The political news from Alberta this week has not been good tidings for those of us who favour conservatism. We can’t be too surprised, however, given the recent signals voters have been sending to their tired old Progressive Conservative government.
In the 2012 general election in Alberta, voters signalled, via public opinion polls, that they wanted change in how the province was governed. But the incumbent PCs mistook their last minute reprieve at the polls as a voters’ endorsement rather than what it was: fear of the Wildrose Party’s inexperience and of the social conservatives on that party’s extreme right.
In the end, their record-setting unbroken 44-year run in government was likely as much a major factor in their loss in the May 5 provincial election as were the PCs tribulations under the leadership of Alison Redford or the political ineptness shown by her disappointing replacement, Jim Prentice.
In short, voters were fed up with the PCs, who didn’t seem able to justify being given even one more day in office. Moreover, so fed up were they with the ruling PCs, they voted them down to third party status behind the majority NDP and the official opposition Wildrose Party.
Having said that, one cannot ignore the disastrous Redford–Prentice double whammy effect.
PCs had elected Alison Redford as their leader to revitalize the government and the party. She was supposed to be the “change” voters had signalled was needed if the Tories wanted to remain in power. Instead, what the PCs—and unfortunately the people of Alberta—got were two years of mismanagement and turmoil. Redford, it seems, had serious entitlement issues.
So PC supporters looked elsewhere for a new fixer. And to fill that role they selected former Conservative MP and cabinet minister Jim Prentice who, on paper, seemed a pretty good choice. By then, though, much of the PC’s base had given up or owed their political allegiance elsewhere: Prentice was elected leader with a shockingly low 23,000 votes.
Prentice’s short period as leader and premier was marred by small gaffes and political tone-deafness such as his “look in the mirror” comment to Alberta residents and his “math is difficult” comment to the NDP’s female leader during a campaign debate.
And, of course, a weak budget with too many unpopular tax increases was not helpful at all. Prentice then capped off his tenure as premier by disregarding the PCs’ own fixed election date and dropping a writ one year earlier than scheduled.
At the beginning, the Tories pretended the election was about their so-called transformational budget, but, as their prospects dimmed they switched to fear-mongering over what an NDP government might do to Alberta’s already faltering economy.
And the Tories did have a point: the Dippers are going to do a royalty review and plan to increase corporate taxes. There is also some concern over suggestions NDP leader Rachel Notley may pour money into poorly conceived policies concerning “adding value” to Alberta’s natural resources.
Voters were not impressed, however, for the fear-mongering was coming from a PC party that itself had tabled a very questionable budget only a month or so before.
So, with the socialists now controlling one of the most powerful engines of our national economy, how concerned should we be?
Well, were I a business person in the Alberta energy sector, I’d be very concerned. Even here in Ontario I’d be moderately worried since this province depends somewhat on manufacturing support it provides to energy-based activity in Alberta. With the U.S. economy humming along and our lower dollar helping exports, however, we may not feel much economic pain here, at least, not because of a socialist Alberta. We can expect plenty enough economic pain from our own suffocatingly paternalistic Liberal government.
Alberta will, in all likelihood, find the inexperience of the NDP MLAs and, especially, their cabinet ministers a very real handicap. Ontarians know something about that after the Ontario NDP won a majority government in 1990.
Ontario did, of course, survive and recover—though it did take a Common Sense Revolution to get it back on track. Four years should be enough for the conservatives in Alberta to unite politically and ready themselves for a return to power, should the dippers falter as I expect they will.
It was time for a change in Alberta—voters were demanding it. The Right couldn’t provide that change so the Left filled the vacuum. Over the next four years we’ll find out how high the Butcher’s Bill will go.