Thursday, March 29, 2012

Alberta Votes!

Or, if recent trends continue, about 35% of us will. But the political landscape has changed quite a bit since 2008, so maybe voter turnout won't keep falling.

Making the biggest waves is the Wildrose Party, which as of today is polling firmly in second place and is poised to win a few dozen seats. Some polls even have them in first place. I find this frightening personally, but it is pretty impressive progress from one elected MLA four years ago. I haven't yet gone through the Wildrose platform, but I can say with some confidence that this is the local version of the US Republican party, complete with personal attack ads. If you would like to know more about the Danielle Smith, I highly recommend reading Dave Cournoyer's Smith v. Board of Education series about her tenure as a Calgary Board of Eduction trustee. [Spoiler alert: the board became so dysfunctional it was dissolved by the eduction minister.]

The rise of the Wildrose has placed the Progressive Conservative party no longer on the far right. I won't go so far to say they are in the centre, but since Ron Liepert is not running again the whole party automatically becomes a little less obnoxious. It also helps that Alison Redford is the first premiere since Lougheed who can put a few sentences together without sounding like a redneck. But the PCs still rule Alberta like an entitled dynasty. They have squandered a lot of our potential: low royalty rates by world standards, pandering to oil and gas companies in general, screwing our environment (especially water). And whatever happened to the Heritage Fund? There is zero transparency and spending is far from under control.  After 40 years of conservative government, Alberta is like the family earning $300,000 a year but can barely make ends meet. As they say, governments and diapers should be changed often, and for the same reason.

This scenario - a stale establishment conservative party facing an even-more-conservative grassroots rival - happened not too long ago in Canada. When Reform started taking seats from the federal PC Party, the result was three Liberal majorities for Chretien. Which should be good news for non-conservatives in Alberta, but there isn't a single obvious alternative on the left. The closest thing used to be the Alberta Liberal Party, but of their nine seats won last time around, two have crossed the floor and three of their more respected MLAs are not running again. Raj Sherman, the new ALP leader, was elected as a conservative and was subsequently kicked out of that caucus. There are still people in Alberta who won't vote liberal because of the NEP, and there is likely more than the usual Liberal baggage due to the federal party's collapse last May.

The NDP (formerly ND but no longer ashamed to share their initials with their federal cousins) strike me as the perfect opposition party: with only two MLAs they consistently punch above their weight and manage to call the government to task on almost every issue. Unfortunately they never seem to propose concrete alternatives (which the Liberals usually do, to their credit) and don't appear interested in any kind of political compromise which might lead to greater success. Nationally the NDP party has been doing some soul-searching on this issue. With a divided right and a Liberal party in disarray, the NDP could be poised to replicate last year's orange crush in Alberta. But only if they tone down the rhetoric and act like a party which could realistically govern. That idea is seen as a sell-out to most new democrats, so I doubt a breakthrough is going to happen.

And just to complicate things, there is the new Alberta Party. It appears to be a group of dissatisfied liberals and red tories who are hoping to build a wide tent in the centre. I sort of like and yet don't like their platform concept - the Big Listen. Forming policy through a series of small living-room discussion is interesting, but it seems like there is no central vision or guiding principles to start with; they just emerge from the discussion. I am interested in the future of this party, and they have some credible and experienced candidates, but are unlikely to have any broad success in their first general election.

To round out the field, we have the EverGreen (formerly Green) party, the ghost of the Social Credit party, the Separation Party of Alberta, and of course the obligatory Communist party. Fun fact: more people are Facebook friends with my daughter than voted for these last two parties combined in 2008. All we're missing in Alberta are the Marijuana party, the Natural Law party and a few Rhinoceros candidates.

I know we live in an imperfect world and we're all trying our best, so in general I try not to be too cynical about politics. But there are limits.