All posts in Alberta Politics

This is the last post on Alberta Diary, sort of: Welcome to AlbertaPolitics.ca

Your blogger with Alberta Premier Jim Prentice. Your blogger with another Alberta premier, whose name escapes him at the moment, and with a former Alberta opposition leader.

Maybe it’s evidence of the “seven year itch”? Leastways, it was seven years ago on Dec. 31, 2007, that I started this blog, promising commentary on politics, baseball and Uechi-ryu karate. It was called St. Albert Diary.

Well, I managed to deliver one of those promised topics. I think maybe I wrote about karate once or twice. Baseball? Not so much.

Eventually I changed the name to Alberta Diary, since I seemed to have less and less to say about St. Albert and more and more to say about provincial affairs, plus national politics where they intersected with Alberta.

Today this blog becomes AlbertaPolitics.ca – a new name and a new address on the Web.

AlbertaPolitics.ca is a better name in every way – a domain that wasn’t available seven years ago, when it was still owned by the estimable Mark Lisac, who has since retired, a great loss to all followers of Alberta political issues.

Full posts will no longer be published here at AlbertaDiary.ca. For a few weeks, a summary will be published here, with a link to the new site at AlbertaPolitics.ca for the full post. Regular readers should update their links and notifications. Eventually, this site will disappear, and clicking on AlbertaDiary.ca will take readers directly to AlbertaPolitics.ca. Presumably, that way, I will continue to attract a few inaccurate typists looking for information on the Alberta dairy industry.

The Gmail address for correspondence will as a matter of practicality remain AlbertaDiary (at) gmail (dot) com, and I will continue to call the Rabble.ca version of this blog Alberta Diary, just for the sake of elegant variety.

Other changes that take effect today include the obligatory site redesign – not merely to make the site prettier, but to make it fully “responsive” so that you can read it more easily on your cellular phone, whence nowadays comes an astonishing amount of reader traffic. Responsiveness should also improve the display of advertisements on the site.

Nothing much else will change. The opinions expressed here will remain my own. I do intend to publish guest posts from time to time, but they will be written by people I know personally who have opinions I believe are worth reading.

My opinions are also bound to shift from time to time as my thoughts about various topics evolve. I am too old a dog, however, to turn into a raging market fundamentalist – leastways, if I do, a 30-day psychiatric remand is definitely in order.

My posts shall, I sincerely hope, continue to entertain my readers, who have grown significantly in number over the past few years.

This blog now records about 10,000 page views a week, 40,000 a month. I would particularly like to thank former premier Alison Redford for those numbers, although lately Premier Jim Prentice and former opposition leader Danielle Smith also seem to have been doing their best to keep my readers engaged. I am grateful to both for their help as well. (This is sarcasm.)

My goal now is to double those numbers in the next year – a task that should be aided both by the changes at AlbertaPolitics.ca and the major political events inching ever closer to Alberta.

Welcome to AlbertaPolitics.ca!

Oh, and Happy New Year!

David J. Climenhaga

Proprietor

Alberta, I give you Alison Redford, Person of the Year for 2014!

Former premier Alison Redford at the moment of her leadership campaign victory in 2011. Former opposition leader Danielle Smith in a typical campaign pose last summer.

Back in the mists of time, or rather, Time, there used to be a regular December feature called “Man of the Year.”

That was amended to “Person of the Year” in the 28th year of Progressive Conservative rule here in Alberta, and no doubt many in that party are still upset by the change, being symptomatic, as it were, of that other kind of PC they so love to disparage.

Other news organizations that want to do the same thing but not admit that it was someone else’s idea often use the term “Newsmaker of the Year.”

Call it what you will, I was thinking in preparation for the arrival of 2015 that Alberta’s news-making person of the year in 2014 is undoubtedly a woman. The only question is, which one?

That is to say, was the 2014 newsmaker of the year in Alberta former premier Alison Redford, or former opposition leader Danielle Smith?

I’m guessing the prevailing view in mainstream media will be the title belongs to Ms. Smith, mainly because their attention spans are short and Google, pretty much the only remaining research tool of post-journalistic journalists, tends to push the most recent news stories to the top of the list.

But a much stronger case can be made that Ms. Redford deserves the title. Hers is not a happy story, or even a particularly enlightening one, but it is far more significant.

As for Ms. Smith, let’s deal with her quickly. She sounded good, but turned out to be just another glib careerist with a second-rate mind.

If anyone had been paying attention to her history, this should have been obvious. Professor Tom Flanagan – who was once her teacher at the University of Calgary and whom she later tossed over the side without a moment’s thought when he became an embarrassment – is said to have thought she was a brilliant student. But other than a cheerful insincerity combined with determined attachment to the discredited nostrums of neoliberalism, did she really accomplish all that much? Where had she been and what had she done before she entered politics? The answers are Alberta, and writing press releases for various branches of the Canadian outrage industry, mainly.

The remarkable accomplishment of building up the Wildrose Party overnight – and dismantling it in even less time – was mostly done by others. Really, Ms. Smith’s claim to personhood of the year is based on the sheer breathtaking egregiousness of her self-serving hypocrisy a few days ago.

Well, it was a great news story, but like most news stories it was only a flash in the pan.

The rise and fall of Ms. Redford – her personal tragedy and the tragic lost potential of her short spell as premier – is another matter entirely.

How anyone with the first-rate mind, as evidenced by her international and professional accomplishments before entering politics, and the huge potential of Ms. Redford could go so spectacularly, so catastrophically wrong is a mystery for everyone to contemplate. My sense is that many of those who knew her are as astounded as those of us who did not.

Certainly she lacked support in key corners of her own party. It was not just the “Old Boys” who didn’t like her, and wanted her to fail, although that was manifestly the case, but also many of the ideologues and financial bagmen who lurk in the shadows of conservative politics. Subverting the progressive and democratic instincts of Ed Stelmach, which were at least talked about by Ms. Redford when it appeared they were the key to victory, was why they bankrolled the Wildrose Party in the first place.

So, even if she had done everything right, things might well have ended in tears for Ms. Redford and her most ardent supporters.

Nevertheless, she offered an appealing and persuasive new face to Albertans at the start of her run toward power in 2011 and 2012. She picked her initial campaign team well, and she placed herself for campaign purposes in the sweet spot of the political-economic psyche of most Albertans – the moderately conservative centre, with a strong dose of progressivism on a variety of issues.

Were those Ms. Redford’s own views, or the positioning of Stephen Carter, the sharp political advisor she hired to run her campaign and be her first chief of staff? The prevailing view nowadays, I guess, is that Ms. Redford was a tabula rasa upon which Mr. Carter wrote, and the whole project went to hell in a hand basket when he left her staff.

I am not so sure. I suspect her progressive beliefs were sincere enough, but that they fell prey to a number of factors later in her rule – including bad advice from the out-of-province advisors with whom she replaced Mr. Carter, pressure and conniving from the economic right within PC party circles as well as from the Wildrose opposition, and the quite apparent flaws in her own character.

