Has Canada gone through the Albertalizer ™?
We’re not just talking here about the malign influence of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and all those Conservative heavyweights he brought with him from Alberta, not to mention the creepy little “Calgary School” political scientists and market fundamentalist economists that swim along in their wake.
It’s just that what has seemed like the normal state of Alberta politics for a spell now is starting to look like the new normal for our newly Albertalized federation as well.
To wit: Out here in Alberta, ever since Ralph Klein threw his pocket change at the homeless before stumbling back to his limousine, we just can’t stand our leaders. The only thing is, we’re so underwhelmed by the opposition that wants to replace them that we can hardly give them the time of day either. As a result, cranky as we are, we haven’t been able to bestir ourselves to vote for change. Indeed, in the case of more than half of us, we couldn’t manage to bestir ourselves to vote, period.
This has been especially true since Premier Ed Stelmach replaced King Ralph, who could always manage to fool a sizeable proportion of the population because he had the spooky ability to reverse course suddenly and then act like nothing had happened. (Are voters burning you in effigy because they don’t like you blowing up their hospitals? What hospitals? We’re pouring money into health care… If this didn’t work, Mr. Klein would show a little public contrition – that’s it, I’m off the bottle forever! – and instruct his limo driver not to go near the men’s shelter when he’d been overindulging.)
Alas, Premier Stelmach utterly lacks the former King of Alberta’s flexibility. He is Alberta’s answer to George W. Bush in the sense that he just can’t ever admit to having done anything wrong, no matter how obviously he’s flubbed it. What’s more, he’s so stubborn he won’t bend, no matter how hard the political wind is blowing. As a result, to quote Keith Spicer on a related topic, out here in the New West nowadays “there’s a fury in the land” against the premier.
Indeed, it’s at a point now where if you drove through Edmonton with a homemade “F**K STELMACH” bumper sticker on your beater, you could expect honks of support, upraised thumbs and maybe a free carwash or two instead of the traditional threatening letter from the Mounties!
So, take look at the latest national opinion polls and what do you see? Exactly the same phenomenon developing across the entire federation as the Albertalization of Canada puts a new unsmiley face on the national polity.
Canadians have always distrusted Stephen Harper. Now his annual habit of closing down Parliament whenever democracy threatens to break out is edging them toward the feelings typical Albertans harbour toward their premier. That is, anger, extreme distrust and open cynicism – but with very little benefit for the traditional opposition.
According to a Strategic Counsel poll reported last week by the Toronto Star, Mr. Harper’s unprogressive Conservatives have sunk dramatically in public popularity since last year. According to the national polling firm, this leaves the Conservatives roughly in a tie with Michael Ignatieff’s Liberal Party – 31 per cent for the Conservatives, 30 per cent for the Liberals and 18 per cent for the NDP.
Last October, the same company’s research indicated the Conservatives were polling at 41 per cent, with the Libs at 28 and the Knee-Dips at 14.
Here we clearly see the Albertalizer effect at work in Canadian politics. We’re moving from distrusting our prime minister to disliking the man outright. But does this translate into meaningful improvement for the opposition arties? Nope. Not a chance! While the PM’s party plummeted a surely significant 10 points, the Liberals managed to edge up a statistically insignificant 2 per cent. The NDP did a little better, but not a heck of a lot.
If this isn’t full-blown Albertalization, what is? Next thing we know, Canadians will despise Mr. Harper with the fury Albertans direct at the hapless Mr. Stelmach. But if the pattern holds, the opposition parties will barely benefit.
God help us all, though, if some bright spark has a wild idea and founds the Mapleleaf Alliance!
Speaking of which, does anyone remember Mel Hurtig? Hey, Mel… where are you now that we need you?