Question: What happens when Alberta Can't Wait?
Seriously, United Conservative Party? Well, it could've been worse. After all, it was basically the same group of people who floated the idea of the Canadian Reform Alliance Party around the turn of the century.
What's with that, anyway?
Alberta Can't Wait, for readers outside Alberta, is the "PAC" set up a few months ago by newly elected Progressive Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney's well-heeled supporters. Its goal is to create a slush fund outside provincial election laws to bankroll the former Harper cabinet minister's effort to unite Alberta's divided conservatives and push them ever further to the right.
Yesterday, the PCs under Kenney and the Wildrosers led by Opposition Leader Brian Jean held a news conference in Edmonton to announce they've come up with a plan -- a tentative one, actually -- to merge the two parties. They've signed an agreement in principle that calls for members of both parties to vote on the deal on July 22 and choose a leader on Oct. 28 if they say yes.
This will not necessarily be easy. The Wildrose constitution requires a 75-per-cent ratification; the PCs' 51 per cent. Many technical details remain to be resolved.
However, they agreed on the name United Conservative Party, presumably without anyone thinking to pronounce the initials aloud.
This prompted plenty of chuckles on social media yesterday. I believe the first commenter to note the You-See-Pee connection was Twitterist Edwin Mundt. You See Pee, pitched in political strategist Stephen Carter, "I see a party that wants to cut health care. You See Pee, I see a party that wants to attack minorities."
Oh well, this probably won't be that big problem for the UCPers, although it sure doesn't speak well of their ability to foresee problems and deal with all eventualities. Indeed, it's the kind of thing that might make a real cynic suggest these are folks who couldn’t, as the old expression goes, organize a piss-up in a brewery.
We'll get used to it soon enough, I suppose.
Alberta's New Democrats certainly take this very seriously. Even with two competing conservative parties -- which could still happen if the deal making comes a cropper, although it’s said here that's unlikely -- it will not be easy for New Democrats to get re-elected in this province. However, it is not, as so many on the right fervently believe, impossible.
Kenney certainly gave the impression at yesterday’s news conference in Edmonton that he thinks once the two conservative parties are united, the end of Premier Rachel Notley's NDP government is a slam-dunk the instant an election is called.
"This agreement ensures the defeat of this disastrous NDP government and the election of a free enterprise government that will renew the Alberta Advantage," Kenney said in the clip Edmonton radio stations played over and over yesterday afternoon.
Jean's comment was more thoughtful. The deal, he said, "cannot be based on a principle of gaining power for power's sake. It must be about more than that."
Arguably, three negative factors from the conservative perspective contributed directly to the election of the NDP in 2015. Only one was the division of the province's right-wing parties into two warring camps, which in many ridings didn't make as much of a difference as the pro-conservative media's narrative nowadays suggests.
The other two were Alberta voters' distrust of the extremist far-right social conservative tendencies that seemed obvious at the time in the Wildrose Party, and the arrogance, entitlement and contempt for voters shown by the long-in-the-tooth PCs. Alert readers will recall that the PCs, who were coming up on their 45th anniversary in power, had in late 2014 engineered the attempted takeover of the Wildrose Party's legislative caucus, a cynical maneuver Albertans across the political spectrum reacted to with revulsion.
Combined, these factors kept many voters who were fed up to here with the PCs from switching their votes as commentators expected to what was left of the Wildrose Party.
It is hard to see how the leadership of an intemperate social conservative like Kenney will remedy either of those problems for the Alberta right. Together in the UCP, it seems likely we will have a powerful political entity that combines the worst instincts of each party. This is quite clearly illustrated by Kenney's news conference commentary.
Returning to the 2015 campaign, a positive factor helping the NDP was Premier Notley's remarkable ability to leave voters with the impression she understood and respected them for voting for her opponents for so many years.
Given centrist voters’ dilemma in the spring of 2015, her political talent and empathetic personality, not to mention her law-trained debating skills, made it easy for them to give the NDP a whirl.
Kenney, by contrast, makes it clear in remarks like yesterday's that he views Alberta voters with contempt for daring to support his political opponents, even once. His caricature of Notley's pragmatic government in cartoonish ideological terms may please his most extreme supporters, but treats most middle-of-the-road voters as fools. His ongoing purge of moderate elements in his own party may satisfy the Wildrose hard core, but it will deprive him of the Red Tory early warning system when he oversteps his bounds and perhaps result in the creation of a new centre-right alternative party.
In this regard, Jean would be a better spokesperson for a united right, but the big money of the Tory Old Boys' network has settled on Kenney as the most likely character to give them carte blanche if "conservative" government returns. This kind of insider entitlement is presumably what Kenney has in mind when he speaks of the return of the "Alberta Advantage."
But the long-established conservative voting habits of Albertans will be hard for the NDP to overcome after a single term in office, though continuing improvement in the regional economy and Kenney's obvious hubris and social conservative baggage may help.
So while the You See Pee may enter the 2019 election favoured by political odds makers, they are as capable of blowing their lead as they were in 2015 under Jim Prentice, the conservatives' last Great Hope From Ottawa.
As Premier Notley observed yesterday, "whether it's the Wildrose or the Tories, they clearly agree on things like making massive cuts to services in order to finance tax breaks for people at the top of the one per cent. They agree collectively on the fact that they're not particularly sympathetic or supportive of LGBT rights. … They're a group that are moving increasingly to more and more extreme positions, to the point where they may fall right off the map."
If they do, and they're confronted with an NDP reelection, it will be interesting to see if Alberta conservatives then opt for the centrist moderation that kept the old PCs in power for 44 years, or double down on the extremism of Kenney.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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