Ms. Redford surely cannot be excused from her own role in her downfall. We know many of her advisors complained she wouldn’t listen to them. We will probably never know what she was advised to do. But listen or not, whatever she was told, what on earth could have persuaded a brilliant woman to countenance unethical and transparent schemes like the fakes-on-a-plane scam, to have thought it was appropriate to spend $45,000 in public funds for herself and one aide to travel to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral, or to have allowed plans to proceed to secretly build a $2-million private residence for her and her daughter atop a government building?

It simply beggars the imagination! I doubt she came up with all this herself, but there is no doubt that the fundamental flaw in her character was that she simply never got it that it wasn’t just all about Alison.

The real tragedy of Ms. Redford, assuming her initial progressive beliefs reflected something more than cynical opportunism, is that she could have helped to build a better society in Alberta and ease this province away from the real catastrophe it has been driving toward since Ralph Klein’s premiership. That is, an undemocratic petro-state, the beneficiaries of which will simply walk away with their bags of money when the party is over.

Obviously, we will get no relief from that fate from either Premier Jim Prentice or Ms. Smith, whatever her role in the Prentice Government turns out to be.

Ms. Redford, I am certain, could have made a difference – and may have wanted to make a difference – if only she could somehow have conquered her own personal demons.

Instead, she chose – or was pushed, or both – to betray her own promises and turn on her most enthusiastic supporters, and to behave in ways that were both bound to be discovered and to destroy any chance of success she may have had.

Alison Redford’s betrayal of herself, her potential and her supporters was a far bigger and more worthy story than the pedestrian self-interest displayed by her rival for the title of person of the year.

How will we build a better Alberta now that Ms. Redford has burned our bridges, as well as hers? Danielle Smith, by contrast, is exposed as a garden-variety hypocrite. That is all.

Maybe in the end, both of them were just too persuasive for the flawed people they turned out to be, and thus we were all bound for disappointment. But Ms. Redford represents a genuine tragedy that impacts many more Albertans than just her and her loved ones, and for that it is a history worth thinking about, researching and writing about.

Sic transit gloria mundi. Alberta, I give you Alison Redford, Person of the Year!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Enough with the fantasy Wildrose was Alberta’s best opposition, already! It’s baloney!

And then there were five: The Wildrose caucus back before it experienced civil war, desertions and mass defections, including that of its leader, the woman in red above. Below: former NDP leader Brian Mason and current Leader Rachel Notley; effective Liberal MLAs David Swann and Hugh Macdonald.

One of the more irritating byproducts of mass defection by the Mudville Nine and two of their caucus colleagues who rejoined the Tory Mothership a few days earlier has been the outright wholesaling of the nonsensical claim the Wildrose Party was the most effective opposition Alberta has ever known.

Jen Gerson and Jesse Kline said this in the National Post. Global News broadcast it. Canada’s National Website, the Globe and Mail, chipped it into a stone tablet and brought it down from the mountain at 444 Front Street. Even the CBC peddled this nonsense.

There are many more examples, of course. Quite naturally, the Wildrose Party’s supporters – and many others too – have picked up the refrain and repeated it far and wide.

Well, it’s baloney. At least some of the professional political commentators know it’s baloney, too. Indeed, it has become a Big Lie, classically defined, which has now been repeated often enough to take on the quality of truthiness in the minds of many ordinary Albertans.

In reality, the Wildrose Party was not a particularly effective opposition.

The reason for this is quite simple – as former leader Danielle Smith has in effect admitted – they didn’t really oppose anything of substance that the Progressive Conservative government did, regardless of whom the premier was at any particular moment.

The Wildrose opposition focused on alleged waste, entitlement and obvious scandals – easy targets that didn’t make them much different from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and other professional agitators in the burgeoning Canadian right-wing outrage industry.

But on matters of legislative substance, they offered little – and often just meekly agreed and voted with the government.

Indeed, the Wildrose Opposition was quite dishonest about government spending – cheerfully jumping on any protest bandwagon organized by other players unhappy with cuts or underfunding, even going so far as to turn up at union-organized protests to say the Right Things, but at the same time advocating a tougher fiscal line than either the pre-Jim Prentice or Prentice PCs, at least when it came to revenue and borrowing.

Not only did they fail as official Opposition to offer meaningful policy differences to the PCs, they provided little debate – often only one lame speech in which they agreed with most of the government’s positions and accepted its legislative provisions.

If they offered amendments, as in the case of Bill 10, the Prentice Government’s controversial response to the private member’s bill that would have forced schools to accept gay-straight alliances, those amendments tended to reinforce the government’s position.

This was very poor performance compared to both the Alberta Liberals as official Opposition and the New Democratic Party caucus, which has been smaller than the Liberals in recent Legislative sessions.

Liberal MLAs like physician David Swann and Laurie Blakeman, author of the original gay-straight alliance private member’s bill, actually debated government bills, and where possible slowed them down. Former MLA Hugh Macdonald, probably the best choice as Liberal leader in 2011 when former Tory Raj Sherman got the job, was a fine debater and a brilliant researcher who effectively held the government’s feet to the fire countless times.

It goes without saying that the NDP caucus convincingly held the government to account – even in years when that caucus was made up of only former leader Brian Mason and current Leader Rachel Notley – more than the Wildrose Party ever did. Both Mr. Mason and Ms. Notley have reputations as effective Parliamentarians because, unlike most of Wildrose MLAs, they are effective Parliamentarians.

It was the NDP’s efforts above those of all other parties that in 2005 and 2006 stopped the “Third Way” – Ralph Klein’s attempt to privatize health care in Alberta.

It was the NDP that later in that decade effectively opposed the Child Advocate reporting to the minister not the Legislature, as well as premier Ed Stelmach’s surrender on charging fair energy royalties for the people who actually own the resources. More recently, it was New Democrat MLAs who pushed better regulation of auto insurers into the books. Likewise, right to the present, the NDP has kept up the pressure the PCs’ continuing and disgraceful failure on seniors’ care.

All the Wildrose caucus really had going for it that was different was its numbers – something that can hardly be said of them any more, notwithstanding Speaker Gene Zwozdesky’s decision yesterday allowing them remain the official Opposition for the moment, not that it will make much difference.

As an aside, in Mr. Zwozdesky’s defence, given the party’s remaining numbers in the Legislature, the votes accumulated by each party in past elections, and Parliamentary tradition, his ruling yesterday is hard to fault. Anyway, the situation is bound to change again soon enough – although MLA Shayne Saskiw insisted via Tweet yesterday morning that, despite the popular wisdom, it won’t be him who makes the move. I will take him at his word.

As a Wildrose House Leader who had a background in a governing party with overwhelming numbers in the Legislature, Rob Anderson never really “got” the Parliamentary role of the official Opposition.

