Monday, April 20, 2015

Spring Cleaning

Rachel Notley did something very smart yesterday - she claimed the legacy of the patron saint of Alberta politics, Peter Lougheed. She praised Lougheed's ideas such as corporations paying their fair share of taxes, and acting like owners of our natural resources (and charging accordingly). Considered "extreme" by the current version of the Progressive Conservative party that Lougheed once led, these ideas now form part of the NDP platform while the PCs seem to have lost their vision.

In the 2012 election, the imminent threat of a Wildrose government forced a lot of progressive voters to support the PCs. Campaign Manager Stephen Carter recently admitted the PC strategy to scare moderate voters away from Danielle Smith in the last few days and hours before the vote, which somewhat explains the polls. What is different in 2015 is this is a three-horse race, and similar tactics to portray Wildrose as extremists may end up driving voters to the NDP instead. Also different in 2015 is three years of almost uninterrupted government scandal and incompetence, with a recent spate of undemocratic dealings in their own candidate nominations. The cherry on top was the budget which raised taxes, cut services and still managed to run a deficit, alienating everyone.

The status quo is not nearly as appealing as it was three years ago. The vibe is different now. People can nitpick the polling numbers and methodologies, but we're halfway through the campaign and the aura of inevitability, of invincibility, is gone from the PC party. Long-time party loyalists are quitting. Calgary newspapers are attacking the PCs like never before. Wildrose, having lost its photogenic leader and two-thirds of its members only a few months ago and now led by a virtual unknown, is in first place. Just how angry and disillusioned does a conservative voter have to be to choose that chaos over a traditional party?

The NDP are working hard to present themselves as a moderate option (which they are: a centrist party anywhere else in Canada is considered leftist here) and are the most organized of the non-dynasty parties. We saw what happened four years ago when a national party let go of its more extreme ideas, presented itself as a reasonable alternative, and chose a charismatic leader: Jack Layton tripled the NDP seat count in Ottawa. Voters in Edmonton and Calgary recently elected young, progressive mayors. An urban-led Alberta orange crush does not seem so unthinkable all of a sudden.

True progressive conservatives are likely saddened and disappointed by what their party has become lately under Redford and now Prentice. After four decades in power, it resembles an authoritarian monster captured by corporations and more interested in getting elected than actually governing well. Had they been faithful to Lougheed's vision, the province would be a much more prosperous, free and democratic place to live. (And much richer, too. Read this and weep, Albertans.) It seems that the party is beyond repair and won't be able to voluntarily fix itself, especially if dissenting voices continue to be silenced.

The federal conservatives rebuilt themselves after Kim Campbell's annihilation. The liberals tore everything down following Michael Ignatieff's catastrophic leadership and are on the road back to relevance. Perhaps an electoral obliteration under Prentice is the only way for the progressive conservative party to truly clean house and renew their ideas and culture. A new coat of paint probably won't do it - an extreme renovation is required. Somehow I think Peter Lougheed would agree.

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