Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Alberta Politics Just Got Interesting

They have 1 MLA. They have no leader. They got under 7% of the popular vote in last year's election. Their website is...lacking. No one really knows anything about them or what they stand for.

They are the Wild Rose Alliance. And, after last night, you wouldn't come across sounding like a crazy person if you suggested they could bring about the demise of a political dynasty that has ruled Alberta unopposed for the last 38 years.

I'm not saying it will happen. Only that you can write the screen play out, without relying too heavily on science fiction. Consider:

Step 1: Win the Glenmore by election. Check.

Step 2: Elect Danielle Smith party leader. She's in her late 30s, has extensive media experience, is articulate, and doesn't look or sound like a crazy right winger. I'd never vote for her myself, but it's hard not to look at her and say "there's someone who could be Premier". Even though he's held the job for 3 years, I can't help but look at Ed Stelmach and think "he's a nice guy, but boy, is he ever in way over his head".

In short, Ed Stelmach is Harry Strom, and it's not a stretch to think that Smith could be Peter Lougheed for the 21st Century. (note to WRA: I know you guys aren't big on royalties, but I demand royalties on that line should you use it!)

Step 3: Get former PC and now independent MLA Guy Boutillier to join their caucus. Just like that, they'd have as many seats as the NDP. [Edited to add: And maybe lure a few disgruntled PCs across the floor too]

Step 4: Build up the party. Fundraising won't be a problem since the money will flow directly from the oil wells to the WRA bank account. But, to be taken seriously, they'll need to marginalize the crazies and put forward a difficult to demonize platform. They'll need to recruit and nominate capable candidates well before the next election. And they'll need to build up a membership and volunteer base.

Do that, and the 2012 election could be interesting. PC minority? Wild Rose minority? Hell, with the WRA siphoning off PC votes on the right, the stage could be set for a Liberal minority. At the very least, Alberta politics just got interesting.

Now, at this point, I should probably back up. Because, after all, this is all based on one by election. And by elections are weird animals. Hell, the Liberals stunned the world by winning Ralph Klein's old seat in Calgary Elbow in 2007 and, a year later, Ed Stelmach stunned the world by winning a Klein-esque 72 seats - including the aforementioned Elbow. But look closely at what actually happened in Elbow:

PCs: 52% to 38% (-2,951 votes)
Liberals: 37% to 46% (-133 votes)

In short, PC voters stayed home. And when I extrapolated those results city-wide, it only left the Liberals with between 8-15 seats in Calgary (out of 22) - hardly, enough for them to form government given Alberta heavily skewed rural map.

So now, let's look at what happened in Glenmore:

PCs: 51% to 26% (-3,573 votes)
Liberals: 33% to 34% (-437 votes)
Wild Rose: 8% to 37% (+3,027 votes)

This wasn't just a case of half the PC vote staying home...they switched. And considering the 2008 Glenmore results were fairly close to the province-wide numbers, you don't need fivethirtyeight to tell you what happens if you extrapolate them province wide.

When you consider this, the comparison to Elbow becomes almost laughable.

Yes, Glenmore might be a blip, like when Albertans elected a western separatist in a 1982 by election. But the PCs had some brutal by-election results in the lead-up to their 1993 "close call", just as the SoCreds did in the lead up to their 1971 wipe-out. Sure, that canary may have died of natural causes, but the PCs have got to be worried. Or, at the very least, they should be.

So, having mapped out the road ahead for the upstart Wild Rosers, what does last night mean for the Liberals and PCs?

Well, for the Liberals, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is they're stuck in neutral. The good news is the PCs are going in reverse. If there's a party capable of stealing 20-30% of the PC vote on the right, suddenly a lot of urban seats are in play for the Liberals. And suddenly, you can win a minority government with 30 seats. There's a lot of work to do, but a strong Wild Rose Alliance is good news for the Liberals.

For the PCs, the first test will be Ed Stelmach's leadership review. The man still has a 70 seat majority, so it's hard to see him being pushed out - but it now seems likely he'll be humbled. Assuming Ed stays on, the PCs are going to be feeling a lot of pressure to shift to the right. Whether or not that's a good move tactically is debatable, but it's something everyone (especially the ALP) should keep their eyes open for.

I'm not in Alberta anymore so I can't get a sense of what this all means and what the mood on the ground is. For that, you might want to check out the links below. But, from this outsider's perspective, my gut tells me something big happened in Calgary Glenmore last night.

Graham Thompson
Kevin Libin
Alex Abboud
Ken Chapman
Capital Notebook

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  • This would never have happened had the PCs gone with Dinning

    By Anonymous Jeffster, at 10:44 p.m.  

  • Actually, Jeffster, this would have happened SOONER with Dinning. Dinning, while possibly more competent than Stelmach, is loathed by the Alberta PC right, the same folks that are at the core of the Wild Rose Alliance.

    It strikes me as well that this is not 1971, but something new. The PC challenge to the Socreds was not ideological. It was "gee isn't Lougheed dynamic, just look at him jogging" (http://archives.cbc.ca/politics/provincial_territorial_politics/clips/9850/). Heck, while Aberhart had some crazy ideas, Socred rule soon had little to do with ideology itself.