Opposition MLAs complain that as chair of the Public Accounts Committee – the only committee chaired by a member of the Opposition, and which is supposed to favour the opposition – he ensured the large government caucus got the same amount of time for each member, instead of the previous arrangement in which opposition and government questions alternated.

Kudos to right-wing Sun media columnist Lorne Gunter, for whom I usually have little time, for admitting, albeit rather deep in his column Monday, that “former NDP Leader Grant Notley (father of current NDP leader Rachel Notley), who was a caucus of one, was more effective by himself than most official oppositions we have had.” And, yes, that includes the recent Wildrose opposition.

The NDP? A great opposition, serving Albertans well.

The Alberta Liberals of the past? Ditto – although maybe not so much today with two or three of their best MLAs on the way out and the caucus under Dr. Sherman essentially reduced to a group of independents who share office space.

But the Wildrose Party as the most effective opposition Alberta’s ever had?

Please! Give us a break! It’s hogwash, pure and simple.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca

Jim Prentice revealed as Hayek ‘disciple’; Heather Forsyth to lead Wildrose rump; Preston Manning says he’s sorry … and more!

A crowd of typical Albertans reacts to the news Danielle Smith and most of her caucus have gone and joined Premier Jim Prentice’s PCs. Below: Mr. Prentice; neoliberal saint Friedrich Hayek; Preston Manning, who is really, really sorry he didn’t counsel a vote or something; interim Wildrose Leader Heather Forsyth; and new Tory MLA Gary Bikman.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t think the most interesting news tidbit yesterday was that Heather Forsyth will become the new “Wildrump” leader, Preston Manning’s peculiar apology for accidentally uniting the right, the government’s sneaky tuition fee increases, or even the poll showing the Progressive Conservatives lead massively despite public disapproval of their sleazy deal with the Wildrose caucus.

No, it was the breathless revelation by Wildrose-turned-Tory MLA Gary Bickman that Premier Jim Prentice is “a disciple” of Friedrich Hayek.

Mr. Bikman, the long-winded MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner in Alberta’s Deep South, dropped this little bombshell in a typical Facebook post that mainly consisted of a lengthy Wikipedia review of the late Professor Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, a tome occupying a similar place in the literary canon of the loony right as the doorstoppers of Ayn Rand.

Mr. Prentice has studied on The Road to Serfdom, enthused Mr. Bikman, who by the sound of it finally had a chance as a new Tory MLA to speak with the premier over the weekend and may have been under the impression the premier’s enthusiasm for Hayek will be seen as a Good Thing.

The Austrian-born economist is generally recognized as one of the founders of the neoliberal ideology behind such heroes of the market fundamentalism as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Stephen Harper. His ideas were instrumental in the creation of the worldwide network of corporate financed “think tanks” to propagandize opinion leaders in the ideology of markets above all other values.

Because neoliberalism places “economic freedom” – which basically translates into the right of corporations to do as they please – above such traditionally defined fundamental freedoms as the right to democratically choose our leaders, Professor Hayek’s dogmas have a somewhat unsavoury reputation outside doctrinaire market fundamentalist circles. So Mr. Prentice would probably have been just as happy if this information had not been posted publicly.

Certainly, if Mr. Bikman’s report is true, no follower of Friedrich Hayek ought to have passed himself off as a moderate progressive as Mr. Prentice did during his leadership election campaign.

Heather Forsyth chosen to lead Wildrose remnant

What’s left of the Wildrose Party caucus in the Legislature, meanwhile, yesterday chose veteran Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth to lead what’s left after former leader Danielle Smith got done shouting, “Honey, I shrunk the party!”

Whatever you may think of Ms. Forsyth’s position in the political spectrum, she is the Real McCoy when it comes to public service. She was first elected as a Progressive Conservative 21 years ago, and crossed the floor to the Wildrose Party in 2010. But she has always worked hard, and was an effective critic for the Wildrose in opposition.

Ms. Forsyth takes on this challenge at a difficult moment both for her party and herself. She suffers severe hearing loss and had been widely thought to be about to retire to deal with health issues in her family. Now she plans to soldier on until the next election.

The formidable task that confronts her is the need to ensure no more of the remaining Wildrosers accept Mr. Prentice’s invitation to c’mon up to the house. If one more deserts, as at least a couple more are thought to be pondering, the Wildrose will no longer have the numbers to be official Opposition.

And what’s left to keep Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Shayne Saskiw, for example, now that his wife Shannon Stubbs has won the Lakeland nomination for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s federal Conservative Party?

Preston Manning apologizes for unwittingly uniting the right

Meanwhile yesterday, Reform Party founder and former leader Preston Manning, published a strange apology on Facebook for accidentally uniting the right!

The last time he united the right, Mr. Manning explained, his gift to Canadians that just keeps on giving was preceded by “a democratic process of discussion with grassroots members, several consultative referendums, large conferences on principles and policy, a vote on acceptance or rejection by party members, and ultimately subjecting the results to electors in the 2000 federal election.”

This time, he confessed, “my failure to strongly recommend a similar process to the Wildrose caucus was a mistake on my part. It was a disservice to those who sought my counsel and to those who have placed their trust in my commitment to democracy – a mistake for which I now sincerely apologize to all concerned.”

All I can make of this is that the harshly negative reaction by ordinary Albertans to the Wildrose-PC reunification surprised even the Godfather of the Canadian right.

Stealthy tuition increases raise some student fees by 56 per cent!

There’s nothing like quality public education and low post-secondary tuition to grease the skids down The Road to Serfdom, I guess. But you just can’t depend on the Great Unwashed to see what’s good for them, so Mr. Prentice waited until the Christmas holiday was almost upon us to stealthily slip out a press release announcing a series of “Campus Alberta market modifiers.”

In a case you were wondering, a “market modifier” in this context is what you call a tuition increase when you’ve promised not to increase tuition any more.

The tuition increases will affect more than 13,000 Alberta post-secondary students, and range from 6 per cent for some nursing programs to 71 per cent for agricultural programs at Olds College. Law school fees at the University of Calgary will jump 24 per cent to a program total of almost $41,000.

Merry Christmas, students!

And then there’s that poll …

Also yesterday, the Calgary Herald credulously reported a new public opinion poll that indicates support for Mr. Prentice and his PCs soaring, no matter how unhappy Albertans may be with the Wildrose shuffle.

Could be, but there’s lots to complain about with this poll by a Toronto outfit called Mainstreet Technologies, which claims to reveal 44 per cent of decided voters will support the PCs, 20 per cent the foundering Wildrose, 18 per cent the NDP, 14 per cent former PC Raj Sherman’s Liberals and 4 per cent for the normally undetectable Alberta Party.

