It’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy — especially if you’re Alberta Premier Alison Redford.
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a more congenial political climate than the one Redford and her Progressive Conservative government now find themselves enjoying this summer.
Not quite three months have passed since Redford’s unexpected but decisive victory on April 23, and we are not yet embroiled in the minutiae of a fall session. So this is the perfect moment to assess the true strength of her Progressive Conservative government, now and possibly forevermore.
First of all, of course, the Redford Government is at the very start of what looks now like a long four-year run. Later, when less time is left, things will look a little different, of course. But right now, arriving at the Legislature in the morning must seem to the premier like the first day at a particularly pleasant holiday resort.
Moreover, none of the inevitable mistakes that plague any democratic government have taken place yet — unless, perhaps, you count the appointment of Kelley Charlebois last Friday the 13th as executive director of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta or random social media messages left by Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk.
Charlebois, rather famously, was in 2004 paid more than $400,000 in “untendered consulting contracts, with scant records of what taxpayers got in exchange,” as the Calgary Herald put it, while serving as executive assistant to then health minister Gary Mar. But while plenty was wrong with the process, Mar deservedly took the pounding for it when he ran for the Tory leadership. It’s harder to fault Charlebois for taking the money — he was in business, after all, and they were dumb enough to pay him!
As for Lukaszuk, here’s the memo: Remember what happened to Stephen Carter. You’re forgiven … but get someone more diplomatic to run your Facebook and Twitter accounts! The only landslide you should say anything about is the one that sweeps Adrian Dix into power in B.C. next spring. And if you can’t say anything nice about Dix that evening, don’t say anything at all.
Other than that, the Tory backbenchers are still figuring out where the washrooms are located — loose tongues, MLAs dressing monochromatically in protest against this or that and similar nonsense is all at some indeterminate point in the future.
Even so, with a comfortable majority of 61 seats in an 87-seat Legislature, there will be plenty of wiggle room for Redford and her government as the clock runs down toward the next election. No need to listen too closely to bored and rebellious Tory MLAs, no need to fly into a panic over a death, a resignation, a floor crossing or the consignment of some naughty boy or girl to the rest of a term on the Independent benches.
Plenty of time, even, for Redford to play the Statesperson of Confederation and — who knows? — possibly even succeed at it!
Meanwhile, the premier enjoys almost the perfect Opposition in the Wildrose Party — doomed, paradoxically, to continue to present the caricature of a market-fundamentalist menace to Albertans and yet daily likely to grow weaker and more marginalized.
The Wildrose Opposition under Danielle Smith is big enough after its fluky bump in the polls in 2012, after all, to credibly claim to be a government in waiting — and thereby scare the bejeepers out of almost any sensible Albertan voter. At the same time, it is now the established home of the most annoying sub-group of the Redford Conservatives’ traditional power base — the social-conservative denomination of the loony right.
How convenient for Redford and her advisors that they no longer have to listen in caucus to this extremist faction and their tiresome calls for hard-right policies that are sure to alienate (and frighten, as we saw in April) the majority of middle-of-the-road Alberta voters.
The far-right’s standard bearer in the old PC cabinet, Ted Morton, is also conveniently gone — defeated, ironically enough, by a Wildroser in the Chestermere-Rocky View riding, where this week the Opposition party was holding an appropriately named “summer school” for its rookie MLAs. With Morton and his ilk gone, the chances of the kind of rebellion that brought down former premier Ed Stelmach are considerably reduced.
What luxury, from the PC perspective, to be able to pursue a moderately conservative course without having to compromise with these extremists, while still being gently pushed by them to the moderate right — precisely where Redford’s instincts tell her to go.
After the April election, we heard lots of cries of “we’ll be back,” from disappointed Wildrosers. With the caveat that anything can happen in politics, it’s said here they won’t be, except as a convenient boogie-person to keep nervous Albertans strategically voting Progressive Conservative instead of NDP or Liberal at election time.
For one thing, as the influence of disaffected social conservatives within the Wildrose ranks continues to grow, as is inevitable with the PCs again holding the reins of power, the Wildrose Party will look and sound crazier as time goes on.
In addition, people who want power — and those who donate money to influence power — will drift back toward the PCs, as they always have in Alberta, for the obvious reason that that’s where the power is actually located.
At the same time, the talented political operators attracted to the Wildrose in 2011 and 2012 will disappear into the woodwork, uninterested in lending their talents to a lost cause that is increasingly the home of zany and self-righteous social conservatives.
More than likely, as a result of these fissures, a power struggle will emerge within the party with social conservative challenges to Smith’s pragmatic and reasonably sensible economy-centred approach growing steadily over the next four years. That is if Smith can sustain her own interest in what will surely increasingly will look even to her like a lost cause.
Meanwhile, from the perspective of the PCs, the parties of the left don’t look like much more than a nuisance to be swatted at half-heartedly. Here’s hoping the NDP can fulfill its traditional role of real opposition, or that a couple of Liberals can rediscover their forcefulness of yore. As for the Alberta Party, it will blow away in the next puff of wind like so many dandelion seeds — only, unlike those pretty yellow flowers, without their notorious regenerative power.
So where does this leave Premier Redford and her Tories? Exactly where any politician would wish to be! Firmly in control now, likely to remain that way well into the future, her power base purged of its most irritating component, with no opposition party anywhere in the political spectrum that can mount a meaningful challenge.
As the fall of 2012 drifts closer and we can begin to see the shape it will take, the biggest threat facing Redford is that a few of her backbenchers, their cabinet ambitions thwarted unlike Lukaszuk’s, will get bored and do or say something embarrassing.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.