Danielle Smith, leader of Alberta’s upstart Wildrose Alliance party which surprised pundits by taking a beating in recent election polls, had billed her party’s campaign to unseat the Progressive Conservatives as “a battle between conservatism and progressivism”. It was surprising in that all the polls showed the Wildrose ahead of the PCs and set to form the next government.
But the voters (at the only poll that really counts, the one on Election Day) decided otherwise.
What many feared about Wildrose, and the reason, essentially, that the party did not even come close, was that its brand of conservatism looked too much like America’s Tea Party movement with a slate that included a reactionary message of racism, homophobia and climate change denial.
It was of great concern that Tea Party politics might have been coming to Canada.
The decision by Alberta’s electorate to return the PCs to power after a 41-year run not only means that they rejected the Wildrose Alliance and the scary characters that had attached themselves to it, they have also helped the PCs to make Canadian political history as they now have the longest uninterrupted run of any political party in this country.
Every province has a widespread stereotype that makes it loathed by every other; it’s the Canadian way. While Ontario is hated mainly for Toronto – too urban, too multicultural, too self-important – Albertans are burdened with the image of being brash, cowboy-hat-wearing, hyper-conservatives who only care about their oil industry.
So, the rest of Canada watched with interest as Wildrose seemed to play up that image and then some.
What also had the attention of many Canadians, particularly those who prefer their elected politicians to take a more centrist position on policy, was the presence of old familiars, the likes of which had attached themselves to Preston Manning’s old Reform Party; yes, that same Reform Party whose members now make up a significant part of our current federal Conservative Party of Canada government. Backers of Wildrose include people such as Stephen Harper’s mentor, Tom Flanagan. In fact, Flanagan taught both Harper and Smith at university.
It was no secret that many federal MPs from the Alberta caucus, people such as Rob Anders (who labeled Nelson Mandela a terrorist and voted against him receiving honorary Canadian citizenship) were backing the new party.
What made the prospect of a Wildrose win so disturbing; is that the party seemed set on taking the province back decades in terms of policies.
Thankfully, while all the polls showed them ahead, the people themselves decided that they wanted to look forward.
Even so, the Wildrose party went into the campaign with four MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly), and increased that number to 17. Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservatives returned to power with a strong majority of 61 of the province’s 87 seats as supporters of other parties (Liberals, NDPers) obviously voted strategically for the PCs to block the Wildrose.
The big news in all this is that Alberta is the new Ontario. The level of immigration into the province in the past generation has resulted in a shift there with which the rest of us, including Wildrose, have to catch up.
The conservatives in Ottawa need also to pay attention to the fact that even in oil country there is little acceptance for politicians who hang unswervingly to denial of climate change and old, divisive politics and policies.