Welcome to Wildrose Alberta! What do you mean they didn’t win?

OK, the National Post got a little overheated with this election-day photo of Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith. But, really, what’s the difference? Below: Premier Ernest Manning and Premier Alison Redford, bookends in Alberta’s endless conservative governing dynasty.

In April 2012, spooked by the dangers posed by a far-right Wildrose government, progressive voters in Alberta abandoned the parties they supported by the thousands to vote for Premier Alison Redford’s Conservatives.

What they got when they walked away from the New Democrats, the Alberta Liberals and the Alberta Party, it turns out, was a Wildrose government.

By this, of course, I don’t mean a government headed by Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith. No, Alberta was spared the embarrassment of having a glib Fraser Institute intern occupying the premier’s office. Rather, I mean they got a government in which the far-right, highly ideological Wildrose Party drives the locomotive.

This isn’t the way it was supposed to be. Readers will recall that a lot of commentary after the election suggested Premier Redford was practically a New Democrat – indeed, I suppose we can expect Wildrose enthusiasts, understandably enough, to stick with that line as well as their corruption and broken promises memes, for which there is more justification, as the next election approaches.

Certainly Ms. Redford mostly said the right things during her leadership campaign and in the lead-up to the April 23 election. Wasn’t there even an Alberta Party supporter who speculated that this renamed version of Alberta Liberal 2.0 wasn’t really needed any more, seeing as the perfect centrist premier was now in power?

For their part, the Redford Tories dropped hints they were building a broad new coalition of the centre – in which teachers, public sector employees and defenders of progressive values could all feel welcome.

It was all pish-posh, it turns out, as the convenient arrival of the “Bitumen Bubble” clearly illustrates.

As we await next month’s budget and the ones after that, the new policy options being considered by Ms. Redford’s PC Government all seem to be along the lines of a regressive sales tax (possibly replacing Alberta’s barely progressive income tax), a wage freeze imposed on teachers, shortened school weeks from cash-strapped school boards, massive rollbacks of our promised “sustainable and predictable” health care funding, and closings and cutbacks in post-secondary education. All of this is accompanied by the tiresome yammering for “austerity” by a chorus of the usual business and academic suspects.

Meanwhile, the same old drive to privatize seniors’ care and reliance on expensive and inefficient P3s continue unabated.

Austerity is the only road still open, we are told in the hectoring tones of Margaret Thatcher, because in the face of fluctuating petroleum prices There Is No Alternative.

In other words, with the possible exception of the sales tax, the Redford Conservatives have moved to the Wildrose position on virtually every issue.

The centrist coalition, of course, is still on offer, as long as centrist voters don’t mind half-hidden Tory smirks and Wildrose Party policies.

There are two reasons, it is said here, for this policy direction:

First, there is the practical matter that the Redford Conservatives are more concerned by the threat posed by the right-wing Wildrose Party than by that from the disunited and lately ineffective parties of Alberta’s centre.

This does not reflect what Albertans tell pollsters they would like for policies, but, based on solid behavioural evidence, the PCs must be certain progressive voters are suckers who can be persuaded to vote for them with the mere nod in the direction of the Wildrose boogeyman. (Pastor Allan Hunsperger, c’mon down!)

Second, the Conservatives and the Wildrose Party are essentially the same people.

Remember where the bulk of the Wildrose MLAs came from – they were long-time Tory backers, in some cases actual Tory MLAs, dissatisfied with the centrist compromises made by Ed Stelmach, the former premier.

Likewise, both parties are backed by the same people – the same corporate donations flow into their coffers, for the same self-interested reasons. And that reason, pretty obviously, is that both parties believe in the same thing.

Finally, given the weird Alberta political habit of being members of more than one political party at the same time, in the case of both parties’ rank and file they are often literally the same people, conveniently members of two far-right political parties as they strategize on how best to maximize their right-wing influence to get the right-wing policies they favour.

