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ANDERSON: Alberta's orange wave 'shallow and temporary'

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May 26, 2015 - 8:19 AM

Rude people will now & then ask me why I think I know so much about Politics. I tell them it's because I'm Smart... But that is a lie: The real reason is because I'm an incurable Gambling addict. ~ Hunter S. Thompson

The recent NDP victory in Alberta isn't likely the dawn of a glowing new progressive era in Alberta politics, as some folks on social media seem to imagine in the hazy orange aftermath of the election battle.  In fact, the notion that the Albertan electorate has steamed suddenly to the left after decades of almost legendary entrenchment in conservative political culture is downright silly.  Add up the numbers and you'll find that the PCs and Wildrose combined garnered well over 50 per cent of the vote, and that's not counting the great mass of disenchanted conservative-leaning voters who just didn't bother voting at all this time. The orange wave may be wide and noisy, but its support is shallow and temporary. 

I would bet that the election results are almost entirely a backlash against a PC government that has stumbled  through a series of unstellar leaders and poor policy decisions since the abdication of Ralph Klein. By all accounts Albertans have finally had enough of the PC Party's antics and they voted for "change" - that perennial campaign slogan that always implies something good and often ends up being a change from the frying pan into the fire. 

A more interesting development for me is the steady rise of the Wildrose Party.  From a baseline of zero in 2008, the party has risen through two elections to its status as Official Opposition...all in spite of serious setbacks like the wholesale defection of its core leadership mere weeks ago.  Unlike the NDP and its almost farcical sweep of the most conservative province in Canada, Wildrose has real and deepening support within the electorate.  And unlike the NDP's effervescent upsurge, Wild Rose's steady swell is not particularly surprising, because we've been here before. 

Alberta is not just the birthplace of Wildrose, it's also home to the former federal Reform Party, and it's hard to miss the similarities between the two.  Wildrose represents the same ethos of grassroots resurgence that drove Reform to the status of Official Opposition and ultimately, many would argue, to form the backbone of the current Government of Canada.  Alberta's political landscape may well be experiencing the same tectonic shift as the federal landscape did two decades ago.

In the 1993 federal election, a red Liberal wave swept across the east, broke in the prairies, and by the time it reached Alberta had become Reform green.  The majority PC government of the day was destroyed and the Liberals were the clear winners, but an important subtext saw Reform leap from one lone seat in the hinterlands of Alberta to dominate western Canada.  Eventually it became the official opposition and in 2003 its successor swallowed the remnants of the PCs, ultimately reducing the Liberal Party to a shadow of itself.  Are we seeing the same dynamic now on the provincial battleground?  Time will tell, but if I were a gambler I'd put my money on Wildrose forming government in Alberta within a decade. 

As for the Alberta PCs, I suspect they'll bump along as a rump party for a few years, much like the federal PCs did, and then fade into a golden memory of King Ralph, the last truly conservative monarch of a lost dynasty.  And the Alberta NDP?  Well, except for a blip in the 80s and another blip now, they've historically fluctuated in the low single digits...

— Scott Anderson is a Vernon City Councillor, freelance writer, commissioned officer in the Canadian Forces Reserves and a bunch of other stuff.  His academic background is in International Relations, Strategic Studies, Philosophy, and poking progressives with rhetorical sticks until they explode.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
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