Hey, Alberta Party! You got some ’splainin’ to do!
Sue Huff, interim leader of the new party that determinedly places itself in the middle of the bird, said on the party’s website not long ago that “the Alberta Party is committed to doing politics differently in Alberta.”
But the party’s welcome Jan. 24 to former Calgary Liberal MLA Dave Taylor – an old-time legislative snake-oil salesman if ever there was one, with great pipes, an aggressive style and arguably a pretty opportunistic approach to his own ambition – smacks more of what most Albertans think of as “politics as usual.”
Unless all Ms. Huff meant was that the Alberta Party would now be writing all its press releases in fewer than 140 characters, taking on the Independent MLA from Calgary-Currie sure sounded like doing politics in the same old way, at least for a group that up to then had been portraying itself as hip, cool and politically nonconformist.
That’s why the media and the comentariat were working themselves into a lather last Monday about the fact the former radio talk jock had broken his oft-repeated promise not to join another party without holding a by-election first. He’d even once signed a legal document to that effect, a fact leakers in the Alberta Liberal caucus office swiftly made sure everyone knew.
However, that was the moment that the Conservative government of Premier Ed Stelmach went critical and melted through the floor of the Legislature building, becoming the story that has quite properly preoccupied the media and blogosphere ever since.
This was a bit of bad news and a bit more good news for the Alberta Party. It deprived them of publicity about the credibility of having an MLA in the Legislature, but it prevented everyone from getting whipped into a swivet about Mr. Taylor’s broken promise and the party’s old-style political line of patter.
The Conservative meltdown also provided momentary relief for the Alberta Liberals, who are embroiled in a full-blown crisis of their own after a little more than two years of Dr. David Swann’s leadership.
Astoundingly, this means that one way or another, fully 97.5 per cent of the 82 members of the Alberta Legislature are now involved one way or another in some kind of major family squabble, with only the tiny two-member NDP caucus maintaining peace in the valley!
Now, with two more Liberal MLAs said to be days away from crossing the floor to the Alberta Party, attention is bound to swing back to the question of whether or not the new party is doing politics differently or just offering us the same old guff.
Legislature insiders are abuzz with reports Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr and Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang, their Websites suspiciously free of explicit Alberta Liberal references, are about to join Mr. Taylor in the Alberta Party caucus.
The lines between Mr. Hehr and the Alberta Party seem particularly clear: He’s been looking for an exit from the troubled Liberal caucus for a while. Last fall he started to run for Mayor of Calgary, then dropped out when his campaign failed to gain traction. He withdrew in favour of the eventual winner, Naheed Nenshi. Mr. Nenshi, in turn, is often associated with the Alberta Party, and his chief of staff, Calgary lawyer Chima Nkemdirim, was once that party’s president. So these dots seem particularly easy to connect.
Meanwhile, three other Liberal MLAs are said to be considering the same move to the new party founded by disgruntled Blue Liberals and Red Tories, or to have thought about it and recently dropped the idea.
So this is as good a moment as any to say that, the Alberta Party’s pitch notwithstanding, there’s nothing wrong with “politics as usual.”
Indeed, our Westminster-style Parliamentary system implicitly requires political parties, and requires them to act like what they are, because anything else would be a formula for failure.
If we didn’t have political parties, someone would have to invent them, and right smartly! We, the voters, would demand it. How the heck, we would tell our elected representatives, are you going to enact any kind of program without a little party discipline, especially the program I voted you into office to pursue?
Which brings us back to the Alberta Party’s narrative. Regardless of what Ms. Huff says, Alberta’s political problems aren’t with “politics as usual.” Try policies that don’t make sense, lousy leadership and politicians of all stripes who can’t stop telling tall tales to voters.
Moreover, the lesson here certainly isn’t that MLAs or MPs shouldn’t be allowed to change parties – they’re elected as representatives of their constituencies and it’s up to them to decide how best to do that. They have the right – as they must for our system of responsible government to properly hold the ruling ministry to account – to change loyalties in the House. If their constituents don’t like it, they have the option of voting them out.
Granted, floor crossing moves into the unethical zone when it happens too soon after an election – as with the odious maneuver by Vancouver-Kingsway MP David Emerson in 2006. But there’s no way Mr. Taylor was guilty of anything like that.
Mr. Taylor quit his party over a legitimate disagreement with his leader, spent a reasonable period of time as an Independent and now he’s struck a deal with a new party that’s hard to distinguish from his old one.
That’s just politics as usual – as the Alberta Party and everyone else is quite right to practice them.
No, Mr. Taylor’s problem was his silly promise, and the whiff of hypocrisy that came with breaking it. If anything, he deserves to be pilloried for that, not for joining a new party.
The Alberta Party has some explaining to do too, but only because they promised to conduct themselves in a new way when they’re really offering is the same old same old.
This post also appears on rabble.ca.