDP had no chance. We all know how that turned out. It's true that there are ridings where an NDP win is next to impossible, but things can change and the risks out-weigh the rewards.
One of the ridings where an NDP win would be as likely as Rachel Notley creating jobs and cutting taxes is Bonnyville-Cold Lake. If you're looking for a place to hide from socialists and latte-sipping liberals, Bonnyville-Cold Lake is where you'll find your refuge. Federally, the area in and around this riding has elected the Reform Party, Canadian Alliance and Conservative Party with massive margins. Provincially, Bonnyville-Cold Lake has always elected staunch conservatives like Scott Cyr. However, this riding has a problem in 2019.
For the 2019 provincial election, Bonnyville-Cold Lake becomes Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul.
The electoral boundaries were re-drawn in 2017 for a lot of Alberta ridings and Bonnyville-Cold Lake was one of them. As of 2019, the riding will be joined by a part of Lac La Biche-St. Paul. Although this riding—which is being broken up into pieces—is still a strong conservative riding, there's no telling how the dynamics might change for the 2019 election.
In the 2015 election, the NDP garnered 34% of the popular vote in Lac La Biche-St. Paul. In a majority of the ridings won by the NDP in 2015, it was accomplished with less than 40% of the vote. In Red Deer-North and Red Deer-South, the NDP candidate won with 29% and 36%.
Softening UCP Numbers
Fildebrandt's plan puts him in a pickle.
In order for Fildebrandt's plan to work, he needs to win seats for his party without risking NDP wins. However, campaigns can change the outcomes of elections overnight, which makes Fildebrandt's role in the 2019 election unpredictable. We saw what happened in Alberta in 2015 and what happened in Ontario with the surge of the NDP and the complete obliteration of the Liberals. Anything can happen when the knives come out.
To win against Kenney's conservatives, Fildebrandt will have to make a case to voters in specific ridings to win their support. If he is only going to run in ridings where the UCP is the real opponent, he'll have to campaign against the UCP in those ridings—or he won't win. Campaigning against the UCP means having to criticize and attack the UCP. If Fildebrandt only attacks the NDP, voters won't waste their time and he'll only be helping the UCP.
By taking shots at Kenney and the UCP in order to win, Fildebrandt risks damaging and softening UCP support across the board. If support for the UCP softens across all ridings, Alberta risks seeing another NDP government.
If Fildebrandt thinks the media and the NDP won't relish every minute of conservative in-fighting and rivalry, he doesn't know what he's doing. Every little pot-shot and criticism Fildebrandt fires at Kenney will be in the news and in NDP fundraising emails. The NDP will find every which way to spin every news story or headline, meaning that Jason Kenney will be getting it from multiple sides. Rachel Notley and the media will be firing shots from one side, while Fildebrandt fires from another.
Rarely in Canadian history has a conservative party been elected to a majority alongside the existence of a strong, rival conservative party. The strength of the Wildrose gave us the NDP and the strength of the Reform Party and Canadian Alliance gave us Jean Chretien. If Derek Fildebrandt wants a chance to win seats against the UCP, his new party needs to become strong. Becoming strong means putting Alberta at risk of another NDP majority.
A Better Way
I don't necessarily object to Fildebrandt's plan from a principled perspective, but I'm not willing to watch Rachel Notley walk back into the Premier's office with a smug smirk on her face in 2019. There is still a way for Derek Fildebrandt to take steps toward keeping Jason Kenney's “vanilla” conservatives in check, while ensuring the NDP has no chance at all.
Instead of running candidates in every riding where the NDP is the weakest, his new party should only consist of him. The Freedom Conservative Party can accept memberships from all across Alberta, while only running one candidate—for now.
Fildebrandt's new-ish party, which was re-booted on the framework of an existing party that was once called Alberta First, should run a minimum number of candidates if it plans to run more than Fildebrandt himself. I'm not sure if Alberta's election rules stipulate a requirement for more than one candidate, but it's doubtful as long as the FCP has a certain number of members—but I could be wrong.
In any case, the FCP should tone down any criticisms of the UCP and focus efforts on electing a tiny, inconsequential number of candidates based on their individual credentials. Derek Fildebrandt's likelihood of being re-elected just for being Derek Fildebrandt is high, so if the FCP can find three more candidates with a similar appeal or profile, they should try. If not, they should make it all about Fildebrandt.
A small, concerted effort to win seats without attacking the UCP is a better start than an all-out street fight with Jason Kenney and his gang. It won't help the FCP build a good reputation and it won't help Alberta's conservative movement in the long-term.
An incremental long game to hold Kenney accountable is the better plan. Slow and steady wins the race. Let Kenney's UCP win the next election with a landslide while incrementally building the Freedom Conservative Party's profile and stature with quality candidates. Come 2023, Albertan's might be ready for something new if Jason Kenney hasn't delivered.
A History Of Separatism
I would like to see a separation movement build steam in Alberta. If the Freedom Conservative Party sticks with its older roots dating back to Alberta First and the Separation Party Of Alberta, we might have a good one.
The end goal of a separation movement wouldn't necessarily be separation, but to get the rest of Canada to start taking Alberta seriously. Quebec's 1995 referendum came close enough to separation that bureaucrats in Ottawa, on all sides, have been trying to appease the province ever since. Trudeau's treatment of Alberta and his inability to build pipelines to support the backbone of our economy can't continue to go unpunished.
It's likely that Trudeau will get re-elected in 2019, although to a much weaker majority and a stronger Conservative opposition. This means that Albertans probably won't see daylight on the federal level for at least another five years. There will only be so much Jason Kenney can do, that is, if he wins and if he keeps his promises. By 2023, if Kenney and Trudeau have both failed us, we might need a way out.
A lot of good can come from Fildebrandt's Freedom Conservative Party in the long-term, if he chooses to play his cards right and make the right moves. If he acts like a bull in a china shop, Rachel Notley will get the keys for another four years—or Albertans will just choose to shut him out all together.
Stay tuned for a brand new video from Poletical about Alberta separation.