Thursday, December 24, 2009

Alberta politics in the national news

After wishing everyone a Merry Christmas - yes, I spell out the whole word instead of calling it Xmas, it's the so-con in me ;) - let's look at some recent headlines.

According to the cross-Canada Sun chain of newspapers, the leader of the federal (but anti-federal!) Bloc Quebecois believes that the Canadian government's action (or, more precisely, inaction) at Copenhagen was ultimately the fault of Alberta's Wildrose party.
I think Harper’s Conservatives have woken up to what’s happening in Alberta and will move even closer to the demands of the Wildrose party.
- Gilles Duceppe

Duceppe also says that Wildrose's rise in Alberta polling could prompt Harper’s government to strengthen its “tough on crime” position and its opposition to the gun registry.

Duceppe's claims don't seem to acknowledge that the Harper Conservatives had staked out the "tough on crime" and pro-gun territory well before Wildrose seriously threatened to form the opposition in Alberta, never mind government. Why would the federal Tories chew their cabbage twice by going over this ground again? How would getting even tougher on any or all of the environment, retributive justice, or opposition to gun control help them take back Edmonton Strathcona, or hold on to Edmonton Centre and Edmonton East, the only real swing ridings in Alberta? And that's just Alberta.

Having said that, I'll note that I never did appreciate the mentality of the Tom Flanagans which dismissed pleas from Tories in large urban centres to tread more lightly on social issues and the environment on the grounds that "we're never going to win places like downtown Toronto during this campaign." This short-sighted attitude has meant that Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal are scorched earth for the federal Conservatives in future Harper-led campaigns in a way that they never were for Brian Mulroney's free trading Tories. It seems to me that Flanagan's attitude is perfect for locking down 100 seats in in the House of Commons, but has simultaneously created a permanent obstacle to getting to 155. If it is a matter of principle to not water things down then stand up for that as such instead of calling playing to a geographic base a shrewd tactic for winning a national majority.

It was accordingly quite satisfying to me that a poll came out earlier this month which showed Wildrose with a double-digit lead over the Liberals in Edmonton, since that should have nipped in the bud Flanagan-like attitudes that the party cannot win in Edmonton because of Liberal and NDP strength. It's theoretically possible to form a provincial government without a seat in Edmonton but it makes no sense to me to try for that since at least 10 out of 18 Edmonton seats are routinely well in play for fiscal conservatives and the party is going to want those 10 at some point in the future since there are likely to be at least 10 in the rest of the province which are going to end up tough to win because the local Wildrose candidate turned out to have some sort of liability or the PC candidate was unusually popular locally or because the local Wildrose organizers didn't have their act together or some local issue like nuclear power became the decisive issue etc etc. It's my hope that Wildrosers remain open to the possibility that a north-south divide is a consequence of the party being too dominated by the south as opposed to a cause that leaves the party dominated by the south.

Another Alberta political story that originated (to my knowledge) with the national media was carried by the Toronto Star, Canada's most widely read daily (unsurprising given the size of the Toronto market) and the national paper with the strongest left lean editorially (hence its occasional description as the "Red Star"). The Star quotes Alberta Liberal leader David Swann as saying that "[w]e need to move to the next stage for both of our parties, the Liberals and the NDP." And what's the next stage?
Swann said he's like to see an arrangement so incumbent Liberals or New Democrats run in their ridings without competition from the other party.

At seems natural to me that David Swann would be interesting in cooperating since he has never struck me as a John Manley sort of Liberal who has fundamental philosophical disagreements with the NDP over economic openness while sharing with them a discomfort with the mean-spirited backward-looking provincialism all too frequently found within "conservative" parties. Swann has always been at least as interested in "human rights" as in a free trading, open economy, and has hardly been more critical of government spending than the Alberta NDP. But there might not be as much news here as it sounds. Even if the NDP were on board with this (which they are not), it means business as usual in ridings like Edmonton Calder and Edmonton Beverly - Clareview which don't have either Liberal or NDP incumbents but which would easily go NDP if the Liberals were to not run a candidate (and both Wildrose and PC candidates were in the mix). All Swann would be giving up with his proposal is running a Liberal in Strathcona and Highlands-Norwood, which are NDP strongholds and the Liberal constituency associations could very well be defunct there anyway such there may be hardly any Liberal workers who would need to be told to stand down (in their home constituencies).

