The Tories in Alberta, at 41 — a tipping point?

One of the most interesting aspects of the Alberta general election is that Progressive Conservatives have governed the province for more than 41 consecutive years. If the Tories are returned in the upcoming election, they will establish the record for the longest consecutively governing party, either federally or provincially, in Canadian history.

Along with the shot at the record go voter concerns about past performance, tiredness, arrogance (and a sense of entitlement), focus (future or past?), the party culture, and adaptiveness.

Assuming for a moment that the concern is completely legitimate and so important that it should drive the election, the concern may mislead voters. If the voters are so pre-occupied with the (currently) governing party, they may cast their votes elsewhere and thereby elect an ill-considered alternative. The agenda may be to “throw the rascals out” on election day. That is only accomplished by throwing another set of “rascals” in, and the cure may be worse than the disease.

So we need to consider the task before us, one step at a time.

Is the current government good for another term, or does it need to be replaced? Criticism is heard, but is it valid? Voters need to ask themselves some tough questions. No blogger, expert, or elder statesman can answer any of these questions for a voter: the answer for each voter is found in her or his own values, experience, perception, and goals.

Has the government made decisions for which it should be judged harshly? In that case, not voting on election day is not a harsh judgment: the vote must go to another candidate and party. Which one, because an election cannot throw out one “rascal” without throwing another in.

Is the governing party tired, arrogant and bullying? Does it have the attitude that it is entitled to govern? Do Tory candidates have the attitude that they are entitled to have someone carry their bags, and entitled to appoint friends and supporters to various positions? Has the bullying and trash talk that is much reported about in the press originated with the P.C. party as an institution, or has it been the work of individuals acting alone and contrary to the spirit of the party? Does the Tory party recognize the challenges facing Alberta? Does the party recognize the failure of the old way of doing politics? Is it committed to new and productive ways of doing politics? Does it have a new vision for Alberta at the beginning of the w21st century, and does it have new ideas for dealing with new circumstances and new opportunities? Does it have the energy and the will for a new style of politics, a new approach to issues and decision-making, and a new relationship with voters?

The P.C. party is like the famous metaphor of a super tanker in the middle of the Pacific. There is so much mass and so much inertia of momentum that it will take time to change direction, even after the captain has given the order. But, according to the metaphor, the direction can be changed and the ship can be brought safely to another harbour.

Arguably, the metaphor is not appropriate, for a couple of reasons. The metaphor takes as given that the entire crew is working together, and that the engine room will respond promptly to the bridge. The metaphor takes as given that the captain is clear about conditions and gives orders confidently – orders that aren’t going to be changed. If these two conditions are not met, the ship will hesitate, weave (or sail in circles), and list. Cargo and passengers will be damaged and injured.

After reflecting on the metaphor, we should reconsider the Tory party.

Party insiders did not elect Alison Redford to be Leader. Thousands of Albertans who are not committed Tories joined the party and elected her as Leader. Thereby, they dragged the party kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Having done that, they returned to their homes and gardens and jobs, leaving Ms. Redford to carry on. At that point, many party insiders wanted to contain Ms. Redford and take the party back to the good old days and the good old ways. Gary Mar was appointed as Alberta’s agent in Hong Kong. Was this a merit appointment, or an “insiders favouring insiders” appointment? The promised public inquiry into the intimidation of doctors was subtly amended. Was this a matter of turning our backs on the past or was it fear of what would be revealed? The Tory government extinguished the constitutionally provided separate school rights of Protestants in St. Albert. Should landowners be concerned that property rights may be the next to be compromised?

Ms. Redford has worked with some supporters within the party, but it is clear that the “ship” has mass and inertia of momentum and crew members that are resisting her efforts.

Ms. Redford has also made some mistakes, and she has corrected some.

In this, she is like Alberta’s voters.

The voter must try to be wise without knowledge. Who knows what time and circumstances will bring, in 6 months or 3 years. The voter must try to make the wise choice on Monday, April 23rd.

Do the nominated candidates, the advertising, the messages, and the organization on the ground suggest that the party exemplifies
• values;
• an understanding of Albertans;
• an understanding of democratic politics; and,
• an understanding of the issues and opportunities
that the voter feels comfortable with.

As unknown issues arise in the months to come, would you feel reasonably confident that you can predict, in general, how the Tory party would respond? If you reel reasonably confident about your ability to predict, would you feel comfortable if the prediction came true?

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