The Herald excitedly pointed out the pollster got a recent poll of the Toronto mayoral election right. But it used a demon-dialler to call 3,128 people over the course of a few hours the Sunday night before Christmas. So if you ask me, this only suggests shut-ins are polling strongly for the Tories and surprisingly well for the NDP.

The Herald quotes a margin of error for the poll, something a pollsters’ trade organization, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association says should not be claimed for polls using “interactive voice response” robo-callers.

And finally a word about NDP Leader Rachel Notley

Let’s end with this thought: With the appointment of Ms. Forsyth as Wildrose leader yesterday, Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley is the only leader of an Alberta opposition party with seats in the Legislature who’s never been a Tory cabinet minister!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Never mind the Mudville Nine: Nothing has changed, nothing ever will, that is all!

“Your health. Our promise.” It’s March 1, 2013, and then-premier Alison Redford announces plans to build a new cancer treatment facility in Calgary to replace the grubby and overcrowded Tom Baker Cancer Centre. (Photo grabbed from Metro Newspapers.) But that was then. This is now. Below: Alberta Health Minister Stephen Mandel; the Tom Baker facility in northwest Calgary. 

As Danielle Smith might have said, were she still the leader of the Opposition, “nothing has changed!”

On Friday, mass media were uncritically reporting the “reasons” the new cancer hospital promised to Calgary on which construction was supposed to start next year, and then the year after that, will now have to wait until … someday.

Ms. Smith’s new best friend forever, Health Minister Stephen Mandel, with whom we are told she has agreed to bury the hatchet from their nasty disagreements during the 2012 election campaign, had been musing about how the declining price of oil was the cause of the $1.3-billion cancer hospital project being put off, again.

Just last year, the Progressive Conservative Government (Alison Redford Edition) was bragging about how this new hospital would be the biggest public health project in North America and the government was “proceeding with all possible speed” to replace the grubby and overcrowded Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

Well, no more. Health care must remain in chaos, the better to justify privatization of public services and the marketization of human life, one supposes.

Oil prices have fallen, dontcha know? And if there’s one thing we do know about Alberta’s PCs – and this includes the shiny new Jim Prentice Edition of the party, obviously – they either lack the budgeting skills to break even running a food truck on the streets of Edmonton, even when petroleum prices stay high, or they’re doing it on purpose.

Indeed, the Prentice PCs’ response to the most recent oil price decline is proof that nothing has changed. It’s also proof of the truth of what Ms. Smith herself said about the PCs not so very long ago: “You can change the leader, but you can’t change the party!”

Both these things are true with or without Ms. Smith and most of the rest of her Opposition MLAs now back in the bosom of Premier Jim Prentice’s PC caucus.

As an aside, with media justifications of Ms. Smith’s nakedly cynical political cross dressing now beginning to appear in the partisan Conservative media, it is important to remember the flaws in the argument advanced in a toadying Globe and Mail story yesterday that the Wildrose opposition had no policy it could logically pursue that was different from Mr. Prentice’s PC narrative.

It is true that the Wildrose and PCs held identical positions on ensuring a fair energy royalty return for Albertans or dropping Alberta’s flat tax, which benefits only the truly wealthy. That is, we won’t do it! But there remained plenty of room for hardline balanced-budget advocates like the Wildrose to make the case the PCs continue to fail to take as firm a line as they would have.

Really, though, what has actually been consistently the same with Alberta’s PC governments since Don Getty was premier is their inability to resist the temptation to use normal cyclical declines in commodity prices as an excuse to take another stab at expensive but ideologically approved creeping privatization and cuts in health care, education and other public services.

I say convenient because two abstract concepts that shouldn’t really be beyond the comprehension of a market fundamentalist government like Mr. Prentice’s strongly suggest low oil prices will not be with us for long: Supply. Demand.

Well, we’ve all seen this movie before and we all know that it ends the same way every time.

Meanwhile, the details keep leaking out about the protracted negotiations between Wildrose Party and PC leaders to merge their Legislative caucuses, with Preston Manning acting as the “honest broker,” to borrow a phrase.

Turns out now they were going on for well over a month, possibly for several months, even as Ms. Smith and her (loyal?) sidekick Rob Anderson were assailing the government and expressing their profound shock and disappointment at the departure of premature floor-crossers Ian Donovan and Kerry Towle. They didn’t even tell their own caucus staffers, wishing them Merry Christmas with a pink slip.

This can only be described as barefaced lying on a truly stupendous scale – not the usual, and sometimes necessary, fibs and broken promises associated with the mechanics of democratic government as circumstances change and alliances shift.

In an entertaining analysis in the Globe on Friday, an astounded Western Canada columnist Gary Mason wondered, “Whatever will Ms. Smith say to Ms. Towle when they bump into each other at the first Tory caucus meeting?”

Actually, I doubt Ms. Towle will be much troubled. Notwithstanding the supposed breach in their friendship caused by Ms. Towle’s early defection, the pair were observed in one another’s company a few days before the Mudville Nine slipped their moorings by a group of Knee-Dippers relaxing at a downtown Edmonton watering hole.

Wherever could they have been going together? To a meeting with Preston Manning, I suppose.

Even Sun Media commentator Ezra Levant managed to seem genuinely appalled at Ms. Smith’s epic deception – and, to give the man his due, he did a better job than anyone else at making the ever-glib Ms. Smith look like a spluttering liar.

Regardless, this is all just more evidence that along the straight line that runs from Mr. Getty’s PCs, though Ralph Klein’s and all the other premiers’ down to Mr. Prentice’s version, nothing at all has changed when it comes to cynicism, dishonesty, entitlement or the placement of ideology above common sense and decency.

Well, maybe that’s a little unfair to Dave Hancock, this year’s premier pro tempore, but he wasn’t really around long enough to do much more than look solemn.

When it comes time for Ms. Smith to take her place in cabinet, one can only hope she is seated near her new BFF, Mr. Mandel, so they can cheerfully discuss the City Centre Airport, the Royal Alberta Museum and the new provincial park once planned for the shores of the Lake of Fire, but now delayed due to lack of funds. (I just made that last one up, although it’s said in the Book of Genesis, every word of which some members of both the Wildrump and PC caucuses apparently believe to be literally true, that the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah sat beside what today we would term tar sands. Perhaps there is a message in that for Alberta.)

So, nothing has changed. You are not allowed to believe anything ever will. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Blogger Brian Mason explains why Jim Prentice, ‘Alberta’s first Wildrose premier,’ is preparing to call a snap election

Former NDP leader Brian Mason in a couple of typical poses, above and below. I’ll bet you didn’t know he was a terrific political blogger too!

Jim Prentice is Alberta’s first Wildrose premier and he will soon call a snap election to ensure he can push forward a Wildrose program of using temporarily low oil prices as justification to roll back public sector salaries, attack pensions, reintroduce health care premiums and lay off nurses and teachers.

This sharp and credible warning comes from someone who should be better known as a political blogger than he is, a shrewd analyst of Alberta politics named Brian Mason.