Swann's proposal accordingly doesn't strike much fear into me as someone interested in seeing Wildrose candidates elected in Edmonton since it would only apply to 5 out of 18 Edmonton ridings (the two with NDP incumbents plus Goldbar, Riverview, and Centre). That said, if the current Whitemud riding gets divided by the Boundaries Commission such that the upper half of it including the Riverbend neighbourhoods joins a Riverview riding that gets redistricted to south-side of the river only, it would create very big problems for both PC and Wildrose candidates based in Riverbend if there were no NDP candidate by virtue of (the additionally popular) Liberal Kevin Taft being deemed the incumbent not just in the left-leaning Belgravia neighbourhood near Strathcona but southwest across the Whitemud Ravine in right-leaning Riverbend as well.

Cooperation between the Wildrose party and PC party with respect to beating Liberals and NDP candidates faces a number of obstacles. First of all, polling results between these two have much more unstable with respect to not just each other but to other parties. For a long time the PCs saw the Wildrose Alliance and its antecedents as a fringe parties. Today, however, polling suggests that if one makes the (large) assumption that the PCs and Wildrose both exclusively draw on the "right wing" vote, it is the PCs that are "splitting" it, not the Wildrosers, since it is currently the Wildrose party that is polling ahead of the PCs by double digits.

Also, I don't think Wildrosers see the Liberals as worse than the P"C"s with anything like the unanimity that the NDP would see both the PCs and Wildrose as worse than the Swann Liberals. What good things have the Stelmach PCs done that would not have been done had the Liberals been governing? Not nearly enough things to warrant taking the side of a party that for years has been a Goliath against the David of Alberta Liberals, in my view. I suspect that the idea of helping Stelmach's party block Liberals has little appeal to the vast majority of Wildrosers, some of whom (especially the younger) might also feel they have more in common with anti-establishment projects like the modernizing Reboot Alberta than with an establishment tied into the ancient PC machine. The dynamic is also different because most Wildrosers see developments that help the Liberals as strengthening opposition to the currently governing PCs as opposed to strengthening a potential competing government to Wildrose.

If these news stories in the national media are not really news in Alberta, which might explain why they didn't originate in the local media!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

And Tom Flannagan is now locked with the Wildrose. What does that say for our party? Locked at 20 seats until we get rid of him, if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

Actually no, if one made the (large) assumption that the Wildrose is polling ahead of the PC's anywhere, it would be the Wildrose splitting that vote - there's been a good conservative government in power for a long time and it's them splitting the vote, allowing Liberals to win in most urban seats. Would be much better to work within the established party structure than do that Manning and Mulroney did in 1993, resulting again in the Liberals winning.

I joined the PC party to vote for Ted Morton and he's still part of the fold.

"Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it."

C.Morgan said...

@anon:
it is pretty shallow to assume that somebody who is wise enough to not directly compare the federal scene with the provincial one is a person seeking to repeat history.

The federal Liberals enjoyed and still enjoy broad support within Canada that is well capable of growth.

Provincially the Liberals are essentially capped out. That was demonstrated well in the Calgary Glenmore by-election. The Liberals ran an experienced candidate, the NDP ran a non-candidate, the Greens ran no candidate, the PCs were at their weakest in decades, every Liberal MLA put in time on the campaign as well as every other Liberal who could be pushed, pulled or dragged and the Liberals spent every dime they had on the campaign.

Now in light of all those factors, one would assume that the Liberals would have that one in the bag. What was the outcome again?

The Liberals got the same support that they had in the last general election. Even the collapsed NDP and Green vote did not go to the Liberals. The Wildrose on the other hand won the seat.

Liberal support in Alberta is static. If they could not show even 1% of growth in such an ideal situation as the Calgary Glenmore by-election; they have no hope of forming government.

There is no vote to split. PC supporters simply are not going Liberal. A party that caps at 25% support is not a threat to form government.

I suggest anon that you dwindling PC supporters come up with a better strategy than the vote-split scenario. It is sort of failing for you.

Why is it that 90% of the commenters on blogs who support the PCs are anonymous anyhow?

Anonymous said...

Just saw this thread. For the record, I'm a Liberal supporter. In Calgary alone we won or lost a total of 8 seats by less than 1000 votes. Edmonton is even a bit better for us, except for a couple of seats that go NDP.

Our party is excited about a split on the right as this is going to seriously improve our standing in the legislature. I don't care what happens on the right - you guys can sort this out on your own, it's none of my business. But we stand to benefit and to push Dr. Swann's agenda for a better health care system where everyone has the right to a doctor and to increase income taxes, particularly on the top 25% of earners that support the right wing parties. Time for them to pay their fair share and we're going to be in a much better position to advnage our progressive agenda with two parties on the right.

Lee Harding said...

Speaking of the gun registry, anyone who wants to get rid of it can click here.