So for all the naïve hopes we could have social progressivism from Alberta Progressive Conservatives, all we really got is the same old same old, stretching back in an unbroken line through 41 years of PC government and well beyond to the day in 1943 Ernest Manning assumed the helm of the Social Credit League eight days after premier William Aberhart’s unexpected death at his daughter’s home in British Columbia.

Welcome back to the future. Welcome to Wildrose Alberta!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

11 Comments on "Welcome to Wildrose Alberta! What do you mean they didn’t win?"

  1. Joe Albertan says:

    A strong, ideological government is what this province needs. The Wildrose sent a message, the PC’s got it. Alberta is conservative.

  2. You all in Alberta is as confused as the rest of Canada eh is
    by the various govinments.. that wuz elected, maybe
    tho that’s sum elections still disputed by many alert folk

    Seeing as our government is as fishy n smelly
    as our department of Fisheries n Oceans
    Where to from here?

  3. ronmac says:

    It’s a good cop-bad cop scenario. Put two guys up for election, both running neck and neck, one not much different than the other. Then there’s a leaked video of one guys complaining about “47 per cent” living on gov’t handouts and everybody goes, “OMG! He’s the bad cop. Let’s vote for the good cop!”

    Meanwhile in Alberta there’s two gals in the running, one not much different than the other until this “lake of fire” incident and all of a sudden its, “OMG! That’s horrible! What horrible people those Wildrosers are!”

    And everyone piles on the Allison bandwagon and it’s a victory for tolerance and understanding.

    But let’s talk about the “big prize”. In the U.S. it’s control of social security. The coke snorters on Wall Street have been trying to get their paws on that for years. It’ll be a far easier sell under Obama than Romney. Because Obama’s the good cop!

    Back in Alberta the forces of tolerance and understanding are “floating” the idea of privatizing ATB. Does it mean ATB will be jumping into the casino capitalism game with hundreds of millions newly looted from ATB savings accounts?

    (If you have your money in ATB and those investments go bad -don’t worry! Because you will be fully-insured by the Ab gov’t, thank God!)

  4. Alex P says:

    Joe Albertan, when was the last time we had a non-ideological government? Not in my living memory.

    I’m struck by the amazing unwillingness of elected members of any federal or provincial government to make a different mistake. It’s practically a nervous disorder. Why beat your head against the wall? Because it feels good when you stop. Rinse, repeat.

    Change. It’s scary, but it just might work.

  5. Tom in Ontario says:

    The oldest trick in the book—-campaign left/centre and once in power give ‘em the hard right. Trudeau and Chretien played it to the hilt. Why would it be any different in Alberta? At least Harper never pretended to campaign that way and we Ontarians and you Albertans handed him a majority anyway. Maybe sometime in the next millennium we might wise up, maybe.

  6. Lars says:

    Thanks for the frightener at the top of the page, David. Took me a moment to notice the date on that.

  7. jay says:

    Being in the back pocket of big oil is ideological?

  8. kim says:

    Um… hate to break it to you, but Manning was not a Conservative. He was Premier under the Social Credit dynasty.

  9. kim says:

    sorry for that. I misunderstood you phrase “bookends”. The article clarifies at the end.

  10. I smelled something funny during this election, and still stand by it. I’m not a conspiracy nut, but the incorrect coverage of the Wildrose Party is significant in many ways. There is so much oil money in Alberta, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was someday uncovered that the industry was responsible for the propaganda we received. I think Redford may have been authentically more centrist, which would have scared the pants off the oil tycoons. The propaganda about Wildrose heading for a majority was effective. Look what it did. It gave us a system dominated by two Tories, one who might want to move left and the other making sure that will never happen. The small number of lefties in the province are scared to give way to Wildrose, so they are even voting Tory. I think Albertans truly want a centrist party, but the big money in this province just isn’t going to allow it.

  11. Danielle says:

    Neo conservatism is was happens when leaders are bewitched by the scent of their own authority. The desire for power takes precedence over the desire to serve and voila – we have a leader chasing away doctors, pushing the corporate (oil) agenda, and hints of massive cuts to social programs. I don’t recognize this person.

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