Monday, March 20, 2017

Good-bye PC Party

On Saturday, March 18 2017, the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta (PCAA) voted to self immolate.  They chose Jason Kenney as their next leader.

Long time readers here will have long understood that I have been no fan of the PCs for a long time.  In my opinion, they lost their way under Ralph Klein and never have recovered the Lougheed era instinct for doing the best for Alberta.  Instead, they had degenerated into a party so desperate to maintain its grip on power that all that mattered was jingoism and following the demands of a shrinking base of support.

After Peter Lougheed, we were visited upon by Don Getty - a man who wasn't even a shadow of Lougheed - he started the party on the path of knee-jerk reactionary politics.  Then we got Ralph Klein.  Everybody in Alberta seems to revere Klein for "balancing the budget", but what he really did was turn the party on the path of jingoism and sound bite politics.

Klein's success depended on two things: his ability to read the political winds in the province and high resource prices for either oil or natural gas.  Building on George H. W. Bush's "read my lips, no new taxes" moment, Klein would float trial balloons around topics and see how the public responded before actually implementing it.  Numerous times, the Klein government floated trial balloons that would have resulted in dismantling our public healthcare system.  The public outrage that followed was always just enough to get him to back down.  Realistically, Klein's legacy turned out to be a balanced budget at the cost of crumbling infrastructure and a government so dependent on resource revenues that an economic downturn quickly becomes a crippling disaster.

Between Klein and Kenney, the party lurched from leader to leader.  Selecting the mediocre Stelmach who couldn't figure out how to balance the demands of the religious base and the rest of Alberta to maintain electability.  Then choosing Redford who turned out to be a puppet to the demands of the party insiders, and lacked judgment in how she presented things to the public.  The choice of Jim Prentice in 2014 turned out to be fatal.  Prentice was a smart man, but utterly lacking in any ability to read the mood of the public.  The 2015 election turned out to be a series of bungled, arrogant sounding moments which the NDP was able to capitalize on.

Ever since the 2015 election, there has been an ongoing temper tantrum among Alberta's political right.  They cannot believe that they lost an election, much less an election to a dreaded "socialist" party.  Jason Kenney decided that there was political opportunity for him in "uniting" the "divided" right.  He has spent the last six months orchestrating what amounts to a "hostile takeover"  of the PCs.  Reaching out to his base of socially conservative voters, he brought in new members (many of whom are understood to also hold membership in the WildRose party).  Having dangled the prospect of an immediate return to power, many within the existing PC party ranks fell in line behind him, and a majority of party delegates voted for him on Saturday.

Whatever happens next, be it a mass crossing to the WildRose, or a whole new party emerging, the PCs are no longer a force on the Alberta political scene.  Philosophically, Jason Kenney is much more at home in the WildRose tent than in what was the supposed PC tent.  He's a staunch social conservative.  I don't think you can call him a fiscal conservative either. He may talk about "balanced budgets" and "lower taxes", but that only goes as far as its ability to get him votes.

The party that emerges from this will be far more "WildRose" (possibly more extreme, actually) than it will be PC.  The dominant forces in the WildRose party have been intrinsically rooted in the rural social conservative base for ages, and more progressive elements have bene systematically squeezed out.  I fully expect to see the same thing happen in the PCs with this merger.  Kenney has never been one to engage with people who don't see the world through his lens.  I don't expect him to be willing to engage with his critics directly.

There have been attempts to moderate the WRP platform over the years, and "grand success" in that area has been declarations not to talk about social issues.  Real progressive - "shhh...we don't talk about things like that any more" - sounds like a grandmother in the 1950s talking about the cousin or uncle who was a "confirmed bachelor" (code phrase for homosexual at one time).   Kenney's response to challenges of his voting record in Parliament have been similar in tone.

I see it as very unlikely that this "new" party of Kenney's will be much more than a rehash of the Alberta Alliance / WildRose Party.  Fiscal austerity and socially backwards will be their watchwords. If you care about social justice, human rights, or even something as fundamental as access to health care, this won't be your political home. 

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