Dave Taylor and the realignment of Alberta politics

Unless you are paticularly ill with a case of alberta politicitis, you probably can’t place the name Rob Anderson, Heather Forsyth and Dave Taylor. But for those of use stricken with the ailment, these names are near the top of our minds.

Today Dave Taylor, a Liberal MLA from Calgary, held a press conference to declare that the provincial Liberal party doesn’t excite him or the province anymore and that he figures his constituents will be served better if he sits as an independent.

Earlier examples of party defection this year came from PC MLAs Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth who crossed the floor to join the Wildrose Alliance, a party enjoying great poll numbers since it elected its new leader Danielle Smith.

Three makes a trend and the current trend the is realignment of Alberta politics. For small-c conservatives, it has the first blush of a coming family feud, for Liberals it presents a stark reality of being pushed out the doors while the battle for the province’s top prize is done within the forum. Taylor is predicting the spotlight shift and seeking to appeal to his constituents on his own brand.

As for the family fued, about two months ago I asked Smith about the metric for success for the new Wildrose. She remarked that bringing the PCs further to the right would mean success for her party, but joked that it was a bit early to talk about a “united alternative”.

If the trend continues, it may yet echo a similar scene seen federally under the tenure of Stock Day when he was leader of the Canadian Alliance. Missteps in leadership at the top had MPs in flux between parties and pseudo-parties in the Canadian House of Commons. Dialogue that transpired between members of the (rebel) alliance and the PC in those days helped forge a path for merger.

These events also occurred within the context of a bitter decade-long divison between conservative traditions. I asked Monte Solberg about this and he explained, “after several election losses the logic of uniting the federal conservative parties became so overwhelming that it even overcame the petty resentments between our parties, and they really were petty.”

For conservatives in today’s Alberta, the PC Party of that province represents their vehicle for power while the Wildrose projects their ideological core. The question becomes, will the Wildrose become a viable vehicle while maintaining conservative values or will the PC Party shift right to maximally capture Alberta’s political realignment?

One factor which will significantly determine this outcome is organization. While PCers have long grumbled that their problems stem from the top in the Premier’s office, the Wildrose’s challenges stem from some of the senior grassroots of the organization. The party has taken big steps to address this in recent times, seeking to professionalize its executive tier with recent hires, however, some of the old guard of the previous incarnation of the party — those that sit on riding executives — still call many shots from the “this is how we’ve always done it” perspective. Smith and her new pros must balance their ambition of creating that viable vehicle with grassroots demands of the party while being mindful to embrace grassroots ideology while eschewing tired tactics and strategy presented under the guise of the same.

If Dave Taylor had seen long term viability in the PCs for the big debate that is yet to come, he probably would have joined the PCs — the caretaker party that has governed the provice for the last three decades. Though, perhaps his reluctance is a sign that the party is indeed shifting right to meet the Wildrose’s challenge. For the Liberals, their longterm viability has never been apparent. Again, Solberg: “The problem in Alberta is that the Liberals are so weak that at this point a conservative vote split wouldn’t make a huge difference. I doubt very much that Taylor is leaving because Liberal fortunes are improving. Vote split or not the Liberals are in very sad shape.”

More thorns in Stelmach’s side

The Wildrose Alliance may be doing well in the polls in Alberta under its new leader Danielle Smith, but until recently, the organization of the party has been struggling hard to catch up to make the party a credible force for contending the next election.

Today, a key Morton organizer jumped over to the Alliance. I met Bill Bewick when he was senior staff on the Morton for PC Leader campaign. Bewick now joins Wildrose in the legislature as a senior member of its research staff.

The departure of the former senior supporter of the now finance minister comes on the heels of another important hire by the Wildrose. Vitor Marciano was an Alberta National Councillor for the Conservative Party and was even in contention for presidency of the party late last year. Marciano has been a staunch Harper supporter and his placement at the top of the Wildrose will enable the party to bring some professional organizing muscle to the mix and this will be important for bringing more conservative Albertans into fold of the provincial party.

All of this without mention that earlier this year we saw Wildrose begin its 2010 momentum with the poaching of two MLAs from Stelmach’s caucus.

Pollsters will tell you that the electoral trend favours Wildrose. Now we’re starting to see some of the real-world pieces come together.

Alberta bound

I’ll be heading to Edmonton tomorrow for the Manning Centre’s Conference on Alberta’s Future where registrants will discuss and evaluate Alberta’s performance in the Canadian and global contexts.

The conference comes on the heels of the Stelmach government’s Throne Speech today and when renewed calls for increased opposition time in Question Period have been vocalized by both the NDP and Wildrose Alliance Parties. Leader of the latter party, Danielle Smith has confirmed her attendance at the conference so it will be interesting to hear her take on Alberta’s future now, especially now that she’s leading in the polls and may well have been Alberta’s next premier if an election were held today.

There will also be representatives from the government there to discuss their vision as well as members of the other opposition parties. Preston Manning wrote an article published in the National Post today suggesting that Alberta’s PC dynasty is on shaky ground. Alberta observers will remember that Manning was courted by many Alberta conservatives to replace Premier Klein. Yet, in the end, Ed Stelmach was selected.

