Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What's Next in Alberta Politics?

In the space of barely a week, the political landscape in Alberta went through a once in a generation domino effect, if not an earthquake. Upon the surprise election of Ed Stelmach as Progressive Conservative party leader in December 2006 and the surprising subsequent general election it seemed that whatever might have been fomenting in the PC ranks as the Klein era came to a close had cast a pall of indifference over the electorate. The failure of the opposition parties to put a dent in the Tory bastion seemed to suggest that a stalemate born of indifference, satisfaction or apathy. Voter turnouts were low in 2008 and the right wing movement of the moment petered out rather quickly as well.

Since the emergence of the Wildrose Alliance as a powerful suitor for the PC's conservative faithful the pressures have been building for all of the established parties and another upstart, the Alberta Party has been faring well in the twittersphere and got a bit of momentum when Liberal-cum-Independent MLA Dave Taylor joined the party and became its first MLA.

With the resignation of Liberal Leader David Swann on January 31 and Ted Morton's moves to position himself for a right wing flank move in the yet-to-be announced PC leadership race the stage is being set for a significant casting call for parties leaders throughout Alberta. With the Liberal, PC and Alberta Party leaderships to be filled, probably by Autumn 2011, the rumours will run rampant and the strategizing will likely outpace it.

The key thing that each party needs to keep itself open to is a transformation campaigner who has the passion and charisma to rally the party faithful and expand the party tent. The PCs have the greatest challenge with its leadership race. The resistance to recasting the party with a new strategy, vision and face will be most difficult because the commitment to tried and true is deepest and the temptation to fight off the Wildrose Alliance will be ignored.

There is every chance that the party makes the same tried and true moves that the federal Liberals made in 1984 when they chose apparent faired-hair dauphin John Turner over the passion of Jean Chretien. The federal Tories did the same when choosing Kim Campbell over Jean Charest, again despite the passion and momentum that the underdog mustered throughout his campaign. A PC leadership campaign that ends with the ascension of a front-bench good soldier who has paid his or her dues and deserves it will be the death knell of the PC party, no matter how hard the party may try to burnish an establishment candidate as experienced. They, more than the Liberals or Alberta Party, have a small margin of error on their leadership choice.

The Liberals, who have reflected more existentially over their party and have pondered shedding the heavy red yoke of the national brand, my just disperse once and for all at this point and the leadership race - if they can afford it - may be a step in that direction. The Alberta Party, regardless of who emerges as its leader, will also have the task of proving that it can field a slate of candidates that will give it the rally point that moderates in Alberta will feel comfortable getting behind. If, out of that field, the Alberta Party can find the charisma and competence to win over voters provincially that will be a bonus, one that will make them a force to contend with in the 18 months ahead and beyond.