Mr. Mason, of course, is well known to Albertans as the former leader of the Alberta New Democrats, and he remains the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood. But from time to time – not nearly often enough, if you ask me – Mr. Mason also writes a smart and entertaining blog about Alberta politics, and the post he published yesterday deserves to be widely read.

Mr. Mason sets out to explain not only why former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and the rest of the Mudville Nine – as her Alberta Black Sox squad has come to be known around here – abandoned their supposed principles to join Mr. Prentice’s government caucus, but why the sordid deed was done in such a hurry when on the face of it there was no particular need for speed.

Notwithstanding its leadership’s disappointment at the results of the four by-elections on Oct. 27 – all of which were won by Mr. Prentice’s putative Progressive Conservative Party – the Wildrose Party itself “remained in good shape,” Mr. Mason wrote.

“While it was polling lower than when Redford was Premier, its numbers remained respectable,” he said. “It had money in the bank, a large membership, and a good staff team at the caucus. Despite Prentice’s whirlwind De-Redfordization program, the situation was redeemable.”

Mr. Mason, kindly citing my earlier reference to the malign influence of Preston Manning in this affair, suggests that Ms. Smith might have thought her party was doing well enough to carry on too, but for the influence of the Godfather of the Canadian Right.

“I know Danielle Smith well enough to know that she reveres Manning, and sees him as the eminence grise of Canadian conservatives,” Mr. Mason wrote. “If Manning argued that the deal was for the greater good of the conservative movement, I’m sure it would counter many objections for Smith.”

Indeed, the National Post’s Jen Gerson has now written a detailed explanation of “how Preston Manning convinced Wildrose MLAs to join mass defection,” as the paper’s headline writer put it. Personally, I think Ms. Gerson’s sources fudged the timeline a little for their own benefit, but she is quite believable when she reports “Mr. Manning’s pep talk was the moment that turned the tide.”

But why the hurry? Mr. Mason explains: “The answer comes from Smith herself. As I’ve watched her round of media interviews defending her decision, my Pepto-Bismol at the ready, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. And she did indeed reveal the political basis for the betrayal of her own party. … In the era of $50 oil, says Smith, she is ‘bringing conservatives together to make sure the tough decisions get made.’ She adds that this includes ‘selling them to Albertans.’”

So there we are, as Mr. Mason says.

The hurry’s partly about the temporary nature of the decline in the price of oil – driven down by the actions of the Saudi-led Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which itself is going to suffer pain if the tactic is carried on too long. So if “shock doctrine” marketization propaganda is going to be applied effectively in Alberta by Mr. Prentice, it’s going to need to be done sooner than later because the winning conditions won’t last long.

The Wildrose forces were also needed in the PC caucus, Mr. Mason argues, to shift the balance of power the right way and ensure genuinely progressive Conservative MLAs can’t rebel again, as they did against Alison Redford when she turned sharply right after campaigning to the left.

Mr. Prentice, who is also in the process of turning sharply right after campaigning to the left, certainly wouldn’t want to find himself in the same pickle. It “prepares the political ground for a brutal restructuring of public services in Alberta,” Mr. Mason wrote. “Jim Prentice it turns out, is Alberta’s first Wildrose Premier.”

Ironically, it was the existence of an effective Wildrose opposition, even though it was on the right, that gave leverage within caucus to the opponents of Ms. Redford’s attacks on public services. Some of them may have been motivated by mildly progressive sentiments as Mr. Mason suggests. More, I suspect, were just worried about losing to Wildrose opponents.

It’s highly evocative that all through the last days of Ms. Redford’s premiership, the Wildrose Party strove to persuade Albertans it was really very moderate and firmly in the centre. When Mr. Prentice was campaigning for the PC leadership, he tried hard to portray the same image. Now that they’re together again, they are singing a very different tune.

So the absence of an opposition party that could actually win saves both Mr. Prentice and his former opposition on the right from the need to show too much moderation in an election campaign that they both want to be followed by unneeded austerity.

Mr. Mason’s final conclusion, that there will soon be a snap election, is almost certainly right.

So here’s my prediction: Not only is he right, but Premier Prentice will call the general election next month, in late January 2015. We Albertans will go to the polls in February. Low oil prices will provide the cover.

Mr. Prentice will try very hard to ensure the campaign is about anything except what Mr. Mason says it ought to be: the need for the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share of the cost of running this province, not to mention “cynical conservative back room deals and the tired ‘sky is falling’ chorus from Tory premiers going back to Don Getty and Ralph Klein.”

In other words, nothing has changed. 

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Tory resistance to Wildrose interlopers? Don’t believe it! Here’s why Danielle Smith will soon get her cabinet post

Preston Manning joins the sales team for the new, new, newly united Wildrosey Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. Actual beloved godfathers of the conservative movement may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Mr. Manning smiling benevolently, Alberta Premier Jim Prentice in a Joe-Clark-like moment, former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith when she was still pretending she thought the Prentice PCs were evil, and former federal Liberal Conservative cabinet minister David Emerson.

Don’t worry, Danielle Smith will soon be deputy premier of Alberta or occupy a similarly influential post.

Likewise, Rob Anderson will be finance minister or something similar, if not by next week, as soon as Christmas and New Year are out of the way. Perhaps one or two of the other Wildrose Party defectors will join the cabinet of Premier Jim Prentice as well.

Nothing is absolutely certain, of course, especially when all the important business of Canada’s “most ethical and transparent government” is conducted behind locked doors as far as possible from the prying eyes and ears of taxpaying citizens and smart aleck bloggers. Mr. Prentice certainly doesn’t phone me up and tell me what his plans are.

Still, the man himself is already dropping hints, and when you think about it, this is the only future narrative that makes any sense.

A deal was made in Edmonton in a dark and secret place, and the terms of that deal are going to have to be kept or the wronged party could do serious damage.

And this wasn’t just some handshake agreement with a smooth-talking sales guy either. As befits a group of people whose promises aren’t necessarily made to be kept forever, there was a detailed written document, some of which at least we have seen. Somewhere there may even be a signed copy with all the fine print.

Preston Manning, the godfather of the Canadian right, not only came down from on high in Calgary to bless the union, but played a role in brokering the secret deal. He’s now using his soothing persona to evangelize on its behalf.

So you can also count on it that there was a quid pro quo, with the imprimatur of Mr. Manning himself and the solemn agreement of both parties, plus a certain amount of strategic leaking to well-placed reporters just in case. What the media reported thereafter was that Ms. Smith and Mr. Anderson have portfolios waiting for them.

Right now, while they work their way through the (perhaps to them surprisingly) intense public reaction to the unprecedented and breathtakingly cynical deal for the opposition to quit en masse and join the government party, both groups have the power to make trouble for the other if the deal goes south, and neither has anything to gain from that happening.

