Monday, April 20, 2015

Spring Cleaning

Rachel Notley did something very smart yesterday - she claimed the legacy of the patron saint of Alberta politics, Peter Lougheed. She praised Lougheed's ideas such as corporations paying their fair share of taxes, and acting like owners of our natural resources (and charging accordingly). Considered "extreme" by the current version of the Progressive Conservative party that Lougheed once led, these ideas now form part of the NDP platform while the PCs seem to have lost their vision.

In the 2012 election, the imminent threat of a Wildrose government forced a lot of progressive voters to support the PCs. Campaign Manager Stephen Carter recently admitted the PC strategy to scare moderate voters away from Danielle Smith in the last few days and hours before the vote, which somewhat explains the polls. What is different in 2015 is this is a three-horse race, and similar tactics to portray Wildrose as extremists may end up driving voters to the NDP instead. Also different in 2015 is three years of almost uninterrupted government scandal and incompetence, with a recent spate of undemocratic dealings in their own candidate nominations. The cherry on top was the budget which raised taxes, cut services and still managed to run a deficit, alienating everyone.

The status quo is not nearly as appealing as it was three years ago. The vibe is different now. People can nitpick the polling numbers and methodologies, but we're halfway through the campaign and the aura of inevitability, of invincibility, is gone from the PC party. Long-time party loyalists are quitting. Calgary newspapers are attacking the PCs like never before. Wildrose, having lost its photogenic leader and two-thirds of its members only a few months ago and now led by a virtual unknown, is in first place. Just how angry and disillusioned does a conservative voter have to be to choose that chaos over a traditional party?

The NDP are working hard to present themselves as a moderate option (which they are: a centrist party anywhere else in Canada is considered leftist here) and are the most organized of the non-dynasty parties. We saw what happened four years ago when a national party let go of its more extreme ideas, presented itself as a reasonable alternative, and chose a charismatic leader: Jack Layton tripled the NDP seat count in Ottawa. Voters in Edmonton and Calgary recently elected young, progressive mayors. An urban-led Alberta orange crush does not seem so unthinkable all of a sudden.

True progressive conservatives are likely saddened and disappointed by what their party has become lately under Redford and now Prentice. After four decades in power, it resembles an authoritarian monster captured by corporations and more interested in getting elected than actually governing well. Had they been faithful to Lougheed's vision, the province would be a much more prosperous, free and democratic place to live. (And much richer, too. Read this and weep, Albertans.) It seems that the party is beyond repair and won't be able to voluntarily fix itself, especially if dissenting voices continue to be silenced.

The federal conservatives rebuilt themselves after Kim Campbell's annihilation. The liberals tore everything down following Michael Ignatieff's catastrophic leadership and are on the road back to relevance. Perhaps an electoral obliteration under Prentice is the only way for the progressive conservative party to truly clean house and renew their ideas and culture. A new coat of paint probably won't do it - an extreme renovation is required. Somehow I think Peter Lougheed would agree.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dr. Strange Bedfellows or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wildrose

The Progressive Conservative party's 43-year stranglehold in Alberta might actually be coming to an end. The March budget was supposed to be so radical that it would require a new mandate. Although the actual budget wasn't as bad as advertised, it still provided cover for Jim Prentice to call an election anyway (and sidestep his own party's fixed-date law in doing so). But it was clear that this was a naked political calculation trying to catch the opposition unprepared with an unnecessary snap election. As of February all opposition parties were in some state of disarray: NDP having recently transitioned leaders, the Liberals with nobody in charge and losing candidates, and the Wildrose decimated by the defection of their leader and a majority of their members.

The 2012 election was a very near miss for the Conservatives, where Wildrose were in first place right up until the weekend before the vote. The pollsters took a lot of blame, but I believe the polls were mostly accurate and did not capture a last-minute shift as progressive voters started to realize that four years of Premier Danielle Smith was about to actually happen. That option seemed worse than a pre-scandal Redford government.

The 2014 by-elections following Prentice's coronation signalled a shift may be coming. Even though the PCs won all four seats, only Prentice himself won easily. In Calgary-West the margin was a slim 315 votes, and a strong second-place finish by the Alberta Party split the vote in Calgary-Elbow. Also interesting was Edmonton-Whitemud, a conservative stronghold with a star candidate: Stephen Mandel won, but the PC vote share dropped from 60% in 2012 to 42% while the NDP more than doubled from 9% to 22%.

And then came Danielle Smith's own nomination battle just a couple of weeks ago, with a very unexpected result. Highwood PC members expressed their anger by voting Smith out as their candidate. The event had a different feel to it, as if going off-script. Perhaps in 2015 nothing is inevitable in Alberta politics.

The Progressive Conservatives have been in power unchallenged for far too long, and have become arrogant and unaccountable. The need to change governments has never been so obvious. In 2012, fear of the Wildrose won out over anger at the Tories, but in 2015 the desire for change might win the day. Currently the NDP look poised to win in Edmonton and a few other urban seats, Calgary is up in the air, and the Wildrose could take most of the rest. Today's numbers from show no party likely to win the 44 seats needed to form a majority (Wildrose 35 / PC 24 / NDP 23). Any two of these three could join forces to form a minority government. Given the bad blood I have a hard time picturing the Wildrose and PCs cooperating long enough to form a coalition, even though politically they are closer to each other than either is to the NDP.

But what about a Wildrose minority supported by the NDP?

Progressive Conservatives benefit from being positioned politically in the centre (for Alberta that is). Far right-wing voters fear the NDP, left-wing voters fear the Wildrose, and the thought of either being in power usually drives those votes to the PC devil they know. But a left-right minority government might balance the crazy just enough to allay fears for one election. The electorate would know that the Wildrose would not allow massive new taxes, and that the NDP would pull the plug before letting health care get slashed or any "lake of fire" social programs were passed. That might be enough yin-yang for Albertans to go all the way this time instead of getting cold feet at the last minute.

I will be voting NDP because in my riding that is the best chance to unseat the conservative incumbent, and I'm naturally on the left end of the spectrum anyway. But if the Wildrose candidate had the best shot at beating PC, that's where I would park my vote this election. For me personally, a change - any change - is the top priority this time around.

A Wildrose government? What the hell - bring it on.