Thursday, February 03, 2011

A Beginner's Guide to Alberta Politics, or, "What the @$#! is going on in Alberta?"

Like an oil reserve, Alberta politics tends to lie dormant for thousands of years, only to gush to the surface without warning. And when it does, it's usually messy.

Like the last two weeks.

For those of you lucky enough to not follow Alberta politics, it must have all seemed rather perplexing. A caucus coup against a Premier coming off a landslide victory last election. The Premier and Finance Minister both resigning in the span of 48 hours...Only to be followed by the leader of the opposition less than a week later. Hell, it was perplexing to even Alberta's most rabid political junkies.

So, for those of you in other parts of the country, I do my best here to summarize last week's political geyser with this helpful FAQ.

Last time I checked Ralph Klein was Premier. Who's this new guy?

Ed Stelmach won the PC leadership on the same day and in the same way Stephane Dion won the LPC leadership. Ted Morton and Jim Dinning had spent all of 2006 hitting each other over the head, so Ed Stelmach took his 15% of vote and came up the middle as the compromise candidate. PC members were so sick of the frontrunners that they didn't worry much about Ed's vision (or lack thereof) or his ability to communicate with other human beings (or lack thereof).

After that, the Calgary media ripped him apart for a year, Dave Bronconnier went all Danny Williams on his ass, and voters humbled Ed in a by election.

Not that it mattered. Alberta being Alberta, and Ed being a Conservative, he won a staggering 72 of 83 seats, 10 more than Ralph Klein left him. Maybe seeing that a guy like Ed could be Premier made voters feel better about themselves. Maybe he won on the strength of the insomniac vote, thankful for the cure his speeches offered them. For whatever reason, Ed appealed to voters and Ed won. It's hard to argue with success.

Unless, of course, you're the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.

So why do they want him out?

There are two competing theories. One is that the PCs are scared stiff of the Wildrose Alliance, a party with only 5% of the seats in the legislature but 80% of the media coverage in the province. Even though the Wildrose Alliance has never won a seat in a general election, Alberta has a history of new parties wiping out dynasties in the blink of an eye. A lot of PC MLAs now gaze longingly at the great right hope, Ted Morton, to ensure the dynasty lives on.

The other theory is that the PCs have been in power for so long they don't worry about the things most other parties worry about - like winning elections. Instead, it's all about internal power struggles. It's no secret the PC power brokers don't like Ed Stelmach. They've been waiting to drop him since he won and were the only people more disappointed with the last election results than Alberta Liberals. So when they saw an opening to defenestrate Ed, they didn't hesitate.

Regardless of the reason, Ed was pressured to quit. His Finance Minister and heir apparent, Ted Morton, said he'd quit if Stelmach made him deliver the budget. (I'm not sure if Morton really understood the responsibilities of being Finance Minister when he took the job)

Jean Chretien or Ralph Klein would have snarled, fired Morton, and fought on. Ed quit.

Woah, woah, easy there partner. Wildrose what? Who are these guys?

The Alberta Alliance was a protest party that won 1 seat in the 2004 election. They merged with the Wildrose Party (another protest party) before the 2008 election to avoid the vote split...and won 0 seats.

Then, in 2009, things changed. The PCs tabled Alberta's first deficit in 15 years. People began talking about the Wildrose Alliance. When Danielle Smith was named leader, they really started talking about the Wildrose Alliance.

Although a political rookie, Smith is smart, well spoken, and media savvy. Of course, it's hard for her not to impress when compared to the current crop of provincial party leaders - even the Oilers would look good lined up against a Bantam hockey team.

So the Alliance won the Calgary Glenmore by election. They showed they were different from the PCs by adding a PC cast-off and a pair of disgruntled PC back benchers. There may only be 4 Wildrose MLAs, but they have the 67-member PC caucus scared stiff.

In their current form, it's easiest to think of the Wildrose Alliance as an Alberta version of the ADQ - a charismatic leader in charge of an untested party with some very questionable policies. Luckily for Danielle Smith, the only policy the media seem interested in asking her about is her policy of "being awesome". She might be in trouble if they start asking about Health Care cuts.

A right wing vote split must be manna from heaven for the Liberals. Are they poised to form government?


I mean, running against a pair of far right wingers like Danielle Smith and Ted Morton - that's a political double rainbow if I ever saw one. It seems impossible to mess up a gift like that.


So, yeah, with everything coming up roses, why did their leader quit?

Basically, the same reason Ed did. People got spooked by lackluster poll results, and the leader couldn't control an unruly caucus.

And the Alberta Party, what's their deal?

The Alberta Party came into existence last year when progressives, worried that a right-wing vote split might cause them to stumble into power for the first time in 90 years, decided to found another party.

Alberta Party turn ons include "listening" and "Twitter", and their turn offs include "politics as usual" and "explaining what politics as usual actually means".

They are made up of a loose coalition of Albertans disillusioned with the province's major parties and disgruntled Liberals who feel "Do you support Alberta?" is an easier door knocking pitch than "So how about that NEP, eh?".

They're still in the embryonic stage but in Alberta we believe political life begins at conception or, at the very least, your first floor crossing. And they got their first last week - Dave Taylor, a former Liberal MLA, who had grown disenchanted with the Alberta Liberals' policy of not picking Dave Taylor as their leader.

They are very much a wild card at this point.

And what about the NDP? Where do they figure into the current political landscape?

Good question.

And the Greens?

They were desanctioned after the last election, so they're basically about as relevant now as the NDP.


That's what happens when you try to stick up for the environment in Alberta.

There is, however, a movement afoot to create a new Green Party, called Vision 2012. Because after all, the one thing missing in Alberta is a 4th opposition party to left of the PCs. At the rate we're going, there will be more parties than voters by the next election.

So what happens now?

Ted Morton will run for the PC leadership. Morton, who brought in Alberta's first deficit budget in a generation, is expected to position himself as the only candidate fiscally conservative enough to stop the Wildrose Alliance. Assuming he avoids the fate of every other front runner in every leadership contest fought in Canada and around the world over the past decade, he will win.

And when is the next election again? I assume that Alberta, being Canada's bastion of democratic reform, has fixed election dates, right?

Ha ha ha. Good one.

Expect an election roughly 60 days after the first poll of 2012 which shows the PCs more than 12 points up on the Wildrosers.

And who will win?

The smart money is on the PC dynasty surviving into its 40s, but for the first time since 1993 we may actually have to wait until the election before calling it. Hell, if we're lucky, the campaign might actually be worth watching.


Ed Stelmach enjoys a lighter moment at his farewell news conference

Danielle Smith not only walks on water, she runs on it!

Ted Morton is likely to be Alberta's next Premier. He's a University professor who thinks he's a cowboy.

David Swann is the most genuine and honest human being on the face of the earth. So, of course, he was doomed from the start.

This is NDP leader Brian Mason. You will never see or hear about him again as long as you live, so don't feel bad if you forget his name. Hell, it even happens to the Premier sometimes.

Reports are Dave Taylor will simply create "The Dave Taylor Party" should he not win the Alberta Party leadership.

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