In April 2012, spooked by the dangers posed by a far-right Wildrose government, progressive voters in Alberta abandoned the parties they supported by the thousands to vote for Premier Alison Redford's Conservatives.
What they got when they walked away from the New Democrats, the Alberta Liberals and the Alberta Party, it turns out, was a Wildrose government.
By this, of course, I don't mean a government headed by Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith. No, Alberta was spared the embarrassment of having a glib Fraser Institute intern occupying the premier's office. Rather, I mean they got a government in which the far-right, highly ideological Wildrose Party drives the locomotive.
This isn't the way it was supposed to be. Readers will recall that a lot of commentary after the election suggested Premier Redford was practically a New Democrat -- indeed, I suppose we can expect Wildrose enthusiasts, understandably enough, to stick with that line as well as their corruption and broken promises memes, for which there is more justification, as the next election approaches.
Certainly Redford mostly said the right things during her leadership campaign and in the lead-up to the April 23 election. Wasn't there even an Alberta Party supporter who speculated that this renamed version of Alberta Liberal 2.0 wasn’t really needed any more, seeing as the perfect centrist premier was now in power?
For their part, the Redford Tories dropped hints they were building a broad new coalition of the centre -- in which teachers, public sector employees and defenders of progressive values could all feel welcome.
It was all pish-posh, it turns out, as the convenient arrival of the "Bitumen Bubble" clearly illustrates.
As we await next month's budget and the ones after that, the new policy options being considered by Redford's PC Government all seem to be along the lines of a regressive sales tax (possibly replacing Alberta's barely progressive income tax), a wage freeze imposed on teachers, shortened school weeks from cash-strapped school boards, massive rollbacks of our promised "sustainable and predictable" health care funding, and closings and cutbacks in post-secondary education. All of this is accompanied by the tiresome yammering for "austerity" by a chorus of the usual business and academic suspects.
Meanwhile, the same old drive to privatize seniors' care and reliance on expensive and inefficient P3s continue unabated.
Austerity is the only road still open, we are told in the hectoring tones of Margaret Thatcher, because in the face of fluctuating petroleum prices There Is No Alternative.
In other words, with the possible exception of the sales tax, the Redford Conservatives have moved to the Wildrose position on virtually every issue.
The centrist coalition, of course, is still on offer, as long as centrist voters don't mind half-hidden Tory smirks and Wildrose Party policies.
There are two reasons, it is said here, for this policy direction:
First, there is the practical matter that the Redford Conservatives are more concerned by the threat posed by the right-wing Wildrose Party than by that from the disunited and lately ineffective parties of Alberta's centre.
This does not reflect what Albertans tell pollsters they would like for policies, but, based on solid behavioural evidence, the PCs must be certain progressive voters are suckers who can be persuaded to vote for them with the mere nod in the direction of the Wildrose boogeyman. (Pastor Allan Hunsperger, c'mon down!)
Second, the Conservatives and the Wildrose Party are essentially the same people.
Remember where the bulk of the Wildrose MLAs came from -- they were long-time Tory backers, in some cases actual Tory MLAs, dissatisfied with the centrist compromises made by Ed Stelmach, the former premier.
Likewise, both parties are backed by the same people -- the same corporate donations flow into their coffers, for the same self-interested reasons. And that reason, pretty obviously, is that both parties believe in the same thing.
Finally, given the weird Alberta political habit of being members of more than one political party at the same time, in the case of both parties' rank and file they are often literally the same people, conveniently members of two far-right political parties as they strategize on how best to maximize their right-wing influence to get the right-wing policies they favour.
So for all the naïve hopes we could have social progressivism from Alberta Progressive Conservatives, all we really got is the same old same old, stretching back in an unbroken line through 41 years of PC government and well beyond to the day in 1943 Ernest Manning assumed the helm of the Social Credit League eight days after premier William Aberhart's unexpected death at his daughter's home in British Columbia.
Welcome back to the future. Welcome to Wildrose Alberta!
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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