Remember, Ms. Smith is now not powerless in caucus. She has a rump of at least 10 supporters there, former members of her former party, and probably more.

Finally, the closed-door deal – from which you, Ms. and Mr. Voter, were completely excluded – has to include cabinet posts for key Wildrosers or, to be blunt about it, they simply wouldn’t have come across. 

So the logical conclusion is that Ms. Smith’s cabinet appointment and the others are a done deal, and the deal will be completed sooner than later.

If I were one of Mr. Prentice’s more vulnerable current cabinet members – say, like Finance Minister Robin Campbell, Minister of Licence Plates Stephen Khan or Tourism Minister Maureen Kubinec – I’d be quite worried about this. Cabinet must remain small to present the right image during the short-lived austerity opportunity provided by temporarily low oil prices, so a couple of loyal Tories will have to go over the side, and those three are all candidates for the high jump.

As for Mr. Prentice’s claim during Wednesday’s news conference that any such appointments had been delayed because of resistance in his own caucus, this hardly seems credible.

At the moment – at least until the full integration of Ms. Smith and the rest of the Mudville Nine into the caucus – Mr. Prentice is a premier in complete and total control.

He may have been presented during his leadership campaign as a candidate gently akin to former prime minister Joe Clark, to whom he bears an occasional passing resemblance, but he turns out to be a leader more in the style of current Prime Minister Stephen Harper. So the PC caucus will do what he tells them, when he tells them, with very little backchat.

No, the problem is the blowback in Southern Alberta from the jaw-dropping cynicism and outrageous careerism of an opposition party folding its tent to join a government of convenience with a 43-year-old behemoth that’s hardly had a good idea since Don Getty took over in 1985. This is as the Wildrosers themselves regularly reminded us until just days ago, it must be remembered.

The dealmakers may also need a little time to solve the problem of recalcitrant Wildrose Party executives determined to hang onto the party’s bank account, and furious members cutting up their membership cards with chainsaws and posting recall petitions on social media.

No doubt Mr. Manning will help with those problems, pouring some grandfatherly unguent on the troubled waters, as may a couple of the MLAs left in the five-member Wildrump Opposition party who for practical tactical reasons of their own need to delay their departure for Tory Nirvana for a spell.

Meanwhile, the key participants in this carefully staged production all sound a little like David Emerson, the Liberal cabinet minister from the Vancouver-Kingsway riding who in 2006 switched teams to Mr. Harper’s victorious Conservatives two weeks after the federal election didn’t turn out as he hoped.

Like this week’s Wildrose defection, that deal too was hatched in secret.

Soon afterward, Mr. Emerson claimed to be “flabbergasted” that anyone would have been upset, telling the CBC: “I am pursuing the very agenda that I got involved to pursue when I was in the Liberal Party supporting Paul Martin. I’m continuing to pursue it.” What could be more reasonable?

Or, as Ms. Smith put it on Wednesday afternoon, “if you look at our statement of principles, our aligned values, it’s very clear that the lion’s share of Wildrose policy is contained in those shared values.”

This may take a few days to blow over, but, when it does, count on it, Ms. Smith will get her influential cabinet post.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Danielle Smith’s conduct and the mass Wildrose defection must be seen as character issues

Former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith with her new boss, Premier Jim Prentice, at yesterday’s news conference announcing the defection of the nine Wildrose caucus members to the Progressive Conservative Party. (Photo by Dave Cournoyer, used with permission.) Below: Another shot of the pair in an informal moment at the start of the news conference.

It’s a character issue.

Certainly the recent conduct of the leadership of the Wildrose Party, which this afternoon culminated with the desertion of most of its key elected officials to Premier Jim Prentice’s ruling Progressive Conservative caucus leaving their loyalists and supporters in the lurch, has to be considered as an issue of character.

The ability of Parliamentarians to cross the floor is essential to the operation of our Canadian system of Responsible Government, and so not every floor-crosser ought to be be described as behaving badly.

But when more than half a caucus, elected and supported by voters who put their faith in the idea their party offered something different and better, decamps and joins their former enemy, it is hard to summon up excuses, or indeed anything but contempt, on their behalf.

In addition, when you consider key events in the career of former Alberta Opposition leader Danielle Smith, it’s also difficult to conclude that issues of character have not been in play before.

Indeed, at a number of key moments in her career, Ms. Smith has left a trail of devastation in her wake that, at the very least, suggests a lack of empathy for co-workers, rivals and now her own supporters.

Her abandonment of her own Wildrose Party because the road ahead seemed to be a hard one – and possibly also to get a post in Mr. Prentice’s cabinet – suggests what we might euphemistically call a “lack of moral fibre.”

Moreover, while we should generally give the benefit of the doubt and assume a lone floor-crosser acted out of genuine principle, that is harder to do when a legislator has crossed twice in opposite directions, as Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson did yesterday.

That is why, of course, Sir Winston Churchill’s observation about his own floor crossing strikes most of us as hilarious: “Anyone can rat,” he famously said. “It takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat.”

When Ms. Smith and Mr. Anderson changed parties in the company of seven other members of the Wildrose caucus whom they had obviously persuaded to come along, it failed to pass the ethical sniff test, notwithstanding the doctrinal similarity of the two parties. That’s because “there is no difference” is most definitely what Wildrose supporters and donors were being told as the plotting proceeded apace in secrecy.

When I first met Ms. Smith, she had just joined the Calgary Herald. This was at a time labour relations there were in a downward spiral and an ugly strike was looming. The newspaper’s proprietor in Central Canada brought in a publisher with a reputation as a union buster during this time, and Ms. Smith was one of several employees hired not long before the strike began on Nov. 8, 1999. I was the vice-president of the journalists’ union, so, yes, I have an interest in this ancient history.

Whatever her motivations for coming on staff, Ms. Smith crossed picket lines and worked throughout the strike.

Now, I will admit that I do not agree with Jack London’s prescription for strikebreakers. There are many reasons some of my colleagues crossed their co-workers’ picket lines, some of them even saw themselves as acting on principle. More were frightened, suffering from loss of income, under pressure from family members or a host of similar reasons. One, nearing retirement, had been told by someone in a senior job he would lose his pension. Only a few acted out of hard-nosed self-interest.

To me, though, for someone to come in from outside to play that role in a long-standing labour dispute, no matter how misguided the unionized employees may have been and even though it is completely legal to cross picket lines in the province of Alberta, does not speak well of a person’s character. I’ll respect your right to disagree.

Ms. Smith had come to the attention of the Herald’s management partly as a result of her activities as an elected trustee on the Calgary Public Board of Education. She was also known, I am sure, as a former Fraser Institute apparatchik with the right ideological credentials and temperament for the new owners of the Herald and other papers in the then-Southam newspaper chain.

This was a period after the 1998 civic election when the CBOE became so dysfunctional that the minister of education used his legal power to dismiss the trustees and put an administrator in change until the next scheduled election.

