In the past few days, Alberta Conservative leadership candidate Alison Redford has dared to stake out different positions from her party's current leaders on three hot-button issues: the government's refusal to consider a judicial inquiry into health care abuses, the premier's risible attempt to blame teachers for education layoffs, and an unpopular government land rights bill.
The premier has all but accused Redford, former justice minister and human rights lawyer, of high treason. The mainstream media seems to think she's crazy -- although they're willing to concede she might be crazy like a fox, as they used to say of the inexplicably popular Ralph Klein, presumably just in case her "bold" gambit happens to work.
The Edmonton Journal decided to cover the waterfront, devoting considerable ink -- or electrons, if you happened to read it on-line -- to the story in Sunday's paper. The Journal's scrivener quoted the usual poli-sci department and political insider suspects to reach the conclusion Redford had initiated "a high-stakes political manoeuvre that could destroy her party, leave her blackballed or make her Alberta's next premier…" They missed "end civilization as we know it," but you get the picture.
A few weeks ago, another candidate for the premiership of Alberta who hopes to hold the reins of the Tory dynasty for a time also attacked the government's position on a key issue, and arguably behaved outrageously, to boot.
I speak, of course, of former finance minister Ted Morton, who refused to co-operate with his leader's wishes on the budget, demanded big changes to the budget that Premier Ed Stelmach clearly concluded were politically radioactive, seemingly tried to force a caucus rebellion against the premier and only resigned when the premier agreed to quit too. This, of course, opened the door for Morton to be the first candidate officially in the running for the premier's job.
The media, however, seems to think this was just fine, totally reasonable, well within the bounds of normal political discourse.
So why is Redford's attack on government positions that are wildly unpopular or obviously plain wrong considered "as high-risk as it gets," but Morton's equally fundamental attack on the premier's program spending policy is said to be completely acceptable and normal?
I'm not going to allege sexism here, although there may be a smidgen of that at work too. But the fundamental reason, obviously, is that Redford is attacking the government from slightly to the left -- which in the context of Alberta politics isn't very far left at all -- on at least two of the three issues. Moreover, she is taking a populist stance on all three.
The American-born Morton, by contrast, is attacking the government from the right, from the perspective of banks and bankers, far-right taxpayer supported university think tanks (one of which he was long associated with during his academic career) and the market fundamentalist theo-ideology he loudly espouses.
When Redford speaks for people, arguably for ordinary Albertans, this is deemed to be a dangerous and possibly nutty idea -- presumably worthy of a 30-day psychiatric remand, just to start, followed by permanent residence in political oblivion.
When Morton speaks for banks, the uber-wealthy and tax-dodging corporations of all sorts, this is seen as the final word in sanity and prudent stewardship -- worthy, presumably, of the keys to Stelmach's executive washroom. (That high-risk-as-it-gets quote, by the way, was attributed to "veteran Conservative strategist" Rod Love, who is widely believed to be working for one of the other candidates' campaigns, so clearly it deserves to be taken with the traditional grain of salt.)
In other words, this line of analysis tells us more about the attitudes of the reporters, editors, political scientists and professional political fixers associated with other campaigns than it does about the potential effectiveness of Redford's strategy.
The Conservative Party itself and the media have long promoted the idea that the party is a clean slate upon which any candidate can write whatever she pleases. They have encouraged Albertans to join the party by paying a nominal sum to vote for the leader as the only effective expression of democracy in what is for all intents and purposes a one-party state.
Now we see, through the medium of the mildly populist and quite popular positions taken by Redford, that in the view of many party bigwigs, the media and others with influence there should in fact be severe limits placed on this idea when it gets put into practice.
Else Redford's strategy might destroy the party… As if! Please!
Well, you wouldn't have heard me say this a year ago, but it makes me wonder if we Albertans shouldn't take them at their word and plunk down our five bucks to vote for a Tory leader. If nothing else, there might be entertainment in watching the Conservative Party establishment spontaneously combust.
After all, Alberta needs a health care inquiry and it's crazy to blame teachers for the government's own spending priorities. As for the "property rights" trope, that's a topic for another day -- just remember that whatever you're being told now, it will translate into "corporate rights" and blanket permission for environmental destruction when the legislative dust has settled.
Still, for an Alberta Conservative, two out of three ain't bad.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary. Thank you for choosing rabble.ca as an independent media source. Rabble is a reader-supported site -- visited by over 315,000 unique visitors during the election campaign! But rabble.ca needs money to grow. Support rabble.ca as a paying member or by making a one-off donation .
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