Alberta, partly due to the economic downturn, finds itself in different financial shape as the province’s treasury faces deficits instead of surpluses. Still the economic engine of Canada thanks in large part to its still booming energy sector, Alberta’s future and potential political turnover is the sleeper story in Canadian politics.

If you’ll be in Edmonton this weekend, I hope that I’ll see you at the conference. If not, I’ll be doing my best to file video and blog reports with those that have shaped Alberta’s past and those shaping its future.

Those Ignorant of History are Doomed to Repeat It

Yesterday, two members of Ed Stelmach’s Alberta PC caucus crossed the floor and joined Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Alliance. Two Calgary area MLAs, Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth, left the PC caucus citing failed leadership and bureaucratic glut in the Premier’s office.

Today, Stelmach send an email to supporters addressing the news (emphasis mine),

Now, a quick review of history from Wikipedia,

Alberta’s second dynasty was the United Farmers of Alberta who rose from a minor party known as the Alberta Non-Partisan League, formed in 1916. Henry Wise Wood would lead the party into the 1921 election and form a majority based on winning rural seats. The party did not run in the cities and allied with Labour candidates. Henry did not want the job as premier so the farmers were forced to shop around. John Brownlee was asked first but declined. Herbert Greenfield, the second choice, became the new premier.

Greenfield would resign four years later because he was often absent due to illness. John Brownlee, who had previously been offered the job, succeeded him. Brownlee’s reign as government leader was troubled by the onset of the great depression. He resigned in scandal after he was accused of sexual acts with a minor in the Attorney General’s office. This and another scandalous divorce by Oran McPherson, speaker of the legislative assembly, gave the United Farmers an image of moral decay. In 1934 Richard Reid would replace Brownlee and lead the United Farmers government into total defeat at the hands of the new Social Credit party.

This, of course, happened during the Great Depression.

In recent history, Stelmach replaced Klein.

Back then, the decay was cited as moral, today it is financial decay and bureaucratic ascendance.

Albertan political history is marked by political dynasties. Is this the end of the Progressive Conservatives and the rise of the Wildrose Alliance?

Danielle Smith interview

The video above is the first 46 seconds of my ten minute interview with the new leader of the Alberta Wildrose Alliance Party, Danielle Smith. You may also want to watch my previous interview with Smith.

After the introductory banter, I grabbed my sheet of questions ready to ask and placed it down on my laptop keyboard. My hypersensitive trackpad then decided to hit pause on the recording!

But fret not, I’ll be posting a written summary of our interview soon (see the update below). Smith answered a number of questions pertaining to her new role as leader of a rising party in Alberta politics, the growing pains the party is bound to go through, her expectations for “success” over the next little while and for the next election, her thoughts on Stelmach’s next few weeks and where and how “Conservative” became a misnomer for Alberta PCs.

I’ll post a summary of her answers soon. Keep watching this space.

UPDATE: Here is a summary of the questions I asked Danielle and the answers that she gave.

I recognized that she’s been asked the libertarian/social conservative question many times over the week by reporters so I asked her how as a libertarian-rooted leader that she would look to socially conservative policy and whether leadership would be top-down, bottom-up, or a mix of both.

Danielle reiterated that the WA is a grassroots party and that she needs to better inform some about what she views as the “libertarian” ideology. She said that at the root of libertarianism is liberty, and that this means property rights, freedom of speech and freedom of religion among others.

I asked about any lessons that Danielle might take from the Reform tradition. As that party grew, it became not just a movement but a party vying for power. As the WA grows, what will she be doing to prevent what we call “bozo eruptions” from those speaking not for an organization (the party), but rather the movement.

Danielle responded by explaining that she hopes that Preston doesn’t think that she’s just robbing from the Reform playbook. In fact, she says that the party is relatively new and they are still growing and that the media and Albertans will view them through this lens and understand that that yes, they aren’t yet a well-oiled comms machine.

Regarding the PC AGM in early November and a possible Stelmach leadership review, I asked Danielle if one of the successes of the WA would be to make the PC Party more right, or more “conservative”. I also asked Danielle about the possibility that Ted Morton may become the new leader and asked if she’d find this heartening.

Danielle responded by saying that Morton is certainly one of six or seven out of about 70 PC MLAs who is still a conservative and that Morton would actually find himself at home within the WA.

I asked Danielle if she’d spoken to any of these six or seven PC MLAs and she responded that no, she has not spoken to any of them since she became leader however, she has many friends in that caucus and she talks these friends regularly.

About the “Conservative” label, I suggested that Danielle may believe that the Alberta PC Party does not own that label anymore. Without addressing any particular policy, I asked her why she may think that.

Danielle responded that the Alberta PC Party has largely become a vehicle for opportunism and career advancement and that the PC’s are largely out of touch. Danielle went on to discuss specific policy initiatives of the WA and directed people to check out the WA website for the party’s policies.

On the strategy front, I mentioned that some of us that follow politics too closely are wondering if the WA is take a one election strategy to attain power like the 1935 social credit party or a two election strategy like Lougheed’s 1967 and 1971 Tories.

Danielle responded that the WA party will be going for the one election strategy for power and said that she’s not going for 3 or 4 seats after the next election, but 42, or 43. She explained that Albertans do not elect oppositions but rather they elect governments.