Ms. Smith alone can hardly be blamed for this situation. The board’s notorious troubles seemed to have arisen after the 1998 civic vote from an ideological rift between trustees committed to public education as traditionally funded and supported and a couple of right-wing trustees more sympathetic to market fundamentalist nostrums – one of whom was Ms. Smith.

Whatever it was, Ms. Smith’s role in drawing private notes that had been exchanged by trustees with whom she disagreed to the attention of the public, even if only by responding to media requests for comments, is troubling.

In 2009, Daveberta.ca author Dave Cournoyer published a revealing look back at this situation. Click on the links to read each edition: Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.

It seemed ironic in light of this history when Ms. Smith accused MLA Joe Anglin a few weeks ago of secretly recording proceedings of the Wildrose caucus, an accusation for which she has never provided evidence.

And now there is the still-unfinished business of the demise of the Wildrose Party legislative caucus, which came to a climax yesterday when Ms. Smith, Mr. Anderson and seven other Wildrose MLAs struck a deal with Mr. Prentice’s PCs and were allowed to join the government caucus.

If this was a legitimate matter of high principle, why was it carried out in secrecy?

As Ms. Smith yesterday tacitly admitted, the plotting was hidden for weeks from the Wildrose Party’s financial backers, mostly small donors who believed in the party’s purported principles and probably could have found something else on which to spend their limited funds. It was also a secret from voters generally, many of whom until hours ago were still seriously considering casting their ballots for the Wildrose Party.

Notwithstanding his PC party’s history of entitlement and arrogance, one can at least see sound political reasons for the conduct of Premier Prentice and his closest advisors. It is much harder to perceive the actions of the Wildrose floor-crossers as anything but self-interested, despite the protagonists’ mutual efforts at yesterday’s news conference to characterize Ms. Smith’s efforts as honourable and courageous.

Certainly Ms. Smith has left – as she must have known she would – bitterness, anger and a sense of betrayal in her wake. I am sure there are longstanding friendships that will be severed forever as a result of her conduct, as well as many citizens who will be permanently disillusioned about our democracy.

Mind you, I suppose, from the point of view of the Prentice PCs and their opposite numbers in the Harper Government whence the premier sprang, this state of affairs is entirely satisfactory. After all, when unsupportive voters grow cynical about the meaning of their vote and contribution, they stay home, and vote suppression is a key part all North American conservative parties’ key election strategies.

So when we consider Ms. Smith, we are inevitably reminded of the aphorism of Ian Fleming, author of the original James Bond novels: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”

This is not, of course, the way Ms. Smith’s change of parties was being presented at yesterday’s joint news conference. Premier Prentice praised her “considerable personal courage.” For her own part, Ms. Smith insisted, “these are the values I fought for through different jobs I’ve had the past 20 years.”

Just the same, given her history, Mr. Prentice would be wise to ensure she is closely supervised, and not to push aside too many loyal Tories aside to make way for Wildrose newcomers in cabinet, lest this adventure, too, should end in tears.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Say it ain’t so, Danielle! Bulk of Wildrose caucus commits ritual political suicide

Looking grim, as befits leaders of a unification government during a grave economic and pipeline crisis, former Wildroser Danielle Smith and Premier Jim Prentice gamely spin the astonishing mass political suicide of Ms. Smith’s former party this afternoon at Government House. If you missed the crisis, no doubt you’ll be instructed in the details soon.

Say it ain’t so, Danielle?

Well, the Wildrose Party committed ritual political suicide today, defecting in even greater numbers to the Progressive Conservative caucus of Premier Jim Prentice than anticipated by the Edmonton rumour machine.

At the end of the day, not only had party leader Danielle Smith and House leader Rob Anderson abandoned their foundering Wildrose Party, so had seven other MLAs.

A chipper looking Mr. Prentice and an apparently tired Ms. Smith finally appeared at Edmonton’s Government House just after 4 p.m., gamely trying to spin this astonishing surrender as a “unification” to a room packed with about 50 uncharacteristically skeptical and cranky Alberta journalists.

Well, the journos had been waiting all day – unlike dilettante bloggers who have the luxury of only showing up only minutes before the action starts. Still, it’s hard to believe that this unification hooey will go over any better with the public than with the press.

At any rate, that was their story, and they were stickin’ to it: “The caucuses have agreed to unite under a set of aligned values and principles,” Ms. Smith said, sticking closely to the script and tightly inside the joint message box.

This, of course, was baloney on the face of it. Nine members of the Wildrose caucus chose to accept Mr. Prentice’s terms and join the PCs. Five did not, and will try to soldier on as the Wildrump Party. That is not a merger, unification or anything of the sort, as we will see when they start to fight over the Wildrose Party’s well-stuffed bank account.

The details of today’s events are in the daily press, of course, but from an amateur political observer’s perspective, a few themes from coming PC charm offensive began to coalesce, and a few other interesting tidbits emerged.

The principal arguments for the mass defection will be, first, that since everyone now realizes Mr. Prentice symbolizes conservative perfection, there was no longer a need for another conservative political party – no matter what the Wildrose Party’s own donors, supporters and members imagine.

“I don’t want to take down this premier,” Ms. Smith asserted urgently. “I want this premier to succeed!”

Second, of course, was the application of the Shock Doctrine in its pure form. Oil prices are low and therefore we must be disciplined. The discipline, it went literally without being said, will not be felt by the rich or the energy industry in the form of higher taxes or royalties. (“In this time of economic uncertainty … our province needs united leadership and shared purpose in tackling the challenges ahead:” Prentice.)

Knowing that this will be unpersuasive to many Albertans, and that yesterday’s “unification” will offend the good sense and values of large numbers of voters, however, the newly unified PCs also began to float the narrative that the Wildrose Party was really too full of knuckle-dragging social conservatives for a sensitive and liberal soul like Ms. Smith.

Look for more of this in the weeks ahead, although I don’t know how this is supposed to go over with die-hard Wildrosers the Tories would also like to woo.

And let’s not forget Ms. Smith’s hilarious claim she saw the need in the entrails of the Calgary-Elbow by-election for the two conservative caucuses to unite lest they become the victims of sneaky progressive vote splitting by the Alberta Party. The Alberta Party? Wait for this one to appear among the PC talking points soon too.

Rumours that the quid pro quo of the deal would be cabinet posts for some of the most prominent defectors will have to wait to be resolved. Mr. Prentice stoutly resisted questions from reporters about whether, or when, he would appoint Wildrose defectors to his cabinet. Not sure what this means: Mr. Prentice dictated terms? Or the PC caucus needs to be whipped into line?

That business, like everything else in this affair, will be conducted away from the curious gaze of taxpayers and voters according to the premier’s own timetable.

“I have made no decision related to cabinet,” he repeated, sticking manfully to his message box. “That’s not part of what we are discussing today.”