    Oil revenues and Ottawa-bashing sustained the PC's until the late 80's/early 90's under Klein. Klein revitalized the party but also made it an explicitly ideological one instead of a big brokerage party.

    The Alberta PC's today are an alliance of angry rural right wingers and a bunch of "wets" who benefit from government patronage, who see no alternative to Tory rule, and who stand to lose from change generally (the rural right is "conservative" but wants change). Ed Stelmach for all his faults, is one of the few people that can keep the band together - being
    1. A country bumpkin
    2. About as dynamic as the Canadian shield

    Alberta politics, as best I can tell, have historically been a battle between government and opposition more than left vs. right (Laurence Decore ran to the right of Klein, for instance). With rising oil revenues in their pockets, government tended to have an edge too.

    The Wild Rose Alliance, however, could change all that. They can't replace the Alberta PC's, but they can sweep the countryside. Meanwhile the Liberals could conceivably pick up the voters I described as "wets". What you would be left with is a relatively competitive election system with ideologically motivated parties. Centrist or even centre right liberals squaring off against more right wing conservatives.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 11:22 p.m.  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 12:28 a.m.  

  • As Robert says, it is important that people have a voice, even if we don't agree with them.

    However, I don't agree with CC that she is not obviously wingnutty. She has an MA in Economics from Calgary and worked for the Fraser Institute - that defines Wingnut in Canada. I bet she is also Randian.

    By Blogger Nitangae, at 12:45 a.m.  

  • Yeah, I think you really have to consider the fact that the by-election is an opportunity for pissed off people to express their displeasure without actually affecting who is in charge of the government. I think you'll find a lot of those votes switching back in a general election.

    Not that I'm happy about it. I just don't think it's as big a deal as it's being made out to be.

    By Blogger Gauntlet, at 1:22 a.m.  

  • "She has an MA in Economics from Calgary and worked for the Fraser Institute - that defines Wingnut in Canada."

    Sound like the Prime Minister is pretty close to wingnuttery in that case.

    By Blogger Brian Dell, at 5:49 a.m.  

  • "Sound like the Prime Minister is pretty close to wingnuttery in that case."

    - He is.

    By Blogger WesternGrit, at 7:40 a.m.  

  • You may not be in Alberta anymore, but this is the best analysis I've read of this situation yet. Kudos.

    By Blogger Jennie / Jae, at 8:32 a.m.  

  • The next election is a long ways off, but I don't think a 20% protest vote is unrealistic if things fall into place.

    Plus, there's always an outside chance of a "Bob Rae" election, when everyone wants to send Ed a message and they accidently elect the Wild Rosers.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:23 a.m.  

  • She has an MA in Economics from Calgary and worked for the Fraser Institute - that defines Wingnut in Canada.


    Sound like the Prime Minister is pretty close to wingnuttery in that case.


    - He is.

    I assume everyone here had their tongues in cheek.

    However, 36.3% of Canadians voted for someone affiliated with the Fraser Institute.

    If you think the beliefs of 36.3% of a population are so distant from yours that you figure that they must be on an extreme fringe of the spectrum, then how could your beliefs possibly be anywhere but the opposite fringe? (making YOU the wingnut?)

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 11:39 a.m.  

  • Dinning would have actually like managed the finances of Alberta much better then Stelmach. So the possibility this would have happened under a Dinning leadership are smaller.

    The Wildrose Alliance were able to attract individuals who wanted a fiscal government and they likely would gain that with Danielle Smith as leader but Alberta would have gained that with Dinning as well.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:57 p.m.  

  • I'm less than convinced that this is anything dramatic.

    1: People got all in a tizzy when Hinman won his seat under the Alberta Alliance banner (the Sun, I believe, even had a regular "Hinman Watch" feature and it didn't turn into anything,

    2: This was a by-election... meaning the full force of the Alberta PC's fundraising, political strategists, and other organizational advantages was never brought to bear,

    3: Hinman's campaign slogan was "Send Ed a Message"... not My message is better, not we'd serve you better... a pure protest vote campaign. But there's a big difference between electing 1 MP and changing governments for the first time in a coupla generations. If the WRA were to ever poll well I think there would a pretty strong backlash come the actual voting day.

    By Blogger JF, at 2:05 a.m.  

  • The question, of course, is whether the Wild Rose can "scale" and do something similar to this province wide. I think it is doubtful.

    First, they are not going to have many candidates as good as Hinman. Indeed, only Smith herself will be more creditable, and no one as good. A step or two lower comes Lynk Byfield and who? Then it's an order of magnitude of nobodies and crazies.

    Second, this is a by-election, with all that that implies. Come the next general election how many of those WRA voters will slip back to the PCs? It won't take many to hand this seat to the Liberals, who seem to have a solid base in the mid- to low-30s.

    By Blogger buckets, at 1:34 p.m.  

  • We cannot elect the WRP, my god they would make the PCs look like extreme leftists- if you look on their website they are a bunch of oil and gas producers,who are more interested in serving their own needs rather than that of the constituents.- you know it's not about the oil and gas royalties it's about finding other renewable energy sources in our Province, we can have all the oil in the world but one day no ones going to want it - and that day is less than 20 years away.

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