Finally, it was conceded openly by the principal characters, that this scheme has been in the works at least for several weeks, possibly longer – while Wildrose Party members and the public were kept in the dark. Together now … unified, as it were … they will bring unto us “the most ethical and transparent government in Canada.”

 

Today’s Wildrose Defectors to PCs

Danielle Smith (Highwood)

Rob Anderson (Airdrie)

Gary Bikman (Cardston-Taber-Warner)

Rod Fox (Lacombe-Panoka)

Jason Hale (Strathmore-Brooks)

Bruce McAllister (Chestermere-Rocky View)

Blake Pederson (Medicine Hat)

Bruce Rowe (Olds-Didsbury- Three Hills)

Jeff Wilson (Calgary Shaw)

Previous Wildrose Defectors PCs

Kerry Towle (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake)

Ian Donovan (Little Bow)

Previous Wildrose Member, Now Independent

Joe Anglin (Rimbey-Rockey Mountain House-Sundre)

Wildrose Loyalists

Drew Barnes (Cypress-Medicine Hat)

Rick Strankman (Drumheller-Stettler)

Heather Forsyth (Calgary-Fish Creek)

Shayne Saskiw (Lac la Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills)

Pat Stier (Livingstone-Macleod)

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Hatched in secret, today’s expected mass Wildrose defection to PC benches brings party to a pathetic end

The captain of the RMS Wildrose and her officers slip quietly away from their sinking ship in the darkness. Actual Wildrose leaders may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith and Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson. Both are expected to be rewarded for abandoning ship with cabinet posts in PC Premier Jim Prentice’s government.

As of today – even before we are certain of everything that has happened in the last 48 hours or what will happen in the next 48 – we can be confident of this: the Wildrose Party is finished.

I do not mean it’s washed up in some metaphorical sense, or that the party is simply unlikely to win the next election.

No, I mean that thanks to the deal cooked up between the leadership of Opposition Leader Danielle Smith’s party and Premier Jim Prentice’s unreformed Progressive Conservatives, whatever the details are, the Wildrose phenomenon is done like dinner. 

Even if it has a half-life in the Legislature as the rural Wildrump Party, it will be as electoral zombies, the living dead.

Even if by some miracle Mr. Prentice’s PC caucus grew some principles and told the Wildrose surrender party to go to blazes, the remaining shattered caucus would have not a shred of credibility.

No one will now want to be associated for long with a name that will become a synonym for perfidy and surrender, undignified and unsavoury. Any holdouts of the Wildrose Legislative caucus who decline to make the humiliating walk to bow before Mr. Prentice’s throne would do better to rename themselves Social Credit!

Indeed, the only reason left for them to hold out now is to fight over the party’s substantial war chest – raised in significant part from small donations given by the party’s now-scorned true believers.

In an act of cowardice and duplicity that is genuinely shocking – and these strong words are completely fair and reasonable under the circumstances – the principal leaders of the party have abandoned their followers and their principles as well, if they ever really had any.

According to media reports, Ms. Smith is expected today to lead most of her pathetic caucus to Mr. Prentice’s PC benches in the Legislature. This is a development unprecedented in Canadian Parliamentary history. Rumours say she will be rewarded with the meaningless bauble of the deputy premiership, and Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson with another cabinet post.

For those of us with a healthy skepticism about what motivates the principal figures of the Canadian right, the self-interested self-immolation of Alberta’s Wildrose Opposition over the past few days is nevertheless both astonishing and genuinely contemptible.

Carried out in secret, without a whisper of what they planned to their own supporters, the Wildrose captain and her leadership elite silently slipped into the lifeboats and rowed stealthily away from their sinking ship. Their presumptive goal: to put their own careers and wellbeing ahead of the sacrifice and effort of their adherents.

Together with the Progressive Conservatives they claimed to despise, who until a few days ago they described as the archfiend incarnate, they will now create, in the words of their articles of unilateral surrender to Premier Jim Prentice, the most ethical and transparent government in Canada.”

Oh please! It is to laugh aloud. Or, for their naïve supporters, to cry tears of bitterness and shock, as many of them were doing yesterday on Twitter and other social media sites.

They’ll get over it, the persuasive Mr. Prentice presumably told the Wildrose leaders as he wooed them. I am not so sure. Their supporters’ sense of betrayal, if you ask me, is entirely warranted, and will run deep.

Whatever new expanded PC party emerges once the dust has settled in a day or two will be dedicated to two principles only: preserving the entitlement of its insiders, who will now include Ms. Smith and Mr. Anderson, and ensuring that Alberta’s bitumen flows unvexed to the sea.

The PCs’ strategy at least is understandable – and more in character – but they too hardly come off smelling like a rose. As was pointed out by many ordinary Albertans of all political stripes on social media yesterday, the PCs aimed their last campaign at the electorate’s mushy middle, promising mild progressivism in contrast to the Wildrosers’ frightening social conservatism.

And then they did this! Well, seriously, what did you expect? Except for Mr. Prentice and his ministers of health and education, these are exactly the same people who cheered Alison Redford through the last three bizarre years.

They fooled you once, so shame on them. No need to say anything more about that!

Surely the cynicism and contempt of Albertans for the Wildrose will run deeper than for the eternal Tories, if only because they pretended to be something a little different – and they fooled us for a spell, even some of us who didn’t support their market fundamentalist program.

No one said politics is easy. But history is rife with the names of people who accomplished something by sticking to their principles, and continuing to fight when the odds said their goals seemed impossible.

As the oft-quoted American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead so famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Well, if we imagined those at the front of the Wildrose Party comprised a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens, we have now been set straight. Danielle Smith, it’s said here, could have changed Alberta. But even if she becomes the deputy premier for a spell, she will sink into well-deserved obscurity before the decade is over.

What happened? No jam! The wind went out of Ms. Smith’s sails when she and her advisors realized it wouldn’t be all that easy. Anyone could run a successful campaign against Alison Redford. Jim Prentice was a tougher customer.

So when they hit a speed bump and won none of the Oct. 27 by-elections, the party shattered into a thousand pieces of glass.

In fact, their supporters were tougher than their leaders and could have made a good showing in the next election. But I guess winning by increments built up through hard work in opposition didn’t meet the schedule preferred by Ms. Smith and Mr. Anderson.

What happens next remains to be seen. Someone will form the opposition. Maybe the Liberals for a spell; maybe the Wildrump, if there are enough of them. There will be a fight over the money and someone will win it. Ms. Smith will smile and get to make a few announcements. Mr. Prentice will plead poverty and call an early election before the RCMP reminds us of all the things Ms. Redford got up to. This being Alberta, it’ll probably work.

You know what? I often complain that my Alberta New Democrats have very little to show for their stick-to-itiveness and principles beyond “moral victories.”

But I’d sure as hell rather have an Alberta NDP-style moral victory than suffer a collapse of principles and moral fibre the way the Wildrose Party just has!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.